Michael Bugera wasn’t expecting to go down in the books as the last resident of the historic border community of Douglas.
But as the last renter of the distinctive dark salmon-pink cottage at 16881 Peace Park Dr. – the last surviving vestige of old Douglas – Bugera has come to realize the honour is his.
“It’s the closing of an era,” he said of the impending demolition of the house he’s called home for the last eight years.
“I have a lot of good memories of being there. It always had such a good energy in it; it was always so homey.”
Bugera, who works as a set dresser in the film and television industry, and is best known locally for his extravagantly detailed community theatre productions, also did weekend maintenance work at Peace Arch Park during his residence on Peace Park Drive.
But he has no rancour about leaving (he’s moving to Ladner) or the current owner’s decision to demolish the cottage and build a new home on the quarter-acre lot.
In truth, while the house is historic, it wouldn’t really qualify for preservation as a local monument.
“There’s no real reason to save it,” Bugera said of the house, which was, by contemporary standards, built flimsily without a proper foundation.
“It’s up on blocks, on clay, which is really spongy and porous,” he said. “When trains would go by the whole house would move and roll – you could feel it. I really miss the trains at 1:30 in the morning!”
Nobody knows quite how old the building is – it’s been around much longer than long-term residents of Peace Park Drive like John Bowen, who has lived there for 28 years.
“It’s definitely one of the last survivals of Douglas,” he said.“I’d say it was built roughly 80 years ago. My own home was built by a customs officer, a Mr. Pearson, 55 years ago. Everybody here was here to stay.”
Neighbour John Kageorge said his research has shown the house is one of the last remaining buildings of the original community of Douglas.
Most, including the infamous St. Leonard Hotel – decried by the citizens of Blaine in the early 1900s for corrupting its youth with liquor and other diversions – were torn down and cleared away during the development of Peace Arch Park in the 1930s.
“Before there was a White Rock, for the land barons of New Westminster, Douglas was the oasis,” Kageorge said, adding he has heard rumours that some of the ‘ladies’ who plied their trade around the St. Leonard had their cottages in the vicinity.
“The area was forgotten by Surrey for over 80 years, until recently, when it became a cash cow,” he said, referring to a current building boom of townhouses only blocks away on 172 Street.
Bugera said he understood the old house was originally the area’s general store.
“I heard there was a store there and the building was painted red and white as long as anyone can remember,” he said.
The first records of the house in White Rock Museum’s archives say it was built by hand in 1940 by popular local character Esther ‘Ma’ Crosfield and her neighbour Charlie Asbeck, as the premises for Crosfield’s Peace Arch Coffee Shop.
She ran it for more than a decade, until it was bought in 1952 by a baker from Barkerville, Louis Hayd, who extended the building to add a bakery to the coffee shop operation. In 1964, when Hayd’s health was failing, the building was converted to a house.
But it seems likely, from the style of the building and internal evidence, that it had originally started life as a cottage and was converted to a shop by Crosfield.
“The floorboards came from the Semiahmoo mill,” Bugera said. “They’re first-cut fir, beautiful floors.”
Since the mill was in operation only from 1913 to 1927, that would suggest the house was originally built in that period.
“The outside hadn’t been altered much, but the inside had been altered a lot,” Bugera said. “You could see by the lines on the floor, and where they criss-crossed, there had been a lot more rooms in the house.”
Aside from a grainy photograph in a faded newspaper article by former Peace Arch News columnist Margaret Lang Hastings, the oldest photograph on file with the Museum is dated 1965 – “but that seems awfully late given the look of the car in it,” said archives manager Hugh Ellenwood.
Advertising signs in the photo also seem to date from the period when Hayd took over the operation in the early 1950s.
Bugera said he had a sentimental interest in Hayd’s link to Barkerville, since that was where he first began his theatre career in the early 1970s.
“It was a fascination connection for me to live in the house of the baker from Barkerville, since after I left school I went straight to Barkerville to do shows,” he said.