His office desk is a 12-foot dining room table stacked, from one end to the other with papers, folders, brochures, files, notes, blueprints, printouts.
Such is the decorating scheme of one of Victoria’s busiest property developers. The Le Fevre in LeFevre and Company Property Agents Ltd. is a man at the centre of a growing empire of resorts, subdivisions, multi-family housing schemes, and award-winning heritage restoration projects in Victoria’s Old Town.
He admits to working “quite incessantly” and gauging the speed at which he is driven by the accomplishments on his resume: The Railyards and historic Leiser Building in Victoria, Middle Beach Lodge, The Gateway, and Fourteen Thirty One Cox Bay in Tofino, and a whole new community at Mt. Washington.
Born in the English Midlands, the 59-year-old self-confessed “pushy bastard” takes pride in being labelled a workaholic.
There’s a story about you arriving in Canada from England in 1970 with $50 in your pocket. Is that just urban myth?
It’s the real deal and I don’t want to think of it so much as rags to riches because that’s always got the flip side of someone going the other way and I don’t intend to do that. It’s hard work and, at the end of the day, there’s some significant success.
(Le Fevre is currently converting the old Leiser Building in the 500-block of Yates Street into residential lofts.) How important is it to preserve Victoria’s heritage buildings?
I’ve got a very, very broad spectrum of properties I either develop or own. There’s no common thread other than they’re intriguing and where others would fear to tread. Heritage is obviously incredibly important for Victoria. That isn’t to say one should dive into it just out of passion, but you have to have a passion that’s not just economically driven.
You like to build with recycled materials. You constructed Middle Beach Lodge incorporating materials from the 1925 P&O liner the S.S. Rajputana. Is this a practice more developers should buy into?
If you’re building something new and you’re introducing old materials and heritage, it’s absolutely worth it. History lives on. And you just can’t get wood of the quality that exists in some of those regenerated materials… Purchasers love the thought of history returning.
Do you believe the city has a vision for its urban planning and design?
I’ve yet to see a grand scheme… The Railyards on the Inner Habour, there is a very consistent regeneration of urban living taking place. As to the downtown and new high rises, I think that’s a hit-and-miss prospect. They’re not creating housing where it’s most needed. I’m talking about attainable housing.
Is Victoria’s architectural future concrete and glass high rises looming over the Inner Harbour?
I think it’s inevitable to some degree. Will they be on the foreshore? No. Stepping back a bit? Yes. Is there a demand to that type of product? Yes.
If you could do one “dream” project in town, what would it be?
If you’re a developer, your mind’s always running to see things that might work. You’re often governed by the sites you may be able to acquire. To have loose thoughts in a dream basis isn’t easy. If I do have one though, it is to build very small, affordable — no, “attainable” — residential housing. I actually have a piece of land at the Railyards I may be able to build that on.
Do you have mentors? Would you be a good mentor?
No, I can’t confess to having a mentor. I’m a bit of a single-minded cuss and I ploughed my own trail pretty much. It certainly wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea to be involved in such a mixed bag of diversity.
To someone wanting to get into the development game in Victoria, can you offer advice?
I would say, just because you have money doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful. It takes vision, guts, and a cool head, and quite often you need all three in a timely manner. Take some baby steps first, not some big steps, because that way you have the best chance of not tripping up.
You were at the centre of Tofino’s water shortage last summer — the guy who pledged $50,000 of his own cash to truck in the water from Ucluelet. Was that a wake-up call to be more mindful of our dwindling natural resources?
It was a wake-up call to the management of the community. There was not adequate foresight or management to deal with that crisis. All there was was an alarm bell and that’s when I jumped in. That town would’ve tripped up and fallen right on its face. I do lay claim to the fact that I prevented that and I’d do it again.
The Tofino experience made you suddenly very high-profile. Is that something you enjoy?
I don’t shun it. The reality is I’m too hard-working to spend my time preening myself in the forefront of where I’m not meant to be.
How do you think your peers judge you?
They probably think I’m a bit domineering and think I’m single-minded. But those that work for me certainly know that I’m a team player and can’t do it all on my own.
What do you say to your critics?
I have no necessity to say anything to them. If they would like to talk to me I could maybe correct them.
What don’t we know about Chris Le Fevre that you’d like to reveal?
I’m a private man that’s having a lot of fun and has the privilege to do the things he does.