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Hot Properties: West Vancouver photographer documents houses that have all but disappeared

10/04/2014 12:41 EDT | Updated 12/04/2014 05:59 EST
They were small and beautiful and endangered.

In the 1980s, West Vancouver photographer Jim Breukelman searched through the Lower Mainland to find unique, single-family homes that were in danger of being demolished. He documented some of the houses in his series "Hot Properties."

Some of those photos are currently on display at the Surrey Art Gallery, as part of a travelling exhibit at the gallery called Flora and Fauna: 400 Years of Artists Inspired by Nature.

He says the idea started when he took a trip around the United States and he was looking for a compelling subject to photograph, that hadn't already been explored. Breukelman ended up in San Antonio in an industrial area, which looked bleak and depressing.

"Until I came around a corner and here was this amazing jewel of a cottage in the middle of what would have been a vacant lot. It was surrounded by a picket fence and it was sort of dilapidated... but they had created this amazing paradise with the garden they had put around it— to sort of make a nice life with themselves in spite of what they had to live with." 

He says he kept thinking about it on his way home, and when he arrived back in Vancouver, he said he was "astounded to see that I was actually surrounded by cottages very similar to that one. So I started to look at them in a different light." 

"I was really looking for the sense of personal expression in the landscaping and what was done to the houses."

Most of the houses he photographed in New Westminster, Vancouver and other neighbourhoods are now gone. One of the houses, he says, was chosen by Canada Post to be in the history of photography series, and it still does exist.

"But the other day when I was trying to find houses with topiary in them... they were all gone." 

"It's kind of sad. When they were built, property was not so expensive so city lots were bigger at that time, at least in East Van. But the materials to build houses were sort of at a premium," Breukelman said, because it was just after the Second World War, so "most of those houses were really tiny.

Here are these tiny houses sitting in the middle of large, lush lots with great views. So they had great commercial value for the property but nothing at all for the houses." 

Jim Breukelman's photographs are on display as part of a travelling exhibit at the Surrey Art Gallery called Flora and Fauna: 400 Years of Artists Inspired by Nature.

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