The first houses were simple, side-gabled cottages or cabins, often only one room deep with the door set in the middle (called I-houses in the USA), usually with a full-width hipped-roof front porch. Most were placed near grade on primitive foundations with only a couple of steps up to the front porch. Some are 1-1/2 storey. There was no central heating in them and little need to dig a basement deeper than a small root cellar. They are rare in contemporary Vancouver. An evolution of the Pioneer Style was the Victory House, built quickly by the federal government during the Second World War in North Vancouver and at Burkeville on Sea Island.
Pioneer houses are simple buildings built in the early years of settlement, based on a form of folk housing found throughout North America. In Vancouver, the term ‘pioneer house’ refers specifically to a simple 1 to 1-1/2 storey home built near grade, and mainly date post-1886, which was the year of the Great Fire. Their very basic structure made them easy to construct and easy to expand, with few frills. This modest form of housing lasted into the early 20th century. There are only a handful of them left in Vancouver.
Wood is the dominant material for pioneer homes. They tend to have narrow lap siding or drop siding. Their roofs are usually asphalt shingles, although may originally have been cedar. These houses rarely have ornamentation beyond simple porch brackets.