Historic building permits database project


Looking for a historic architect, cost, or construction date of a property?

Launched Nov 2011, and recipient of the City of Vancouver 2015 Heritage Award of Honour, our ongoing Vancouver Building Permits Database, currently contains online over 40,000 hand-transcribed searchable historic permits, with thanks to a Vancouver125 Grant for making the project launch possible, and volunteers for ongoing transcriptions!

Search & view the online database at: permits.heritagevancouver.org

The Heritage Vancouver Society has sponsored this building permits database as a community service to assist individuals with historical research pertaining to the City of Vancouver.

Beginning in 2009, we began to prepare the data to serve as the basis for an online searchable database available to the public, launched in late 2011. This entailed manually comparing the originally transcribed data with the original books, ensuring the data and spelling is accurate, and subsequently filling in any missing information and/or additional data.

To date, as of January 2017, this has involved the transcription of over 40,000 individual line entries/permits from handwritten original period city ledgers.

Our launch for the online database was Wedneday, November 23, 2011, at the Vancouver Archives.

The primary sources for these records are the original building permit registers stored at the City of Vancouver Archives. The registers consist of applications to construct, move or improve existing buildings. Prior to 1912, City of Vancouver descriptions of the work included whether the building was frame or brick, and the type of building (e.g., dwelling, shed, store). Each application is listed as a one-line entry, and organized according to the owner’s last name, loosely alphabetized within each year (e.g., for the year 1901, all last names beginning with ‘A’ are grouped in chronological order). Later registers are chronological, making manual searches for individual properties very difficult. The database follows a format similar to that of the corresponding original registers. Where applicable, the database provides information on the owner, architect, builder, month and year of application, legal description (more location accurate), street number and name, building cost, permit number and remarks regarding the type of building or nature of the work. The current database data includes building permits issued by:

  • City of Vancouver: 1901 to 1904 and 1909 to 1920 (see note for 1905-1908)*
  • Corporation of the District of South Vancouver: 1911 to 1921 (amalgamated with Vancouver in 1929)
  • Corporation of Point Grey: 1912 to 1924 (amalgamated with Vancouver in 1929)

1909 Vancouver Building Permit Book*Unfortunately the original book(s) for the years 1905 to 1908 for the City of Vancouver are lost, and have been for decades, and were never available for microfilming/copying so the data for this span is unavailable (see next paragraph). For 1905 and 1906 data, we have transcribed basic building permit data which was published in the January 1906 and 1907 issues of The Province newspaper — the info consisting only of the applicant’s name, project cost, basic description, and sometime the street name. Unfortunately no such lists were subsequently published for 1907/08, and data for these two years is missing entirely. These will be incorporated into the online database in 2016.  

The early permit registers are handwritten in the distinctive cursive script of the era, in varying degrees of legibility. There were also many variations in spelling. This presents a number of challenges in the transcription. Wherever possible, names that could not be deciphered were confirmed against directories or BC Vital Events.

The transcription process has undoubtedly resulted in errors in interpretation. There will be a feedback mechanism as part of the searchable database to ensure that errors can be reported and corrected on an ongoing basis.

Please note that neither the Heritage Vancouver Society nor the City of Vancouver Archives assumes responsibility for the accuracy or comprehensiveness of this database. The Heritage Vancouver Society strongly encourages users who wish to verify individual entries to consult the records located at the Archives, many of which have been microfilmed.

Interested in helping with transcription/data entry?

Transcription Building Permits
The more volunteers we have for the project, the more data we can upload and share.

Manual transcription takes time, espcially when working from a handwritten source. If you’re interested volunteering with data entry for this invaluable project, please let us know.

You’d be working from JPEGs of the actual entry pages (printouts can be supplied), and entereing the raw data in a basic Excel template or via online with Google Sheets (browswer based), and you can work from any location, remotely on your own time.

The more volunteers that we have, the more that we can post online! As of January 2015, we’re working through Vancouver 1920 on, and Point Grey 1923 to 1929.

Please contact: patrick@heritagevancouver.org