Monday, 29 November 2010

Rudyard Kipling Invests in Vancouver Real Estate in 1889 -- A Wise Man Indeed!

[Stanley Park, Vancouver. Winter, above, and summer.]

Leafing through a book entitled Kipling Abroad: Traffics and Discoveries from Burma to Brazil, I stumbled over a short but rather interesting piece on Vancouver, written on a 1889 visit to the city (three years after fire devastated the original city), and later published in his book From Sea to Sea (1900).

Kipling described the pleasant "sleepiness" of the town of 14,000, the perfect harbour, the friendliness of the hotel-keepers, and the easy availability of bathing facilities in aforementioned hotels. He also observed that "the old flag waves over some of the buildings, and this is cheering to the soul. The place is full of Englishmen who speak the English tongue correctly and with clearness, avoiding more blasphemy than is necessary, and taking a respectable length of time to getting outside their drinks."

The warm and fuzzy feelings that Vancouver clearly engendered in Kipling provoked him to consider the prospects for the town's future to be very positive. The passage in which he describes his purchase of a tract of land bears quoting at length:

These advantages [of Vancouver] and others that I have heard about... moved me to invest in real estate. He that sold it to me was a delightful English Boy who, having tried for the Army and failed, had somehow meandered into a real-estate office, where he was doing well. I couldn't have bought it from an American. He would have overstated the case and proved me the possessor of the original Eden. All the Boy said was: 'I give you my word it isn't on a cliff or under water, and before long the town ought to move out that way. I'd advise you to take it.' And I took it as easily as a man buys a piece of tobacco. Me voici, owner of some four hundred well-developed pines, a few thousand tons of granite scattered in blocks at the roots of the pines, and a sprinkling of earth. That's a townlot in Vancouver. You or your agent hold to it till property rises, then sell out and buy more land further out of town and repeat the process. I do not quite see how this sort of thing helps the growth of a town, but the English Boy says that it is the 'essence of speculation,' so it must be all right. [Kipling Abroad, pp. 109-110]
And so, in 1889, with only a few days' observation and a conversation with a failed army recruit who nevertheless gave his word as an expat Englishman, Kipling alighted on the essence of the Vancouver real estate game. He knew a good investment when he saw it. Today, of course, real estate in Vancouver outpaces that of any other Canadian city by a wide margin. (The chart on this page is probably a low estimate). Since 1889, collective millions have also fallen for the charms of Vancouver and wished to stay. And although there is rather more glass and steel than there once was, the city still retains the vital essence described by Kipling: the trees, the granite and earth, the water, and the laid-back lifestyle.

This evidence of Kipling's real estate holdings in Vancouver demands some further research. Where exactly was his plot located? (It sounds somewhat substantial by his description). How long did Kipling own it for, and what sort of profit did he make if or when he sold it? The Idle Historian shall make inquiries.

Update: Undertaking some rather preliminary research, it appears that Kipling's real estate plots were in the area that is currently near Fraser and 11th. It would appear, however, that Kipling did not do very well out of his investment. He bought the land in 1889 for around $500, and sold it in 1928 for $2000 -- adjusted for inflation and $60 per year that he had been paying in taxes, no profit at all! More about Kipling and Vancouver from the Vancouver City Archives website.

Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils 


Justin Bengry said...

An interesting discovery! My thoughts were immediately drawn to the area that later became Queen Elizabeth Park. I wouldn't have minded buying 400 pines and several tonnes of granite back in the day!

IdleHistorian said...

I certainly expect so, yes! Of course the sunken gardens at QE Park were a quarry. At this time I don't think anyone was yet contemplating settlement on the North Shore. That was conducted in the early 20th century, including by interests such as the Guinness family holdings. The landowners of what is now "British Properties" convinced the government to construct the Lions' Gate Bridge in the 1930s.

Yes, indeed we all should have bought property "back in the day." In Vancouver, even 10 years ago counts as "back in the day"!

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