I love this photo of Grace Ceperley and her family taken a century ago. I went out to Burnaby recently to take a comparison shot of the house.
When it was built in 1911 it cost $150,000 and was the largest house in Burnaby, sitting on 20 acres of land, 10 of which was landscaped. A story in the local newspaper described it as a palatial home “with its fine lawns, terraces, rockeries with Marysville retaining wall, greenhouses, pumping station for irrigation. Lodge stables and outbuildings.” Many of the original buildings have been demolished, but the stables, root house and steam plant is still there. So is the chauffeur’s cottage, but it’s unclear who actually occupied it. Mr. Muttit, the English chauffeur, told the Ceperley’s that, as a socialist, he would not live a “feudal life” on the estate. While Henry Ceperley owned a successful real estate and insurance business, it was Grace who bought the land and built “Fairacres” as a retirement home. Grace used money she inherited from her brother-in-law A.G. Ferguson (the same Ferguson of Ferguson Point in Stanley Park). The condition was that after her death she would leave a chunk of money to go to the improvement of Stanley Park.
She did just that when she died in 1917 at age 54. She had carefully earmarked $13,000 in her will and specific instructions to fund a children’s playground. The playground, still called Ceperley Park in Grace’s honour, is by Second Beach in Stanley Park, but little of the original fixtures remain. At the time it was one of the largest in Canada, filled with giant slides, ladders and seesaws, a sandbox, wading pool, bridge canal, and track and field facilities.
Fairacres sold to Frederick Buscombe one-time Mayor of Vancouver in 1922, and future owners included a group of Benedictine monks from Oregon, and the Temple of the More Abundant Life. The cult was shortlived when it transpired that its leader, Archbishop John had fled the US as a convicted bigamist with a string of extortion and wife-beating charges.
The City of Burnaby bought the estate in 1966. It survived as a frat house for SFU students for a couple of years and is now the home of the Burnaby Art Gallery.
Eve Lazarus is a writer with a passion for history and heritage houses. She is the author of At Home with History: the secrets of Greater Vancouver’s Heritage Houses, a member of the North Vancouver District Heritage Commission, and blogs obsessively about buildings and their genealogies at www.blog.evelazarus.com. Her next book “Sensational Victoria” with house stories of Victoria’s murders, ghosts, brothels, artists and sea captains (not necessarily in that order) will be published in November.