The history of Kamloops as a city began on Main Street, what is now Victoria Street West.
Even before Kamloops became incorporated in 1893, Main Street was a busy thoroughfare. An insurance plan from 1887 (at right) shows a variety of businesses and houses, all wooden, crowding both sides of the street. Most of the pre-First World War buildings are gone, destroyed by fire or torn down with age.
Constructed in 1885 through Kamloops, the Canadian Pacific Railway ran down the middle of the street of what became known as Old Town. There were wooden sidewalks along the dirt street, extending from First Avenue to Overlanders Bridge.
Early Chinatown extended along the north side of Main Street, with the backs of the buildings against the river. There were two Chinese areas in 1887 — one at either end of the street, including laundries, restaurants, and grocery stores.
Although incorporation of Old Town and New Town (east of First Avenue) was suggested as early as 1887, development continued on Main Street. The first courthouse was built of logs at the far west end of the settlement in 1873 and was replaced in 1885 by a stick-built structure at the east end of Main Street at First Avenue.
The Hudson’s Bay Company, today the oldest continually operating business in Kamloops, was referred to as a general store.
It survived the 1892 and 1893 fires on a site that became used by the Chinese Masons, when a new store opened in 1894. It was later replaced by a store in New Town in 1911, encouraging growth in that direction.
The Inland Sentinel newspaper, which originated in the Fraser Canyon, came to Kamloops in 1884 as the railway approached, and by 1897 had an office in what was known as Raven’s Hall, also the location of early council meetings, situated across the street from where the Federal Building was later constructed.
More commonly known as the post office, the Federal Building was befitting of the growing city, but situated in Old Town, at what is now 207 Victoria St. W.
Replacing the original post office on the same site, the three-storey structure erected in 1900 served as federal offices only until 1917. Besides the post office, it housed the Dominion Lands and Titles Office, customs, Indian Affairs and the Office of Weights and Measures, responsible for inspections of measuring devices. The building features a stone basement.
In 1902, the Cosmopolitan Hotel and many other buildings along Main Street, including the original courthouse, were destroyed by another large fire. Many lots were left vacant as the growth of the town moved east. Still, new development continued in Old Town.
The railway tracks remained in the middle of Main Street until 1914 as automobiles became commonplace. The alignment was moved to its present location and the remaining buildings on the north side of the street, including many Chinese establishments, were demolished.
Some, like Fong Hing and Company and Shoy Kee, remained competing general merchants on the south side, at 263 and 253 Main St., respectively. Kee’s business was previously the original Anglican Church, built in 1888 just east of the Mara house.
A few existing buildings have links to the early days of the town. Some of these buildings incorporate the original structures. The Dominion Hotel, originally Cannell’s Hotel, was remodelled as the Franklin Hotel in 1953, then the Colonial Boarding House in 1979, then the Rendezvous strip club. Today, it is the Emerald Centre.
Built in 1884, the Colonial Hotel was remodelled in 1913 and continued to 1979 as the Colonial Rooms. Torn down in the 1980s, today it is the location of the four-storey supported-living building at 259 Victoria St. W.
Two venerable brick buildings — the Commercial Block, which dated from 1897 and housed McArthur and Harper’s General Store, and the Bostock Block — were torn down in 1979 and 1991, respectively, for a new street alignment, the space now occupied by The Mustard Seed Kamloops.
The old Federal Building, still known as the old post office, is one of the last intact vestiges of the Main Street era.
In later years, it became the Men’s Christian Hostel and today is Makerspace, a non-profit community artists collective. It is a designated heritage building, providing a measure of preservation.
The recent improvements to Victoria Street West represent the latest change to the busy corridor through what is now left of Old Town.
Ken Favrholdt is an historical geographer and freelance writer. He was formerly curator/archivist of the Kamloops Museum and Archives.