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Cut to fit for model towns–Liverpool & Ioco

August 30, 2014

In the fall of 1919, citing a heavy demand for affordable houses throughout Canada, the Cut-To-Fit Buildings Company announced plans for a factory at Herring’s Point to manufacture ready to assemble houses.

google map location of Cut-To-Fit Buildings CoThe company had purchased about 15 acres near the old Liverpool wharf, with 800 feet of river frontage.

It would build a new deep-water wharf on the Fraser, and with the Canadian National Railway also running through the property,  the factory was ideally situated, just a mile above New Westminster.

(View location on Google Map.)

Cut-To-Fit was headquartered in Vancouver. Lionel A Guertin, the leading promoter of the company, announced they would expand beyond the domestic market and ship mill-built homes to Great Britain and the Far East. 1920 cut to fit house plan

Aiming for a production rate of ten houses a day, the firm would also build barns, garages and utility sheds.

“We intend to erect buildings and plant for the dressing of our own lumber, dry sheds, a saw mill, and so on, all to be operated by electricity.  . .”

Home buyers could choose between a variety of designs and fittings. (One of the larger plans, shown at right.)

Mr Guertin was an able promoter, described as “a live wire, a man of action and ambition.”  The firm did have some experience: “we have supplied houses to returned men in BC —  in the Okanagan, on Lulu Island and around Clayton more particularly. . .”

A model town for Liverpool

The firm expected to employ 60 workers and one of the novel features of the development was the plan to lay out a model town near the factory.

“One of our first considerations, once we get going, will be the gradual erection of a model town for our employees, and we intend that the buildings therein shall be typical examples of our product, in which the workers at the plant may be happily housed near the works.

Apart from the main consideration, which is to provide suitable homes for our workers — for we aim at gathering a contented staff of workers, and realize that well-built comfortable homes are one of the chief means to that attainment — we are anxious to plan and build such a townsite as will itself be a forcible advocate of the value of our work.”

Other companies in the business  of ready-cut houses at this time included  the Fabricated Buildings Company, Great West Manufacturing Company, and Mill Cut Homes & Lumber, all of Vancouver. Lionel Guertin had been working in the business since 1918.

Construction of the factory began in May 1920.  How many, if any employee houses were built at Liverpool near the company plant, we don’t know.


repurposed old bungalow at Liverpoolovergrown front entrance to old Liverpool house


A model town at Ioco

In July 1920, the Imperial Oil Company at Ioco announced it had purchased 22 acres of land adjacent to its refinery for the laying out of a town to accommodate its workers. In September, the Employees Building Association of the Imperial Oil company, announced it had contracted with the Cut-To-Fit Buildings Company “for the erection of ninety new dwellings which are to form the model townsite at the company’s refinery town on Burrard Inlet.”

The model dwellings would vary in design and affordability, with some worth double the lowest priced houses.

 

“The material can be very cheaply transported from the Cut-To-Fit Building  Company’s factory and wharf at Liverpool to the new wharf which is to be erected soon at Ioco, and this one-handling, water-transit arrangement was one of the chief factors in deciding the award of the contract.”

 

The company had a catalogue of stock designs and architect Will Haldane was employed at the Cut-To-Fit company head office in the Metropolitan Building, Vancouver. However, according to Building the West, it was the  architectural firm of Blackadder & MacKay that in 1920  “provided the plans for eighty-four bungalows for the Employees Housing Company in Ioco, the company town adjacent to Imperial Oil’s Port Moody refinery.”

In November 1920 it was reported the clearing of the townsite at Ioco was nearly finished and construction had been commenced on the first of 84 houses — “a six room bungalow” — to be built by Cut-To-Fit “for the employees of this rapidly growing model town.” Mr Guertin stated he expected to have all of the homes erected by the spring.

Ioco new townsite with some Cut-to-Fit houses

In January of 1921 the municipality of Surrey issued a publicity booklet extolling  its agricultural accomplishments,  while citing as an example of the industrial potential of the mainly rural municipality, “the newly erected Cut-To-Fit mill and building plant on the banks of the Fraser, near the old Liverpool wharf.”

However, with the plant now in full production,  with the Ioco contract in the course of completion and orders at hand, something was not well with the Cut-To-Fit company. Soon after the start at Ioco the company announced it was in financial difficulties and facing a shut-down.

All the publicity and the talk of potential orders in 1920 had garnered the company a sizeable government loan of $50,000 —  a sum equivalent to 200 times the value of its lowest cost house. In April a further request to the government for funding to complete its orders was met with skepticism.

The loan had been issued out of the provincial government’s “Industrial Development Fund,” which as it turns out must have been one of the bigger boondoggles of its era. Documents online show the fund was written off in 1946, with Cut-to-fit still on the books with a principle of about $31,000 outstanding and interest accrued of about $16,000.

It is certain that Cut-To-Fit did erect a few of the earliest dwellings at the new Ioco townsite, but how many is unknown.  Histories of the townsite state that it was the Dominion Construction company that  built new, or moved from the older townsite, some 80 houses.

Fraser Valley Tie & Timber

In 1928 the assets of the Cut-To-Fit Building Company were taken over by Fraser Valley Tie and Timber Company which  operated a saw mill on the site at Liverpool specializing in all-cedar products. In 1930 the mill was completely burnt down, but was rebuilt. The photo below shows the mill as it was in 1936. This facility too, had benefited from the Industrial Loan Fund and when the fund was wound up, Fraser Valley Tie still had a large amount outstanding.Fraser Valley Tie & Timber - Liverpool - Fraser River - 1936

The short stretch of road north from 114b Avenue, leading to the Fraser River site of this sawmill, was called “Mill Road,” now known as 127a Street.

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