I first became obsessed with home histories in 2002. I was planning a trip back home to Australia and I found a 1970 biography about my aunt Joan Rosanove. The first chapter gave up the address of the house where my father was born in Ballarat, a large town northwest of Melbourne. My grandparents died years before I was born, and I never knew my aunt, but I was intrigued by a paragraph that described my father’s mother, Ruby. Apparently she was quite eccentric, at least that seems to help explain some of the odder features of her house.
I found the house easily enough, an old Victorian painted mud yellow, sitting behind a picket fence painted the same colour. Cast-iron lacework decorated the front of the house and ran along a verandah supported by fluted iron pillars. The current owners let me look around, and I filled them in on 30 years of their home’s social history. They’d raised five children in the house, and thanks to the book and Ruby, I was able to solve their 20-year mystery as to why there were a number of doors that led nowhere. Apparently, as each of Ruby’s eight children moved away, she had their bedrooms lopped off the house. I can’t find anyone who can tell me why.
This family story was the starting point for At Home with History: the secrets of Greater Vancouver’s Heritage Houses
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