The Sea Island Heritage Society invites former and current residents to share their families' experiences and memories with us.
The Boeing plant on Sea Island in Richmond, British Columbia, hired hundreds of workers from all around the Lower Mainland. Many of them coming to the Marpole terminal, and then on to the plant via the ‘cattle car’. A decision was made to provide the wartime demand for housing closer to the large employers.
Under the direction of the federal crown corporation Wartime Housing Ltd., and set in motion by the efforts of Boeing Aircraft, the housing project on the south end of Sea Island was created.
Land was expropriated from the farmers on Sea Island, a negotiated agreement was made for water supply with the Municipality of Richmond, and a fire hall and community centre were given to the new community.
The houses were designed by the architectural firm McCarter and Nairne who also designed the Marine Building in Vancouver, British Columbia.
And the site planning along crescents and cul-de-sacs, represented a notable departure from the customary grid patterns. The streets and roads were named after various wartime aircrafts such as "Anson, Boeing, Douglas, Catalina".
According to Al MacNeill, Smith Bros and Wilson were the contractors that built the 328 houses. Construction began in 1941 and continued through to 1944. The subdivision was named BURKEVILLE after Stanley Burke, President of Boeing Aircraft in Canada.
There were three models of homes available. The first style was the small fours. It had a gable roof. The big fours had a cottage roof, and there were a few sixes with two rooms upstairs, gable roofs and a window on each end of the upper floor. Most of the sixes were on Douglas Crescent.
There were also two types of duplexes. A few had cottage roofs and others had gable roofs. One of the houses was different from all the others. It was located at the north end of Lancaster Crescent, and was bigger. At first it was used for the construction company offices, and later converted into a home.
All of the houses had a utility room, which was ground level and was accessed via an outside door (for the storage of wood, etc.). It was also accessed from the inside by a small vertical sliding door (about 3'x3’). They all had a large wood/coal heater in the front room and a wood burning kitchen stove in the kitchen. There was a deep laundry-type sink in the kitchen, thick wooden countertops, and cupboards with no doors.
Despite being relatively plain structures, the houses did offer 2, 3 or 4 bedrooms, and limited assortments of exterior wall finishes and colour combinations.
Because of lumber rationing during the war, you were only allowed enough lumber to build a 1,000 square foot house and this included both porches. All of them only had a small 30 amp service for 4 to 15 amp glass fuses, and lots of spare fuses because of the new electric irons and toasters.
Grant Thompson recalls that there were dirt crawl spaces under the houses, with small pads for support posts. Grant says that he crawled under many of these houses doing modifications on the electrical, or running oil lines for new oil stoves.
Each house had a small wooden sidewalk that extended to the road, over the ditch. The sidewalks were very slippery when wet, and Grant recalls that at least everyone had a fall on them. The lots were about 40'x100’ in size.
Al MacNeill recalls that when he was about 15 years old, he worked for the construction company one summer on the project as a gofer! He was assigned to the west side gutter and bargeboard gang, assisting two Swedish carpenters. They did all the gutter and bargeboard on the west side of the perimeter road. The carpenter crews were made up of gangs, and each gang had their speciality. One gang would do nothing but hang doors, another gang would do the framing, and so on. They even had a saw filer on hand to look after the carpenters’ handsaws.
Grant Thompson further recalls that because there were no cupboard doors, the ladies made curtains for the cupboard fronts until plywood was available after the war. As plumbing became available after the war, those deep laundry sinks in the kitchens were replaced. The houses were the bare minimum when it came to frills.
These houses were first rented to workers from Boeing for about $20.00 per month. The first completed house was at 300 Lancaster and finally occupied on January 11, 1944 by Mr. and Mrs. Morris Nevile and their 3 children.
In the early days of the subdivision, there was a pay phone at the end of each lane. The women of Burkeville would be waiting for their phone calls with their coffee cups in hand.
Boeing did have a company rule for obtaining a Burkeville house which was a priority to families with children.
Later the houses were sold by Wartime Housing to returning servicemen and their young families. For the small homes, the price was set at $4,500.00. The Lidkea family were one of the lucky ones, and bought into the neighbourhood in 1950. Mrs. Lidkea related that the list of potential home purchasers was very long, and you had to have two children in order to be considered.
Sea Island Heritage Society
4191 Ferguson Road, Richmond, British Columbia
Canada V7B 1P3