Van Norman, Charles Burwell Kerrens

VAN NORMAN, Charles Burwell Kerrens (1907-1975) of Vancouver, B.C. was born at Meaford, Ont. on 20 March 1907 and attended public school in Wingham, Ont. He later moved to Winnipeg to enroll at St. John's College and entered the School of Architecture at the University of Manitoba in 1924. Upon graduating from that institution in 1928 he joined the office of Over & Munn in Winnipeg, and after working there for a six month period he moved to Vancouver and joined Townley & Matheson to assist with the design and preparation of the drawings for the Vancouver Stock Exchange. Because of the economic downturn after October 1929 and the lack of commissions obtained in that office Van Norman was forced to leave this firm and join the staff of the Canadian Pacific Railway Construction Department as local Site Supervisor for the construction of the C.P.R. Hotel in Vancouver.

In 1930 he commenced his own practice in that city and during the next ten years specialized in the design of private residences in the Lower Mainland region of British Columbia. He had a particular interest in the techniques of prefabrication for wood frame houses often executed in a dramatic International Modern style, and he can be credited with being one of first architects in Vancouver to introduce this new aesthetic to the West Coast. Van Norman's most important designs from the late 1930's include the City Hall, Revelstoke, B.C. (1938), a striking and undoubtedly controversial civic work reminiscent of the Italian Rationalist designs of Giuseppe Terragni. This little-known and underrated landmark is certainly one of the most refined examples of the modernist style in Canada, and is as significant as his scheme for the Powell River Stores, Powell River, B.C., executed just two years later in 1940.

Van Norman was a leading proponent of building prefabrication in Canadian residential design, and he wrote a lengthy essay on the subject in The Financial Post [Toronto], 14 August 1943, p. 7, touting the benefits of factory-assembled timber houses. He was called upon by the British government in 1944 to advise them on the design and prefabrication of one thousand timber houses which were shipped to the United Kingdom as part of their postwar reconstruction programme, and many of his inventive ideas for residential design and prefabrication were adapted from his own experience in designing his own house in Vancouver in 1939. His commissions after 1950 include Park Royal Centre, West Vancouver, which was the first shopping centre to be erected on the West Coast of Canada, and the Maritime Museum, Ogden Avenue (1957) where the RCMP boat the 'St. Roch' is permanently displayed. Van Norman conceived many of the high rise apartment towers in the West End adjacent to Stanley Park, the most notable being that of Beach Towers, Beach Avenue (1965), the design for which he was given the Centennial Award from the Canadian Housing Design Council.

Van Norman died in Vancouver on 13 September 1975. The Vancouver City Archives holds an extensive collection of his drawings documenting more than five hundred projects built between 1930 and 1955 (obituary in the Vancouver Sun, 15 Sept. 1975, 22; Province [Vancouver], 15 Sept. 1975, 7; biography and port. in Who's Who in British Columbia, 1937-39, 151; Who's Who in Canada, 1949-50, 239; D. Luxton, Building the West: The Early Architects of British Columbia, 2003, 485, 522).

