Historic Steveston house faces uncertain future

According to the city’s heritage inventory, the Branscombe House is one of the earliest homes built in Steveston.  - Martin van den Hemel photo
According to the city’s heritage inventory, the Branscombe House is one of the earliest homes built in Steveston.
— image credit: Martin van den Hemel photo

Hope of saving a historic house in Steveston is fading for at least one longtime resident, who charged the city isn’t doing enough to care for heritage.

The 106-year-old Branscombe House, at 4900 Steveston Hwy., is one of the earliest homes built in Steveston and has long been owned by the city. Fourth-generation Steveston resident Bob Ransford called it a “great gateway to Steveston.”

“It’s one of the very few remaining structures that have heritage value in Richmond,” he said. “They’ve pumped literally millions of dollars into different projects in Steveston, none of which have been co-ordinated, none of which have been properly planned, none of which have been part of an overall strategy, none of which have been marketed together.”

Ransford, who previously volunteered on the Richmond Heritage Commission, said his first meeting as a member of the group was at the house 16 years ago. On the agenda: how to save it. Today, it’s boarded up and lies in disrepair.

According to the city’s heritage inventory, the Branscombe House is one of the earliest homes built in Steveston. The document, completed in 2000, noted the house was in “fair condition” and in need of paint and maintenance.

Ransford believes the city needs to start thinking differently about heritage. He’s calling for a corporation to manage all publicly owned assets in Steveston—including federal lands whose use has declined with the fishing industry.

City hall recently established the Steveston Village and Cannery Row Heritage Area, which combines existing heritage plans and policies with a goal of better marketing the area. But Ransford said that doesn’t go far enough.

“The city should set it up the same way as they set up the oval, as a separate corporation with directors who have the ability to do what they need to do to raise revenue and pay expenses,” he said. “The assets are owned by taxpayers and those assets should be used to their highest and best use for what they’re intended.”

He said numerous city failures in Steveston illustrate the need for such a non-profit organization, from the long-lasting tram saga and an “absolutely useless” dock at Garry Point, to underutilized assets at Britannia Heritage Shipyard and disjointed pay parking schemes.

Granville Island, he said, has successfully managed to pull its industrial, arts and culture and commercial elements together.

“They market them together,” said Ransford, a member of the Granville Island Trust advisory body. “There’s nothing like that in Steveston. This council simply writes cheques all the time when they’re pressed to do it, if it happens to come up on their radar screen, with no plan at all.”

Ransford said the city’s best chance of saving Branscombe House came several years ago from developer Dana Westermark who proposed to restore the house and add a small building to house two affordable housing units and office space.

He secured a federal grant, but the proposal didn’t clear city hall before the grant deadline passed and he was forced to withdraw his application.

“It was a bit frustrating for me because I put a lot of money into that plan to get it going, and it really just floundered on the rocks of not being able to move it forward at the city,” said Westermark.

The house is expensive to restore and needs a private partner—and use, said Westermark, who isn’t interested in trying again. He believes it won’t be long before the house is demolished.

“I don’t see it lasting for a tremendously long time,” he said. “I think it’s an unfortunate situation. I’d like to see the building get restored. I’m sure there’s a creative use it can get put to.”

Laurie Wozny, chair of the Richmond Heritage Commission, said any old building is worth saving, but a tenant is needed.

City spokesperson Ted Townsend said the house is “currently secured awaiting restoration.”

He said the city’s heritage department has requested funding, which will be considered as part of the annual capital plan process. But it will be up to city council to decide whether to spend the money.

Said Townsend: “Once funding for restoration has been secured, we would begin work on developing a plan for its future use.”

Branscombe House

•Located at 4900 Steveston Hwy. (at Railway Avenue)

•Built in 1905, now owned by city

•Two-storey Edwardian Builder style structure

•Once owned by the family of David and Sarah Branscombe

•Branscombe family owned and operated a general store on Moncton Street

•Former electric railway station near the home was called Branscombe Station

•At one time there were barns, chicken coops and other outbuildings on the property

* Source: City of Richmond’s heritage inventory

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