The future of the past is being discussed amidst a significant development planned for downtown Kamloops.
Local historian Andrew Yarmie met KTW to discuss the fate of a trio of homes built more than a century ago in the 400-block of Battle Street. The homes, located at 435, 451 and 461 Battle St., were built in 1912 and feature Edwardian architecture.
They are not quite as old as the eldest homes in Kamloops, which are located in the West End and date back to the 1880s and 1890s.
Yarmie explained early area development occurred west of First Avenue, then crept east during a boom and prosperous period for Kamloops in the early 1900s before the Great Depression.
The period during which the Battle Street homes were built was named for British King Edward (on the throne at the time), Yarmie explained, and features modular, boxy construction called “foursquare” houses, complete with front porches, square columns and unique architectural features to offset the boxiness. Edwardian-era homes also often included hardwood and brick fireplaces.
The large, light brown home at 461 Battle St. has stained glass windows and a turret, or small tower. Yarmie said the turret is unique to heritage homes in Kamloops and called it a “special feature.” The turret is similar to that of a house on West Seymour Street, built in 1897.
A former rancher and city councillor named Thomas Bulman built the house, which continues to stand 110 years later on Battle St., near the downtown YMCA-YWCA.
“He was a famous rancher and did well that way, and built this house for his family in 1912,” Yarmie said, noting those who were able to purchase land and build in the area were well-off. “The thing about it is it’s quite well-designed.”
Next door, a dark brown house with a large dormer overhead, brick chimney and white porch — at 451 Battle St. — uniquely has a curved verandah.
Yarmie said homes from that period almost always had a verandah or porch, offering a place to go outside and cool off. It would be especially needed during Kamloops summers as air conditioning would not arrive until later in the century.
John C. Potts and wife Florence built the house.
“They owned a very famous clothing store downtown, women’s clothing,” Yarmie said.
The store, eponymously named Potts, was located on Victoria Street and operated from 1908 to 1940 — surely not boasting Lululemon tights and grungy ripped-jean fashion trends of today, but likely more skirts, coats and hats.
The third house, at 435 Battle St., was built and owned by Robert Mackay, who was a contractor involved in building interiors of the old Bank of Commerce building (currently home to the Brownstone Restaurant) at 118 Victoria St. and the Plaza Hotel at Victoria Street and Fourth Avenue.
“He was around all through the 1900s building places in Kamloops and did a lot of work — and some of his family are still living in town, descendants,” Yarmie said, noting Mackay’s great grand-daughter was previously on the Heritage Commission. “She’s really interested to see it preserved, as well.”
The homes, which are fairly sizeable, have been converted into apartments and are currently rented out. They are owned by Kelson Group and are part of significant neighbourhood redevelopment plans by the company.
Yarmie said he hopes the Battle Street homes can be incorporated into development plans.
He said Kelson Group’s vision for the area includes a community centre. Yarmie suggested the homes could be utilized for amenities like a gym, barbecue area or coffee shop.
Heritage buildings have been retained in communities, including Kamloops, for purposes other than homes. Businesses can be found in old houses on Seymour Street. In Calgary, the Hop In Brew pub was located in an old foursquare.
“It’s going to be a very interesting development, but I just feel that it’d be great if their architects could re-examine what they’re planning so that they could incorporate these three houses,” he said.
Kelson Group president Jason Fawcett said the company is close to releasing revised plans from those presented for the area last fall.
“I can tell you that we have been reviewing comments from the public about all sorts of issues on our proposal and the older homes have been brought up by more than a few people.
“And we are working on options and solutions that we’re hoping will be favourable for the people that are most interested in persevering our heritage,” he said.
Fawcett said a website and survey — which so far has garnered about 400 community responses — is available to the public. He said he invites the community to continue completing the survey and providing comments, online at kelsondowntownproject.ca.
Kelson Group hopes to apply for a development permit in early April.
Similar to the time during which the Battle Street homes were built, Yarmie noted Kamloops is again in a “boom period,” with condos, apartment buildings and other construction popping up throughout the city.
Across the street from those homes is perhaps the best example — a modern condominium-style building. Yarmie said it is better to restore than to demolish.
“It gives people a sense of their community, that this is where Kamloops, how Kamloops existed in the past,” Yarmie said.
“I think it’s important that we preserve that. It gives people a sense of identify. This is what our community is. If you take down all of these heritage buildings, then you’re just left with nondescript condos and you can’t really get a feel for that condo across the street because it’s just a square box, compared to the character and the people who have lived in here [heritage homes].
“They’ve all had quite famous family histories, as well. That gives a sense of community and I think you need that to really feel a part of Kamloops. To take away all that past, it’s really losing a lot of that character.”
In addition, he agreed, once it’s gone — it’s gone.
Rules to protect heritage buildings?
Yarmie said rules to protect heritage buildings are only in effect if a building is designated heritage. Designated heritage buildings cannot be demolished and are preserved via city bylaw.
Yarmie said 10 public buildings in town, including the Old Cigar Factory and the Old Courthouse, are designated heritage buildings. Others, he said, are recognized as heritage buildings with plaques and a desire by homeowners to recognize the architecture and history. The Battle Street properties are not protected.
“To do that, you have to have an interest by the owner,” Yarmie explained.
“They have to really want to preserve it and they have to guarantee that the house is not going to be changed.”