Frequently asked questions
What is a Building Permit?
A civic-issued approval document, when a structure is to be built, repaired or moved, plans were submitted to City Hall, reviewed by the Building Inspector, then approved for the work being done. Vancouver's first Building Inspector was George McSpadden.
What information does a Building Permit contain?
The owner, architect, builder/applicant; the issued permit date; the legal description of the property; the address and street; the work which is being approved (house, factory, store, chicken coup, repairs, etc), the permits number (aside from Vancouver's pre-numbered permits), and the estimated cost of the house, etc.
Depending on the original clerk entering the information, some info may not have been recorded, or might not have been known at the time. For example, street numbers were not often recorded in the earlier permits.
What did this project transcribe?
The building permits register ledgers for each pre-1929 municipality.
The detailed individual permits that were issued to the applicant, and a copy retained by the City, no longer exist. It was common practice to record overview information into registers then purge the full records, and this is the material that we're left with, and have transcribed.
How were the entries transcribed?
Since the original entries were handwritten in permit ledgers, every character has been transcribed by hand, with over building permits.
For more details, see the About section.
Why are the permits divided into Vancouver, Point Grey and South Vancouver?
Vancouver as we know it today, is an amalgamation of three historic municipalities which occurred January 1, 1929. Prior to this date, all three municipalities existed autonomously, each with separate City Halls, permitting and licensing departments.
The classification within this database of Vancouver, Point Grey, and South Vancouver are the historic boundaries, and not necessarily representative of contemporary boundaries.
Searches default to searching all three areas, with the option to limit to any given municipality.
How do I know which historic municipality my property was located in?
Search using the default to search across all three municipalities, or limit to any given area(s). Basically, 16th Avenue and Cambie Street are the divisional lines between all three area.
The 1908 geographic boundaries of Point Grey were thus all areas south of 16th Avenue on the west side of the previous South Vancouver District, approximately from Camosun Street to Cambie Street.
South Vancouver's geographic boundaries from 1908 forward, were all areas south of 16th Avenue on the east side from Cambie Street to Boundary Road.
Where did the permit information come from?
The primary sources for these records are the original building permit registers stored at the City of Vancouver Archives. The registers document permits issued for the City of Vancouver from 1901 to 1945, the Corporation of Point Grey from 1912 to 1928 and the Corporation of the District of South Vancouver from 1911 to 1928.
Quick search – what is this?
This is the easiest way to quickly check for a building permit reference. Keyword - try searching for the owner, architect, building, street. More general terms will display more results. For example, "49" in the street field pulls results for "49th avenue", "49 avenue", "49th", "49th ave", depending on how the original entry was written.
Advanced search - what is this?
If you are having trouble locating an entry, or want to search for multiple entries (such as all projects by an architect) you can use the Advanced Search.
Knowing the legal description of a given property is key, as you're able to search for an entire district lot, or narrowed down to a block within a DL, etc.
Please note that neither the Heritage Vancouver Society nor the City of Vancouver Archives assumes responsibility for the accuracy or comprehensiveness of this database. The Heritage Vancouver Society strongly encourages users who wish to verify individual entries to consult the records located at the Archives, many of which have been microfilmed.
What format is used for for dates?
The dates are presented in the following format: YYYY/MM/DD. So 1912-12-25 is December 25, 1912.
What date ranges does the database currently cover?
Currently, the database consist of the building permit records for the three municipalities that amalgamated to become the City of Vancouver on January 1, 1929:
Vancouver: 1901 to 1904; 1909 to 1920 (see note on 1905-1908 data below)
South Vancouver (Municipality of): October 1911 to December 1921
Point Grey (Municipality of): May 14, 1912 to December 1923
Building permitting system start dates:
Vancouver's permit system began Tuesday, January 1, 1901;
Point Grey began Tuesday, May 14, 1912, and
South Vancouver began Monday, October 23, 1911.
Additional years will be uploaded once transcriptions are completed. See the updates section.
Where is the data for Vancouver 1905 to 1908?
These permit ledgers do not exist, or at least they never made it to the Archives, and are presumed lost. If you know of where these might be, please contact the Vancouver Archives, as they (and us) would be very interested in the information contained within the ledgers.
That being said, we've identified many of the missing approx. 5,000 permits in this date range from two publications which luckily reported the issued daily permits, have have recently finished the transcription. While not as encompassing as the material from the permit registers, these references do supply some much needed permits for this era. They'll hopefully be online by the fall/winter of 2015.
