Armchair Mayor column for The Kamloops Daily News, Saturday, May 29, 2010
Have you ever seen that photo of the CPR locomotive chugging down Victoria Street? It’s one of the most famous historic pictures of our city. It hangs in many local homes as a reminder of the early days of life in Kamloops.
The picture was taken looking west to east on West Victoria, and on the lefthand side several of the buildings of that era are visible — they are among the most beautiful, picturesque buildings of the time, some woodframe, some made from the famous Kamloops brick.
Just as the rails no longer run down Victoria Street, every building in that photograph is gone. Except for one, and that one might not be with us much longer, either.
Currently known as the Christian Men’s Hostel, it was built as the Federal Building, home to the Post Office and other services. It’s one of those buildings we figured would always be there.
Just as the beautiful, symmetrical Commercial Block, and the stately Bostock building were once part of our cityscape. I watched with great sadness many years ago as one, then the other, and others on that block were bulldozed. In some cases, the bricks went to fireplaces as conversation starters in new homes. For the most part, they exist only in pictures, like the one with the steam locomotive.
Sure, the land is being put to good use — the Bostock building was replaced by the New Life Mission, for example, but new buildings, despite all their functionality, usually lack the dignity of the old ones.
The threat to the Federal Building comes as the result of the hostel being moved down the street to the squat, ugly box known to most as the Rendezvous Hotel. That hotel, too, was once a fine heritage building before it was damaged by fire and reincarnated as the stripper bar commonly called the ‘Vous.
Once the hostel is moved there, the future of the Federal Building becomes uncertain. It’s unlikely it would be repurposed for commercial uses, and equally unlikely it would be obtained for civic use as the Old Courthouse and Cigar Factory Building have been.
Often, government is the only one that can save such buildings, but there seems no prospective governmental use for this one. I fear the wreckers will once again descend on West Victoria to knock down the last vestige of that 1890s-early 1900s period of our history.
Maybe I’m being overly pessimistic — maybe the owners, current or future, will find uses for the building as it stands, but given the dreadful record this community has in saving important heritage buildings I wouldn’t expect it. It’s just business.
Believe it or not, there is no legislation that could protect that building. The City, via the Heritage Commission, has a Heritage Recognition list, and a new Heritage Registration list. The old wooden Federal Building/ Christian Hostel is on the Recognition List but not the Registration list.
Not that it matters a great deal. The only real difference between the two is that the former is maintained and updated with the cooperation of the owners of buildings, and plaques placed on their front facades to denote their heritage significance.
The latter is just that, a list. There are no legal requirements attached.
“At this point, there is no protection on that building,” Kamloops museum manager Elisabeth Duckworth told me this week. Nor any other, actually.
Will a champion emerge? I don’t see anyone on City council who might be willing to take up the challenge to save this building. Jim Harker is the council’s appointee to the Heritage Commission, and he does attend some of the meetings. But will he fight for it?
Many cities hire heritage planners to work for the preservation and protection of their important heritage stock. Our City doesn’t even consider heritage buildings important enough to send a staff member to sit in on meetings of the commission.
Carla Stewart, when she worked in the City’s planning department, had a real passion for heritage, and worked hard on behalf of the commission. She was instrumental in saving the Wilson House from destruction (it was moved from Wilson Street to Tranquille Road and now serves as the offices for the North Shore BIA).
Even then, she was expected to do it off the side of her desk, and now that she’s left Kamloops the commission is on its own. Not even the commission — which is currently without a chairperson — has reacted to the news about the potential loss of another building.
We are, it seems, in a trough when it comes to commitment to our heritage structures. Will anyone take up the call, or shall we all just check yet another one off the list?