Downtown core houses draw visitor attention

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the architecture of Prince Rupert in a column about churches.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the architecture of Prince Rupert in a column about churches, and the draw that Prince Rupert’s unique architecture has for many of our visitors.

This is often on my mind, because I live in one of Prince Rupert’s earliest houses. It’s an unassuming place. I was curious from the beginning about the way it sat on the lot. It took awhile to figure it all out. The balloon-framed “addition” on the back of the house is actually the original, already standing when the first fire insurance map was completed after the incorporation of the city in 1910.

Mrs. Mitchell, whose family lived here for many years, told me that in their first renovation of the main floor rooms they found that the wallpaper had been laid over a layer of 1908 newspapers. The house was completed in its present form by 1913 at the very latest.

The houses surrounding the downtown core tend to be the ones that draw the most attention from visitors – especially those built by Rupert’s early merchant princes. The Besner, Greer and Young houses on Fourth East, like the neighbouring Presbyterian Church, appear in many tourist photos. The grand old homes on Fourth West and Borden form an elegant backdrop for the downtown.

Yet, some more modest homes also make an impression. The proliferation of “wartimes,” for example, offers a very vivid picture of the crazy days of ballooning population at the start of the war in the Pacific.

But of course it is the commercial districts that really capture attention. Kwinitsa Station and Pillsbury House evoke the earliest era of railway construction. Cow Bay so perfectly captures the romantic image of the typical west coast town that it could hardly be better if it were a movie set.

The downtown offers many jewels. I have a few favourites. The little stretch that includes Gary’s Lock and the old Westholme Opera building is virtually unchanged from the very first photographs of that block of Second Avenue. I love the CityWest building, originally the 1930 Government Liquor Store. It’s a straightforward Art Deco building, but to me it has stately class. And of course the Provincial Courthouse, completed in 1923, helps define the look of our downtown.

But for all of this, any visitor we’ve brought to town is most impressed by a juxtaposition of styles on Third Avenue that really points a finger toward Prince Rupert’s diversity. The old Federal Building, Prince Rupert’s City Hall, is unlike anything I’ve seen or heard of anywhere else.

At first glance, it’s simply an Art Deco building, rather common in public buildings of its time, but in place of Greco-Roman ornamentation there are Tsimshian-inspired motifs executed by William Jefferies.

Hardly less surprising is the Besner Block next door, in a Spanish Colonial Revival style presumably selected by the flamboyant Olier Besner. This building would seem more at home in Southern California, and certainly has no match in northern BC. Yet it doesn’t end there. Visiting journalists who photograph these two together (with, appropriately, hybrid Haida/Tsimshian crest poles between the two) also comment on the Italianate style Capitol Theatre just down the street. In no other place is it possible to really grasp Prince Rupert’s unbelievable mix of architectural influences.

If you’d like to know more about the history of Prince Rupert’s architecture, the Heritage Advisory Committee’s “Heritage Walking Tours” booklet is still available in local bookstores.

Just Posted

LETTER: Keep commercial fishery issues in correct context

Response to letter from Prince Rupert-based commercial fish harvester

Heart of Our City: Sean Carlson gives back as a trailblazer

President of the Kaien Island Trail Enhancement and Recreation Society helps Rupertites get on trail

MVP of the Week: Giving team a try

Lindsay Gidney has taken his passion for team and sport with him around the world

Former Prince Rupert man wanted on kidnapping and extortion warrants

Terrace RCMP requesting public’s help to find Ira Adam Bryant

This Week Podcast — Episode 85

Learn how you could create your own law. MP Nathan Cullen is this week’s guest on Create Your Canada

175 evacuation orders lifted as floods recede in Grand Forks

Officials hope to have all 3,000 people back in their homes by Monday night

B.C. Lions bring back 6-time all-star offensive lineman Jovan Olafioye

He was acquired by the Montreal Alouettes last year.

Whitecaps rally for 2-2 draw with FC Dallas

Vancouver climbed out of a two-nil hole to tie FC Dallas 2-2

B.C. VIEWS: Making sense of climate policy

Flood and fire predictions have poor track record so far

Chilliwack Chiefs moving on to RBC Cup final after thrilling win over Ottawa

Kaden Pickering scored the winning goal in the 3rd period as Chilliwack won their semi-final 3-2.

VIDEO: As floodwaters recede, crews assess the damage to Grand Forks’ downtown

More than four dozen firefighters and building inspectors came out to help

Wellington Dukes pull off epic upset of Wenatchee at RBC Cup

The Dukes are off to the championship game after downing the Wild 2-1 Saturday at Prospera Centre.

Canada to face U.S. for bronze at world hockey championship

Canada was looking to play in the gold medal game for a fourth straight year, but saw 3-2 loss

Most Read