November 26, 2018

Where was the first condo in Canada?

Christopher Cheung (one of the new generation of urbanist writers) asked the question in The Tyee.  The record says it’s in Edmonton:

… in Edmonton’s suburb of York, across from a Catholic elementary school, there is a cairn and a plaque at the Brentwood Village townhouses celebrating that project as the first condo built in Alberta and Canada in 1967.


In B.C., discovered Cheung, the first one is in Port Moody:

I turned to Douglas Harris, a professor who specializes in property law at the University of British Columbia. If anyone knew about B.C.’s first condo, it would be him.

Indeed, Harris showed me the registration for condo number one: Hi-View Estates in Port Moody. Like Alberta’s first, this was also a townhouse project. Dawson Developments, formed by the late Jack Poole and the late Graham Dawson, both well-known local builders, developed it in 1968, two years after B.C. legislated condos as a new kind of property ownership, changing the development game forever.

But Cheung, after a suggestion by Arthur Erickson’s nephew, thinks credit might perhaps go elsewhere, to a UBC architecture student in 1956, a pioneering woman who thought townhouses would be perfect for a spectacular lot on Point Grey Road, and who set out to make the impossible a reality.

And that was how I found myself in (Lois) Milsom’s living room, to see if she might’ve been the first condo developer in Canada.

She purchased the property with the yellow house for $80,000 in 1963, equivalent to about $660,000 today. It turned out it had already been subdivided into six lots, so Milsom kept one, sold the other five, and promised the clients that she would act as the developer and deliver the townhouses to them upon completion. To me, Milsom’s arrangement sounded much like today’s condo presales.

The whole story is fascinating, and an explanation of why it’s so hard to get a new idea accepted:

The next challenge: convincing city hall to let her develop the townhouses.

Staff were not pleased. This wasn’t a multi-family rental development with a single owner. Milsom wanted the townhouses to be separately owned. Again, this was 1963, and there was yet no such thing in Canada as condos.

Staff suggested that Milsom build separate houses with side yards, but she didn’t want to squander the square footage for “little places for garbage cans on the waterfront.” Staff didn’t like the idea of separate owners sharing a driveway, let alone a building.

And so, the process dragged on for over 2.5 years. …

When the townhouses were completed, (Arthur) Erickson told the press it was the most difficult project he had worked on to date, and by then that included Simon Fraser University. City staff gave him headaches throughout the design process, and in the end, he had to submit to the loathsome requirement of including a garage opening to the street for each home.

Whether or not we can call Milsom Canada’s first condo developer — or whether we can call the Point Grey project Canada’s first unofficial condos — she pulled off something Vancouverites are still struggling to figure out today.

Unfortunately we can’t.  The main feature of strata title is the ability of multiple owners to own shared property in common.  Milsom’s townhouses were separately owned, and probably the reason why staff wanted separate driveways: no property jointly shared.

But it’s still a great story.  Read it all here.

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