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West End History Comes to Life at the Roedde House

[By Kendall Walters]  Roedde House Museum is a hidden gem in Vancouver’s West End. Built in 1893, the house has become part of the fabric of the city. In its modern capacity as a museum, Roedde House gives Vancouverites a chance to experience family life in Vancouver as it was shortly after the city’s founding. We’re thrilled to be staging our brand new, original theatre production War for the Holidays at the Roedde House Museum this December. Set at Christmastime in 1915, War for the Holidays gives audiences the opportunity to attend a family Christmas party exactly 100 years ago, complete with cocktails, plum pudding and full-blown family warfare. The play follows the fictional Gregson family as they grapple with the Great War, the growing popularity of the suffrage movement and Victorian morality. Roedde House, which endured through some of the city’s most turbulent history and still stands today, is the perfect venue. The house is staged to look inside precisely as it did at the turn of the last century, painstakingly restored to its former glory with a meticulous attention to detail. But who is Roedde House named for and what has the house been through since its construction more than 120 years ago? We did some research to give you a deeper look at the unique venue of War for the Holidays.

The Roedde Family

Vancouver-Bookbinding-Company-on-Cambie-Street-01-1891-VanArchives-600x800 Roedde House is named for Gustav Roedde and his family. Born in 1860, Gustav emigrated from his home in Grossbodungen, Thuringen, Germany to the U.S. in 1881, where he settled in Cleveland, Ohio. It was there he met his wife, Matilda Marie Cassebohm, who hailed from Heligoland, Germany – a tiny island in the North Sea, off the coast of Denmark. Vancouver-Bookbinding-Company-on-Cambie-Street-02-1891-VanArchives-600x800 After meeting and marrying in Ohio, the pair moved several times: first to San Francisco, California, then Victoria, B.C. and finally Vancouver, where Gustav opened the city’s first bookbindery in 1888. By 1893, the couple could afford to have a home built. They would live there with their six children and three St. Bernard dogs.   During the Great War, the couple’s granddaughters, Gwen Varcoe and Kae Haugh and their mother, moved in with them. In a video by the Roedde House Museum, the pair remember being sent to buy newspapers from vendors on the street, sitting on the still-warm oven door to eat their grandmother’s baked goods and seeing their grandfather and his employees from the bookbindery eat lunch in the home’s kitchen each day. Gustav’s business still operates today, under new ownership, as G.A. Roedde Printers.

Vancouver Bookbinding Company Ltd. office at 414 Hastings Street. Photograph shows G.A. Roedde, Thomas Barton and a dog. Image via City of Vancouver Archives.

Vancouver Bookbinding Company Ltd. office at 414 Hastings Street. Photograph shows G.A. Roedde, Thomas Barton and a dog. Image via City of Vancouver Archives.

The Roedde House


Roedde House, January 1957. Image via City of Vancouver Archives.

Roedde House was built in the Queen Anne Revival style, with architectural features such as a cupola, complex roofline, dormer windows, bay windows, upstairs porch and downstairs verandas. The design is attributed to notable architect Francis Mawson Rattenbury. Nicknamed “Ratz” by his friends, he was an English immigrant well-known for the design of Victoria’s provincial legislative buildings, the Empress Hotel, a wing of the now-demolished first Hotel Vancouver and Vancouver’s 1910 provincial courthouse, now home to the Vancouver Art Gallery. Ratz is said to have included in his design of the Roedde House many things that reflected his own tastes, the city at the time and the needs of the family for whom he designed it. One of the finest examples of this is the turret, or cupola, which was built for Gustav’s wife Matilda so that she could see the ocean whenever she wished – something she likely appreciated, having grown up on an island. The interior of the house features lots of wood detailing, reflective of the city’s surrounding forests, which made lumber very affordable. Nearly everything was done by hand. The City of Vancouver bought Roedde House in 1966 and made it the centrepiece of what was later named Barclay Heritage Square. The Square features nine historic houses, all built between 1890 and 1908. The park was officially opened in 1985, followed one year later by the Roedde House Museum. The house was designated a Heritage Building in 1976. In the early 1980s, the exterior was restored by the City of Vancouver, Heritage Canada Foundation and B.C. Heritage Trust. The Roedde House Preservation Society was formed in 1984. They began the careful restoration of the house’s interior soon after, relying on historical records, consultations with surviving family members and the stripping of paint and wallpaper – which revealed the original colours and finishings – to accurately restore the house to its former state. The second floor, including the bedrooms of the Roedde family children and Matilda’s sewing room – was restored in March 2000.

War for the Holidays 035 Photo by Kendall Walters 600x800 1

Take a trip back in time to the Roedde House’s heyday with our Christmas play, War for the Holidays, running December 12 to 19 at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. nightly. Book your tickets now. During the rest of the year, check our our roving gothic theatre adventure on the streets of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood – The Lost Souls of Gastown Tour.

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