Notes on Roedde House

By Katherine Reeder, transcribed from talk to students at Selkirk Elementary.

The cupola is one of the most interesting features of the house. My grandmother's sister, Anna, got to sleep in the cupola with the windows all the way around. One night, however, my great grandfather saw my aunt Anna out on the roof, walking in her sleep. After that she was no longer allowed to sleep in the cupola.

The cupola goes all the way down the house, and in the dining room there is a special part of the room that is the base of the cupola. That's where the Christmas tree always was. German people love Christmas trees and it was customary for the man of the family to be responsible for decorating the tree on Christmas Eve, as a surprise for his family. In those days, real candles were put on the tree. One year, on January 12, 1913, the tree caught on fire and the dining room started to burn. The family all got buckets and tried to put the fire out. Fire hall #6 responded. When you visit Roedde House, you can still see a bit of burnt wood up by the window frame.

Mathilda and Gustav's oldest (living) daughter Emma married Arthur Cather in 1909. They went to live in another part of the city and had two daughters themselves. Then in 1914 Canada became involved in World War I. Arthur was the captain of a navy ship and went over to Europe to fight in the war. Because Emma, my grandmother, had two little girls, she moved back into Roedde House with her mother and father and her younger brothers and sisters who were still living at home. That is how my mother and aunt came to live at Roedde House from 1914 to 1919.

My mom, Gwen Varcoe, was there from the time she was four years old until she was eight or nine. She remembers some of the details of the house very well, such as the stained glass window in the stairway, because when she was naughty she had to stand in the corner with her nose against this window until she was allowed to come down.

Another thing about the stairway was the first post of the stairway which is called the newel post. It has a very beautiful statue of Aurora, the goddess of dawn. The statue has a lightbulb in her hand and was my mother's very favourite thing in the house.

Today the kitchen in Roedde House is set up very much like a kitchen of the 1890s. You'll see an hand-cranking egg beater, not an electric mixer. Most things were done by hand, even grinding the coffee. When I was a child, the broom cupboard was always called the kabuff. When I was supposed to get the broom to sweep the floor, my mom would say, "Get if from the kabuff." It wasn't until I first visited Roedde House with my mother that she took me into the kitchen and said, "This is the kabuff." In German, it means the "cupboard under the stairs"! In my own house we always called the broom closet the kabuff, even though it was not under the stairs, so it was fun for me to see where this word that had always been part of my life had come from.

As you go through the house, you will see the parlour. That was a very formal room where guests were entertained. It wasn't used like your living room; it was used just for formal occasions. In those days, there were no movies to go to, no video games, no television, so people had to entertain one another. That was done in the parlour where people took turns playing the piano, told jokes, did magic tricks, played games such as charades, recited poetry and talked.

In the bedroom you will notice that women and girls wore long dresses and special shoes. There were only wooden sidewalks, and often they were muddy, so men wore boots and women wore boots. They had to hook their boots together with buttons, so there's a button shoe and an instrument called a button hook.

G.A. Roedde's special room is the archives room at the back of the house. There he listened to his beloved opera music which he played very loudly on his wind-up gramophone. He also had several very large Saint Bernard dogs which were kept in that room. In that room you will see one of the family treasures -- one of the hand-made Easter eggs that Gustav made for his daughters and granddaughters. He used real goose and duck eggs and cut them in half and covered them with fabric. The older girls got a small bottle of perfume inside their eggs; the younger girls got tiny china dolls in theirs.

The Roedde family lived in the house from 1893 until 1924, and then built another house. The house on Barclay Square was bought by another family who lived in it for awhile. Eventually it became a rooming house, where many people rented rooms and ate their meals together. It wasn't taken care of in the same way it was as a family house, so it became run down. In this state, it would have been easy for the house to be torn down, but fortunately the City of Vancouver was persuaded to buy the house, fix it up and turn it into the museum you can visit today. Now Roedde House is the only fully restored (interior and exterior) Class A Heritage designated house in Vancouver (1893) and today you can visit it as a museum.


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