Why do so many historic houses in Kamloops look the same? It wasn’t because of a City bylaw or trying to save money. Standard plans were very common in a growing community a century ago for one reason: Kamloops had few or no architects, especially after World War I.
Andrew Yarmie, a retired Professor of history at Thompson Rivers University explains this and other discoveries during his ongoing research into the history of downtown Kamloops.
“In the 1910s and 20s, materials from local sawmills and a brickyard were used to create basic ‘four-square, ‘Craftsman’, ‘bungalow’, or ‘cottage’ style houses, with amenities or additional living space added based on each construction budget. This resulted in very similar looking houses but each with something slightly different such as a larger verandah, stained glass, or additional main floor and second storey additions. The trim and finishing varied, but houses were almost the same for each style.”
As plans come together for the new City Gardens development in downtown Kamloops, Kelson Group has engaged researchers and restorers on a journey to uncover the past. The history of the neighbourhood is being recorded in detail, including the entire history of hundred-year-old homes being relocated nearby.
So many stories are coming to light as the homes on Nicola Street are being examined in a detailed way. From finding the signature of a neighbourhood carpenter etched under a door frame to getting glimpses of everyday life in the 1920s, Professor Yarmie and other heritage enthusiasts have learned just who inhabited these homes.
“There were a variety of professionals and well-paid working-class families who lived in this neighbourhood. One husband was a car repair man for Canadian National, two were contractors who would go on to build dozens of Kamloops’ landmark buildings. A real cross-section of the middle class was present. Some would endure the hardships of sending sons to war, others endured the loss right here; such as losing a husband in a CNR railyard accident in Kamloops or a husband to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.”
When asked what impact Kelson Group is having on preserving the past in this current age of ever-increasing urban development, Professor Yarmie notes several things.
“There are multiple efforts of creative preservation happening. Houses in reasonable condition are being relocated. Some of the homes that can’t be saved are being taken apart and salvaged. Other homes are having fixtures and woodwork meticulously relocated into other downtown homes of the same era. Also, a local artist is creating renderings of many downtown homes. That artwork will be on display in the City Gardens resident spaces.”
Professor Yarmie acknowledges that change is inevitable.
“The city needs to move forward to revitalize the downtown and the new City Gardens project will accomplish a great deal of change. This will be the first time in many years that some families will be able to afford to come back downtown to own a dwelling as the comparative cost of purchasing a condo or renting an apartment is doable whereas buying a home on a single lot is getting out of reach. Plus, some people want to get away from always relying on a car. Kamloops’ downtown offers everything within walking distance.”
Asked what the future holds one hundred years from now and the legacy City Gardens will leave, Professor Yarmie says it’s an important step to keeping a community invigorated in the very heart of the city.
“Understanding and recording the past will help the community move forward. This development is reintroducing hundreds of people to a lifestyle of walking to work, school, shopping or a hair cut that existed one hundred years ago. Returning to the values we have forgotten will improve the quality of life and preserve a sense of our historic past.”