SELECTED WORKS IN VANCOUVER

WISHING WELL RESTAURANT, West Georgia Street at Cardero Street, 1932 (dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
PUBLIC MARKET BUILDING, West Georgia Street near Burrard Street, 1934-36 (dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
MOUNTAIN VIEW CEMETERY CREMATORIUM, East 41st Avenue at Prince Edward Street, 1935 (dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
WEST 46TH AVENUE, residence for George V. Brown, c. 1935 (R.A.I.C. Journal, xvi, May 1939, 99, illus.; C.H.G., xvii, Jan.-Feb. 1940, 35, illus.; dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
WEST VANCOUVER, Gisby Street, residence for G.M. Pugh, 1936 (dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
ANGUS DRIVE, at West 38th Avenue, residence for Carl Halterman, 1937 (R.A.I.C. Journal, xiv, Nov. 1937, 233, illus.; C.H.G., xv, Aug. 1938, 40, illus.; H. Kalman, History of Canadian Architecture, 1994, 786, illus.; dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
VANCOUVER OCCUPATIONAL INDUSTRIES, West 10th Street, 1937 (R.A.I.C. Journal, xv, Feb. 1938, 34, illus.)
WEST VANCOUVER, 30th Street, residence for Robin Bell-Irving, 1938 (dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
BALSAM STREET, near West 37th Avenue, residence for Lovick P. Young, 1939 (R.A.I.C. Journal, xvi, May 1939, 100, illus.)
MARPOLE AVENUE, residence for James McGavin, 1939 (dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
WEST 15TH AVENUE, near Granville Street, residence for Kenneth W. Ballantyne, c. 1939 (C.H.G., xvii, Jan.-Feb. 1940, 17-19, illus.)
WEST 61ST AVENUE, near East Boulevard, residence for the architect, 1939 (R.A.I.C. Journal, xix, Dec. 1942, 234-36, illus.; C.H.G., xx, Sept.-Oct., 1943, 15-17, illus.; dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
STEVENS DRIVE, North Vancouver, residence for John G. Bowers, 1940 (R.A.I.C. Journal, xviii, Jan 1941, 10-11, illus.; C.H.G., xxii, Dec. 1945, 27, illus.)
EASTCOT ROAD, West Vancouver, residence for Kenneth McK. Black, 1941 (R.A.I.C. Journal, xviii, Aug. 1941, 142, illus.)
BELMONT AVENUE, near Blanca, residence for Horace Hacking, 1941 (R.A.I.C. Journal, xviii, Aug. 1941, 142, illus.)
SOUTHWEST MARINE DRIVE, near Cambie Street, residence for F.R. Graham-King, 1941 (dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
CONNAUGHT DRIVE, near Granville Street, residence for Charles Claman, 1941 (C.H.G., xxii, July 1945, 29, illus.; dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
MITCHELL BROTHERS, factory and showroom, Burrard Street at West 4th Avenue, 1945 (R.A.I.C. Journal, xxiii, Feb. 1946, 36, illus.)
RAINBOW GARDENS ROLLER RINK, The Kingsway, near Central Park, 1946 (dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
MARPOLE AVENUE, residence for Theodore Korner, 1946 (C.H.G., xxv, Oct. 1948, 40, illus.; dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
WEST 33RD AVENUE, near Selkirk Street, residence for Mrs. Gunnar Tornroos, 1947 (R.A.I.C. Journal, xxiv, June 1947, 192, illus.; C.H.G., xxvi, Feb. 1949, 26-27, illus.; dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
CAMPBELL AVENUE, West Vancouver, residence for George Fitch, 1947 (R.A.I.C. Journal, xxiv, June 1947, 196, illus.)
SEYMOUR STREET, office building for the architect, 1948 (dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
ALLISON ROAD, University Hill, residence for Alfred Willman, 1948 (C.H.G., xxvi, Feb. 1949, 32-33, illus.)
WEST VANCOUVER, King George's Way, residence for Frederick W. Kirkland, 1949 (C.H.G., xxvi, Dec. 1949, 30-31, illus.; R.A.I.C. Journal, xxvii, Dec. 1950, 410, illus.)
PRINCE OF WALES HIGH SCHOOL, new Gymnasium, King Edward Avenue at Marguerite Street, 1949 (dwgs. at Vancover City Archives)
VANCOUVER SUN, Beatty Street near West Georgia Street, new publishing plant, 1949 (dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
WEST PENDER STREET, at Burard Street, Canada Customs Building, 1950 (dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
WEST VANCOUVER, shopping centre for British Properties Ltd., Marine Drive at Taylor Way, 1949-50 (R.A.I.C. Journal, xxvii, Sept. 1950, 304, illus.)

ELSEWHERE

QUALICUM, VANCOUVER ISLAND, 'Eagle Crest', residence for Gen. Alex D. McRae, 1935 (C.H.G., xiv, Nov. 1937, 23-25, illus.; dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
OGDEN, B.C., Miner's Hotel, 1935 (C.R., xlix, 6 Nov. 1935, 976; dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
REVELSTOKE, B.C., City Hall, 1939 (Tim Morawetz, Art Deco Architecture Across Canada, 2017, 76, illus. & descrip.; dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
POWELL RIVER, B.C., Powell River Stores Building, 1941; Cafeteria Building, 1945; Fire Hall 1948 (R.A.I.C. Journal, xix, July 1942, 150-51, illus.; Canadian Hotel Review, xxiii, 15 May 1945, 38, illus.; dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
LADYSMITH, B.C., Comox Logging & Railway Co., office building, 1945-46 ( (Nanaimo Free Press, 29 Dec. 1945, 4)
NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C., retail store for T. Eaton Co., Columbia Street, 1948 (dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
KAMLOOPS, B.C., Memorial Hall, 1948 (C.R., lxi, March 1948, 172, t.c.)
MISSION, B.C., High School, 1950 (C.R., lxiii, June 1950, 123)
LEESBURG, FLORIDA, residence for J.O. Todd, Silver Lake Drive, 1955 (dwgs. in the possession of H. Dan Robuck Jr.; inf. Todd Drennan, AIA, Leesburg)

COMPETITIONS

TORONTO, ONT., Toronto City Hall, 1958. The Vancouver office of C.B.K. Van Norman was one of nearly 100 Canadian entrants in this international competition. The modernist design submitted by him was not among the finalists, but his proposal has recently been published in G.T. Kapelos, Competing Modernisms: Toronto's New City Hall and Square, 2015, 81, illus. The competition was won by Viljo Revell from Finland.