Big Plans For West End's Iconic Mansion, The Gabriola
by Janet Leduc
Much to the relief of our community, one of the West End’s two remaining mansions will no longer be sitting empty and abandoned. The Gabriola’s new owner, Nevin Sangha, has plans to turn the mansion back into rental units, a use consistent with the majority of the building’s history.
At two Open Houses, on February 9 and 16 of this year, Sangha gave the community a preview of what’s next for The Gabriola. He envisions 17 new units, 13 in the building and four townhouses on the northeast corner of the property. I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with Nevin, and he reassured me that although some of the famous gardens will be lost to the townhouses, he is proposing additional garden space to the west of the buildings, ending up with the same square footage. He spoke enthusiastically of the opportunity to restore this beautiful class “A” heritage building, including heritage elements that have been dismantled or destroyed. He plans to restore the most important interior heritage elements such as the grand staircase, the main entrance lobby, fireplaces and ceiling treatments.
Sangha talked about creating opportunities for businesses and community groups to rent the ground floor community amenity space for meetings and for heritage organizations to offer tours to the public.
Many of us who remember The Gabriola as a restaurant have fond memories of dining at either Hy’s Mansion or Romano’s Macaroni Grill. It was not until 1978 that the building first became a restaurant, when well-known Vancouver restaurateur Hy Aisenstat converted the premises into Hy’s Mansion, one of the city’s elite restaurants. In 1994 it became the Macaroni Grill. Soon after a fire in the building, the mansion closed and has remained empty for many years.
The Gabriola, designed by Samuel McClure, was home for 17 years to its first residents, the founder of the BC Sugar Refinery, Benjamin Tingley (B.T.) Rogers, his wife Mary Isabella Angus (Bella), their four sons and three daughters. Mrs. Rogers frequently entertained in her lavish mansion and had a reputation for being a superb hostess. When it was completed In 1901, The Gabriola stood out even in a community of mansions. In the Rogers’ day the estate consisted of a gardener’s cottage, barn and stables, conservatory, greenhouses, tennis courts, and a five-horse paddock. It dominated the full city block from Cardero to Nicola. This part of the estate was lost in the 1920s when the property was subdivided and converted to apartments.
By 1918, the Rogers’ family had decided to leave The Gabriola and move to Shaughnessy. They were in the process of building their ten acre Shannon Estate when B.T. died suddenly at the age of 52. Bella moved into Shannon and in 1924 entered into a business agreement with Charles Bentall to convert The Gabriola into six apartments. The new development was known as the Angus Apartments, after Bella Rogers’ maiden name. Bentall eventually moved into the Angus and lived there until his death in 1974. At that time the building was quite run down and a significant restoration and renovation allowed it to be converted into restaurant use.
The Gabriola was known as, “probably the most lavish private home ever constructed in B.C.”. It was named for the green sandstone quarried on Gabriola Island used on the building’s exterior. Many of the significant interior features of the building, such as the stained glass windows, fireplaces, and a grand staircase are still intact. The exterior is largely unchanged despite various incarnations as an apartment building and then restaurants. This is somewhat of a miracle in a city where change seems constant.
Nevin Sangha will soon submit his application to the City, putting the restoration process in motion. The West End Journal intends to provide readers with regular updates as the application makes its way through the city’s development process. We look forward to seeing this West End Landmark restored and open once again.
Janet Leduc, a long-time West End resident, is a heritage consultant, historian, and the president of Kinexus Consulting Inc., Heritage: the Arts, and Community.