Nelson’s Heritage Buildings
Printable Version for a Walking Tour
Print the pdf version of this material (with captions) and carry it as guide during your walking tour of Nelson’s Heritage Buildings.
Both versions are © Welwood & Fraser.
With over 350 designated heritage buildings and a population of about ten thousand, a walk through Nelson opens a window on an earlier time.
Many of those buildings are residential, but the town also boasts good early commercial and institutional structures. Several dozen of these are illustrated below. Visitors browsing Nelson’s modern shop windows are often unaware of the grander building above. To see the facade, cross the street and look up.
All the buildings, below, were opened during a thirty year period from 1895 to 1924. They are an easy walk from one to another, being either along, or within a block of Nelson’s main commercial street: Baker.
Some relevant architectural ideas:
Building names Sometimes a building’s name has been carved on its facade—Aberdeen, Maglio, Post Office. Failing that, either the name of the original owners or function—Bellamy, Gaol—or its long-term occupants—Capitol Theater, Nelson Daily News—is used.
High Victorian architectural styles
Commercial High Victorian generally took two forms in Nelson. Queen Anne Commercial is characterized by bay windows, decorative brick work, asymmetrical composition and the use of towers for decorative purposes. Italianate Commercial features a bold and elaborate cornice at the roof line, a series of arched windows and an indented central entranceway with large display windows on the ground floor.
Late Victorian architectural styles
This period of architecture revived a wide range of historic styles. The Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris upheld Greek and Roman Classical styles. The Chateau style is a revival of the French castle of the fourteenth and fifteen centuries. This style incorporated steeply pitched roofs, towers and conical caps and dormer windows. A later style of commercial building was based on the Chicago School of Architecture which returned to the grid work pattern of facade organization with subdued decorative features.
Architects When a name is known, it appears in a box in the caption following the building’s date and address. Architects known to have designed early local buildings: Henry Cane, Alexander Carrie, George Dillon Curtis, Alexander Charles Ewart, Arthur E. Hodgins, James A. Macdonald, Francis M Rattenbury, W. George Taylor.
Nelson, located in the heart of the Kootenay region in southeastern British Columbia, is within sixty kilometers of the international border. A city of many contrasts, it has mainly been influenced by north–south trends in architecture with some commercial buildings that are more typical of those in San Francisco, Seattle and Spokane than those in eastern Canada. The ornate and grandiose High Victorian style was introduced to Nelson by a transient, fortune seeking population but modified by the conservative English settler. Even during construction, it was an architectural style that was twenty to thirty years behind the times.
Post office & Customs
House Spokane pink brick
and Kaslo marble provide an
interesting and picturesque mixture of textures and patterns to this building. Locals were furious when the construction contracts for this Chateau–style structure were awarded to Eastern Canadian firms. This building has also served as a Museum, 1955–59; City Hall, 1960–2005 and since 2006 as Touchstones Nelson: Museum of Art and History.1902
502 Vernon St.
Houston Memorial Nelson’s first
mayor, John Truth Houston,
established Nelson’s first news–
paper, The Miner, in 1890. Two
years later he sold it and started The Tribune. Houston developed the Province’s first hydroelectric plant on Cottonwood Creek (February 1896), which he later sold to the city much to the objection of the taxpayers. Note the horse trough behind the monument.1926
Vernon St. median
Frieze, Many old buildings are replete with details. Where is this one located?
The 1908 date on the Court House gable is a year too early. Ah, the perils of preparing dated materials too far in advance.
