Steve Norman: Building a new legacy

Steve Norman is passionate about his city, his neighbourhood, and the historic buildings that characterize both. After spending years restoring his Arts and Crafts influenced Edwardian-era home, here is the story of his unique vision to develop the large parcel of land surrounding it.

by Sheilah Harris

Writer Sheilah Harris grew up in New Westminster. She lives in the neighbourhood of Queen’s Park in a 1960s home that’s posing as a 1940s cottage. Sheilah has endless admiration for the dedication and talents of those who restore old homes – large and small – that make New Westminster so appealing.

Steve Norman had a clear goal. He wanted to find two small heritage houses that were under threat of demolition and move them onto his usually spacious Queen’s Park property. The project would be a win-win: save two period houses from the landfill and provide more housing in a city that was eager to find ways to accommodate a burgeoning population.

It seemed straightforward.

Steve and his wife, Kitty, had bought their 1910 house on Queen’s Avenue in 1979, after restoring two heritage homes in Vancouver and Burnaby. The 22,617-square-foot property stretched from Queen’s Avenue in the front to Manitoba Street in the rear, and at one time boasted an orchard. The view of the property from their house was breathtaking. Surrounded by single family heritage homes, duplexes and low-rise apartment buildings, this lot stood out for its size, beauty, and potential.

“About 20 years ago, my wife and I (sadly, Kitty passed away in 2011) had decided we need to try to save a couple of small houses, which weren’t being saved,” Norman explained. “A developer would buy a property of a pretty good size with a small house, demolish the house, and then build the biggest house you could fit within the city rules. Their money would be made on the increase in square footage.”

A long-serving member of both the Queen’s Park Residents Association and the New Westminster Heritage Preservation Society, Norman is passionate about his city, his neighbourhood, and the historic buildings that characterize both. He was determined that any heritage houses saved should be protected. There had been several attempts to create a
Heritage Conservation area in Queen’s Park over the last 20 years. In November 2013, representatives of the NWHPS went to city council to express their concerns about the demolition of heritage homes in the Queen’s Park neighbourhood. Council endorsed a study to explore options supporting heritage conservation in the neighbourhood.

H = Davidson House, 218 Queen’s Avenue; I = Sandick House, 219 Manitoba Street; J = Herbert House, 221 Manitoba street. The laneway that ends at Peele Street is the area that had to be excavated to install a storm sewer at Steve Norman’s expense.

Fast forward to 2017, and council finally – and unanimously – endorsed the creation of the Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area. Steve Norman now had the assurances he needed to begin the process of subdividing and preparing his lot – no simple task. It took almost a year to negotiate the work service agreement with the city, and Norman found himself burdened with the same obligations and expenses as a large property developer working in New West. An arborist and three engineers — city, structural, and geological – had to be hired at his own expense for the duration of the project. The laneway from Peele Street, which originally terminated at his property line, had to be dug up to install a storm sewer, which was then connected to three other houses on Manitoba Street (including a new house) – also at his expense.

The lane then had to be widened and extended to the other side of his property to give rear access to the new lots fronting Manitoba Street, effectively eliminating a large portion of his remaining backyard. A sidewalk had to be installed in front of the new properties, although there is no sidewalk anywhere else on Manitoba Street. A streetlight had to be added. And Norman’s own home was affected: he was required to put all his electrical wiring underground and fund a new fire hydrant, boulevard trees and streetlight in front of his house on Queen’s Avenue, even though the development was behind and below it on Manitoba Street. His garage had to be moved. An independent heritage consultant was hired to assess the heritage value of prospective homes, which Norman was adept at himself. The total cost of the service agreement? About $300,000.00. Not to mention the value of the land given up for public laneway.

READ THE STORY: ‘Saving the old houses’ a passion project for dedicated resident’
Story by: Theresa McManus, The New West Record Photo: Jennifer Gauthier, Dec 2018
Queen’s Park resident Steve Norman is pursuing a longtime dream of saving heritage homes. Having had two heritage homes relocated to his property, he’s now working on a plan that will see the homes restored and get heritage designations. Story: Theresa McManus, Photo: Jennifer Gauthier, the New West Record, Dec. 17, 2018

When asked if he could put a positive spin on his experience working with the city, Norman had to laugh. “People were very agreeable to deal with. It’s just that their concept of time and mine clashed a lot. I was told by the city that this would take two and a half years. It took twice that.”

Having a general contractor with experience working in New Westminster was key to getting the job done, Norman said. Skills he himself had acquired in the bargaining division of the BCTF (he’s a retired Vancouver teacher) were likely valuable, too.

Ultimately, a 1909 house a few blocks away on St. Patrick Street and a 1911 house from 45th and Knight in Vancouver were chosen for their heritage value and size, with each being approximately 950 sq. ft.

“These two houses were going to be demolished. Houses of all sizes and shapes have their heritage value if they’re in that age bracket,” says Norman.

Sandick House, formerly located on St. Patrick’s Street, now at 219 Manitoba Street

In July 2018, city council approved a temporary use permit, allowing the two homes to be moved onto the site while Norman negotiated a Heritage Revitalization Agreement, which would ensure the protection of the houses. Then came building permits, basements built under the houses and, finally, the restoration work. This is where Norman’s past experience with his own home rejuvenations, his work with the NWHPS, and his 10-year stint as the owner of Vintage Lighting, could really shine.

Herbert House, formerly at 45th and Knight, Vancouver, now at 221 Manitoba Street

A local construction company did the majority of the work, and the city’s heritage consultant had a say in the proceedings, but Norman was on site daily, making the decisions on every aspect of the refurbishment, from cabinetry to the heritage colours (there are no whites) and, of course, the period appropriate lighting. His attention to detail included saving part of an old walnut tree that had been on the property and turning it into a newel post for the exterior railing of 219.

It was a huge undertaking. I asked Norman what advice he would give to someone else considering a similar project.

“I don’t think it could happen. You have to have a large lot that you’ve owned for a long time, so you paid less for it in land value than it’s worth now. The land, if you’ve had it for a long while, is your asset. These are regular lots, not little 2,000 or 3,000 sq ft. lots. It’s unlikely someone would be able to do something this size today.”

But today, what Steve Norman has given to the neighbourhood and to the city is more than two “new,” 2,000 sq ft. homes. He has saved two attractive and worthwhile old houses from demolition, restored them, and protected them with heritage designations. He has beautified the streetscape and added to the inventory of heritage houses that give the area its unique
character. For the two families that now live at 219 and 221 Manitoba Street, he has provided charming homes with surprising and unique histories.

As we talk, he sees movement outside one of the new houses and gets up to look. He admits that after visiting the two sites every day for five years, he is still a bit “possessive.” Fair enough. The change outside his window is remarkable, and he has every reason to be proud of it. With vision, integrity and dogged determination, Steve Norman has helped shape the heritage landscape of New Westminster for the better.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 28th, 2023 at 1:25 pm and is filed under Heritage Conservation Area, Heritage Homes Tour. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.