Remembering Shelley Fralic

The New Westminster Heritage Preservation Society wishes to express sincere condolences to the family of  Shelley Fralic, respected journalist and mother, sister and nana extraordinaire.  Shelley passed away May 31, 2021.

Shelley was a Heritage Homes Tour fan and led by doing. She and her lovely Arts and Crafts house on Hamilton Street were on tour five times–a record for a residential venue.   In 2012 she organized a parade of homes on her block  to celebrate their 100th birthdays. (1912 was a great year for the construction of craftsman bungalows in the lower mainland!)

By talking up the tour with her neighbours, Shelley turned an idea into brilliant reality.  And how could they say no to her?  The result was a tour patron’s dream of three fabulous homes–in a row–all built in the same year by the same builder but each so different.  All turning 100.

Every year the NWHPS could count on Shelley to write a story about the Heritage Homes Tour.  Her story or –even a mention of the tour– in the Vancouver Sun  often yielded a huge surge in ticket sales.  She loved to promote our city’s heritage and her funny and sometimes wistful stories of how old houses can impact us both emotionally and physically resonated with so many. When she wrote–they read and listened.

And visited our city.  

Thanks so much Shelley. When the history of heritage in New Westminster is written you will have earned a page or two… and definitely a byline.   


This Old House is Something Precious.

New Westminster heritage home tour evokes a history we are forgetting

By Shelley Fralic

Had 1,200 people over to the house Sunday.

They swept in, poked around in the cupboards, took pictures of the stained glass, fondled the dangly bits on the bathroom chandelier, puzzled over the workings of the old kitchen stove, recoiled in terror in the doorway of the teen’s room, relaxed in the wicker chairs on the front verandah and then swept out, leaving a trail of pithy comments.

Shelley Fralic
May 27, 2012. Celebrating their houses turning 100. Shelly Fralic (second from right) flanked by her neighbours Doug Boyer and Liz Abbott (left) and Aileen Brown (far right). Credit: Paul Fuoco.

“Love that overstuffed chair.”

“Ugh, why would she pick that colour for the bedroom?”

“Bit too much chintz, don’t you think?

“The garden could use a little Weed and Feed. What a mess.”

Welcome to the 22nd Annual New Westminster Heritage Home Tour and Tea, and the T.H. Furness House on Hamilton Street.

My house.

It’s described in the $25 ticket booklet – along with a drawing of it and 12 other much nicer, more elegant, more deserving-to-be-toured heritage homes – as a classic example of a craftsman bungalow with “square porch pillars, exposed rafters, dormers, braces and the use of natural material, like wood and stone, intended to convey a design philosophy emphasizing comfort, simplicity and the beauty of materials and craftsmanship.”

Or, rather, a utilitarian turn-of-the-century home, sort of a wooden Volkswagen with a basement. Solid, dependable, never dies.

The brochure also describes it as “a cosy home filled with books and collectibles from all eras.”

Translation: It’s an 89-year-old money pit with a leaky basement, peeling fascia boards, no insulation, and wiring so old that to turn on the washing machine and microwave at the same time is to court danger.

Collectibles? How about 30 years worth of old furniture and junk.

So, how to disguise all this in the face of inspection by more than a thousand lookie-loos.

It starts with the outside. The front yard hasn’t been weeded, really weeded, for years. The grass has been chewed up by bad lawn mowers and skunks, the latter nocturnal thugs that live under the garage and tear up great chunks of lawn, feasting on the grubs underneath. There is planting and clipping and flower buying.

Inside, tour preparation mostly involves paint. Every room takes on a new shade of Benjamin Moore. On to the dusting, and polishing, until the elbows ache. Ratty blinds are replaced and all the junk is stuffed in the basement, which is then declared off-limits with a sign that reads: NOT ON TOUR. TRUST ME.

So, why go to all this trouble?

Because ours is a culture, indeed a country, that is so youthful that it does not value its history.

We tear down buildings that have barely settled into their foundations, we embrace the new without remembering the past. We don’t keep our houses, but buy them as investments and sell them, rather like we divest ourselves of disposable tetra drink boxes once we have drained out the juice.

And because in my community – once the capital of the province – there is an appreciation for the old. A movement to preserve and appreciate.

My modest little house, like the city of New Westminster, bears a proud pedigree. It has stood on its little hill overlooking the river for nearly a century, from a time when all routes led to Front Street and the thriving industries crowding the Royal City waterfront.

And it stands today as a sentinel, along with 1,000 other municipally recognized heritage houses (one-sixth of all the houses), for the modern-day New West, a quaint city of 53,000. It’s a small town, really, a SkyTrain stopover on the way to Surrey. We have our own municipal police force, only one high school and an extraordinary number of senior citizens who fill the barber shops and park benches.

Like my town, my house has held fast through a depression, a boom, a couple of earthquakes, a hurricane or two, several wars, layers of paint and clapboard and stucco, and any number of adults and children and pets wearing down the old wood floors.

Like my province, its architectural legacy is that of wood. It’s built almost entirely of beautiful, clear B.C. fir – from the foot-wide floor joists and strip flooring to the wainscotting and plate rails and coffered ceiling, the entire house is a postcard for the B.C. forest industry, pre-Carmanah.

The eight stained glass windows are original, their rose flower design continuing to filter the sunlight into an indoor prism. Float glass, wavy and pock-marked, fills most of the panes.

I am only the third owner. The first was T.H. Furness, the superintendent for the board of works for the city of New Westminster. His widow, Mrs. Furness, the only name we have known her by, raised their family here but lived much of her life alone in the house. Just before I bought it 13 years ago, a young couple with no children owned it briefly, living in only a few of its rooms.

I think it’s worth keeping something so wonderful, so rooted to history and place, in the family. Seems like no one does that kind of thing anymore, certainly not in Canada. We don’t keep track of our things, pass them on or revel in their history.

Perhaps it’s why I live in New West, even though my personal roots are in Vancouver.

New West is full of people who know the value of vintage. Who know their neighbours.

There is a strong heritage movement here, with a vibrant membership keeping it alive, and even help and encouragement from the city to support it. We know people by their old houses, and the sweat equity they have invested.

On the tour, they take pictures, and tell tales about stripping and refinishing and knob and tube wiring. Or they talk about wanting to find such an old place, to fix up and one day show it off on the house tour. And they thank you for taking such good care of your old house, because that’s just what they think everyone should do.

This is the third time in a dozen years I have opened my home and allowed hundreds of strangers in, to wander from room to room and to ask questions, to proclaim that something so old is really something so precious.

Will I do it again?

In a heartbeat.

May 28, 2001. Vancouver Sun.

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