Cecil Green Park House, the “House on the Cliff”
High on the cliffs of Point Grey, with magnificent panoramic views that sweep north to Howe Sound and across to the Strait of Georgia, Cecil Green Park is a building of both historical and architectural interest.
1912 – Kanakla is Designed by Samuel Maclure, Noted BC Architect
Edward Pease Davis, a prominent barrister, solicitor and courtroom lawyer and founder of the law firm EP Davis and Company, purchased, along with a Dr. Lefevre, ten acres of crown land on the tip of Point Grey Cliffs in order to escape from the increasingly crowded west end of Vancouver and the then fashionable migration to Shaughnessy Heights. The house was commissioned in 1912 and was designed by Samuel Maclure, one of British Columbia’s most prolific architects in the early part of the 20th century. Davis named the house Kanakla, a West Coast Indian word meaning “house on the cliff.”
In 1912, the public tram line ended at 4th at Alma from where guests to Kanakla either had to walk or were collected by the Davis’ car. Electricity was not installed until the 1920s and until that time, gas for lighting was manufactured in a small building purpose-built between the east of the house and the squash court building. (The gas house, along with the game larders on the north side of the structure were restored in 2003.) Residents drew their water from a stream that flowed across what is now the UBC campus, and used wood and coal for heating and cooking.
A staff of three ran Kanakla; the cook, the butler / chauffer and the gardener. The gardener and his family lived over the garage, located at the west end of the driveway. He was responsible for maintaining the extensive grounds that included a rose garden and croquet lawn at the northwest corner of the house, as well as a formal Italian garden, with tennis and badminton courts to the north east.
Since 1912, cliff erosion has taken about two thirds of the original garden area, as well as the end of the west driveway.
1940 – Kanakla is Sold for $9,000
The Davis family retained Kanakla until 1939. By then, the UBC campus had grown up around the property. (The surviving Davis son and his family had, with the opening of the Lions Gate Bridge in the 1930s, moved to the seclusion of the British Properties.) At the beginning of World War II, there was no market for the house. The property was offered to the university, but was declined.
In 1940, it was sold to Mrs. Elizabeth V. Schwitzer, a recent arrival from war-torn Europe, for the purchase price of $9,000, although it was valued at $25,000 for purposes under the Land Registry Act. Mrs. Schwitzer renamed the house Langara.
1951 – Kanakla Purchased by Senator Stanley Stewart McKeen
At the end of Mrs Schwitzer’s tenancy, the house was again offered to the university as a potential residence for the president. The offer was declined and the house was purchased by Senator McKeen for the price of $55,250. Senator McKeen named the house Yorkeen.
In 1964, the property was sold to the Basilian Fathers of Vancouver for $100,000. Plans to use the house as a dormitory for members of the religious order did not materialize, although it was used for emergency classroom space.
1967 – Purchased by Ida and Cecil Green and Donated to UBC
In 1967, Ida and Cecil Green purchased the house for $135,000 and donated it the campus, as well as $200,000 for refurbishing the house. They intended the house to be used as a town-and-gown centre, where both on- and off-campus groups could hold events. To honour this generous gesture, it was renamed Cecil Green Park.
Cecil Green, a co-founder of Texas Instruments, studied at UBC between 1918 and 1921. In recognition of their philanthropy towards worldwide post-secondary education (the Greens also funded Green College which was built in the mid-1990s adjacent to the house). Both Cecil and Ida Green received honorary doctorate degrees from UBC.
1989 – Renovation Completed
Upon her death in 1986, Ida Green made a bequest for the renovation and restoration of Cecil Green Park. The renovation was completed in 1989 at a cost of $1.3 million.