I found an error in a transcription. Who should I notify?
Transcriptions are copied exactly as written. The original books are handwritten and can be difficult to read, and spelling mistakes were common at the time of entry. Obvious errors have been corrected, but if the original handwritten entry was in error, it will need to be flagged and corrected. Also, addresses, street names etc. may have changed over time, and we can cross-reference to any new information that is submitted. Click the
"Send corrections to this entry" link within the record display, fill the form out with the new information, and the record will be confirmed and updated with notations of the update.
My house isn't being displayed. What do I try next?
See 'Search Tips' for suggestions in different ways of searching the historic data.
Also your house may be outside the date range of the currently online transcriptions; you may need to undertake additional research at the City of Vancouver Archives or the Vancouver Public Library:
City of Vancouver Archives
VPL Home History Page
If your house does fall within the transcribed dates, and you still can't find it, let us know with as much detail about the property as possible (original owner's name, legal description, street address(es), water hookup details, etc.)
What is the Reference ID?
Every permit line in the database contains a modern unique code; two 4-digit numbers followed by another digital, as in 1234-1235-01. The last digit (01) shows the actual line number on the original handwritten entry page, while the first 8-digiits identify the photographed pages for use while being transcribed.
Under Advanced Search, if you enter in even the first 4-digit number then search, the results will show you all entries from the transcribed page, in the order that they originally appeared.
Future database enhancements will have the ability to pull the photographed pages for any searched entry.
What is the Legal Description?
How property is described in legal terms, and is the most accurate way to identify a parcel of land.
District Lot (DL) is the largest portion;
Block is a sub of the DL, and could be anywhere from 1-city block to a few;
Lot, which is the smallest parcel of land, and where a structure would typically occupy.
Some remarks use abbreviations within the transcription:
Some common historic abbreviations:
f dwelling: frame dwelling
F or Fair: Sometimes noted around an address - "Fairview"
Eburne: Current Marpole area
HT: Hastings Townsite
OGT: Original Granville Townsite
What is the letter included with some of the permit numbers?
In South Vancouver, sometimes an "A" is used around the permit number, as in 129-A.
In Point Grey, the alternate permit number uses an "M", as in M-19, for Minor permits; 'M300' is how they're listed.
It's unknown why South Van used an "A" among the other permits. Do you know? Let us know.
Where else can I find information?
The database contains only building permit information. You may wish to search for additional information about your building:
For pulling the legal description, and verifying the current address
Vancouver Street Names book, by Elizabeth Walker (PDF online)
Many of the street names in Vancouver have changed or have fallen into disuse over the years. This book meticulously documents these changes and is a great complement to the Vancouver city directories.
Fire insurance maps (1897, 1912, 1920s, etc.)
Library and Archives Canada website
Vancouver 1897 revised to 1903 (64 plates)
Vancouver 1912 (53 plates)
City of Vancouver Archives
Available on microfiche, in the Archives' reading room
Vancouver yearly directories (online, VPL)
Vancouver Building Register (online VPL)
VPL website link
The History of Metropolitan Vancouver
BC Vital Events (births, marriages, deaths)
BC Archives Genealogy website
Archival information search across BC
Where can I search for architectural plans and references?
There are several places to search for architectural plans and references:
The City of Vancouver Archives hold a number of architectural plans. Residential plans exist in a number of collections such as the Townley & Matheson fonds (Add.MSS.1399), the Ross A. Lort fonds (which also includes plans by Samuel Maclure: Add.MSS.1015) and the Charles Van Norman fonds (Add.MSS.755) which can all be searched online. The name of the original owner is very useful when searching for plans.
The Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada 1800-1950 has specific references to many tender calls and other sources of information:
Some plans for Samuel Maclure buildings in Vancouver are held by the University of Victoria Special Collections:
References to Vancouver buildings can be searched in the Canadian Architect & Builder 1888 to 1908 online:
The Canadian Architectural Archives hold the plans of a number of Vancouver architects such as McCarter & Nairne, Sharp & Thompson, Thompson Berwick & Pratt, Ron Thom and Arthur Erickson:
Where can I search for archival images?
There are a number of online sites. These only display a fraction of the collection of each archive, so it may also be useful to search their collection in person:
Vancouver Public Library (VPL) Special Collections online
City of Vancouver Archives (CVA) online
University of British Columbia (UBC) Special Collections