Court House F.M.Rattenbury,
noted architect of British
Buildings and Empress Hotel
in Victoria, designed this building that cost $109,145.88. It is a fine example of Beaux Arts Chateau style architecture with its high–pitched roof, tower with conical cap, gables and paired windows. Ironically, in February 1909, men from the gaol were commandeered to "hurry things into shape" for County Court sittings.1909
320 Ward St.
Land Registry Office This High
Victorian building used fire–
retardant materials retractable
heavy metal shutters and a metal
fire door to protect the main entrance. It was commissioned by J. Fred Hume, a Nelson hotelier, member of the B.C. Legislature and Minister of Mines.1900
403 Vernon St.
McDonald Jam Factory
A two–storey frame structure
was built as a jam factory in
1911 with a stone warehouse
added in 1920. The design included two–foot thick granite walls to serve as the street’s retaining wall. The owner, James Albert McDonald declared that his jam should be “absolutely pure and free of false colouring, glucose and other cheap substitutes.” The Jam Factory received Nelson’s first Heritage Building of the Year awarded in 1980.1911, 1920
303 Vernon St.
Hamilton Powder Company
This small structure is a well
designed and preserved
single–storey Queen Anne commercial building with its arched entranceway and windows, as well as a decorative cornice. The building was sold in 1911 to Canadian Explosives Ltd. and in 1927 to Canadian Industries Ltd. (C.I.L.)1895
280 Baker St.
London & British Columbia
Goldfields Co The Nelson
Daily News, Nelson’s longest
purchased this building in 1908 and occupied it until July 2010. Stylistically, this is a Late Victorian building with its dentil–patterned parapet which rises well above the roofline, pilasters and curved lintels.1899
266 Baker St.
Bank Of Montreal
At the time of its construction
this building was considered
one of the finest commercial
buildings in the interior of British Columbia. This High Victorian building with Italian influences creates an atmosphere of stability, security and permanence. Note the high parapet, the varied use of arches, the intricate brickwork and the terracotta inlays with the Bank’s insignia.1899
298 Baker St.
Often the decorations on old buildings are as interesting as the building itself. This insignia appears four times on the Bank of Montreal.
Coursed masonry When stone blocks have a uniform height and are laid out in even rows—along a course, in masonry argot—the construction is called coursed. Look for it in the grander stone buildings, such as the court house, post office, or bank.
Uncoursed masonry When the stone blocks are not uniform and so don’t form rows of even height—not along a course, in masonry argot—the construction is called uncoursed. Look for it in the utilitarian stone buildings such as a factory, garage, or gaol.
J.M. Ludwig Leathergoods
Built for William Goepel,
acting government agent
and inspector of provincial government offices, this building was soon used as a hardware, clothing and mining–supply store. It is the only remaining wooden frame building on Baker Street with a mansard roof. Note its simple but decorative shingle pattern.c.1897
340 Baker St.
Little is known about this
wooden structure except
that it operated as a grocery store until 1972. This building is typical boomtown architecture with a bracketed cornice that gives an illusion of grandeur. Note the carpenter’s detailed sunburst motif and the decorative cedar shingles. The Bellamy and adjacent Ludwig structure received Nelson’s Heritage Building of the Year awarded in 1983.c.1895
338 Baker St.
This Late Victorian style
building is constructed with
coursed rusticated blocks. The decorative designs of the cornice and the puzzling use of keystones on flat lintels clearly were used to make the building appear more impressive. The attractive, random stone firewall on the side probably was intended to be hidden by an adjoining structure.1914
378 Baker St.
This Early Victorian style
building was constructed
for Alexander McKillop, a
mineral assayer and one–time alderman. The corniced parapet includes finials and decorative brick panels. Note the Spokane Iron Foundry stamp on the central column.1897
364–370 Baker St.
This granite building is
in the Late Victorian–
Edwardian style. Notice
the lintels, sills and cornice. By 1912, the decorative appearance of commercial buildings, as illustrated by this facade, was giving way to more functional designs.1912
371–377 Baker St.
Store This Queen Anne
commercial building was
constructed with locally fired brick. Historical accounts suggest that this building was originally a furniture store where the owners also ran an undertaking business. As with many furniture stores of the day, coffins were constructed on the premises. The right side of this building, once occupied by Eli Sutcliff’s barbershop, later became a cigar emporium.1904
441–449 Baker St.
Built for F.S. Barnard
and J.A. Mara, this
structure was one of the Province’s earliest branches of the Royal Bank of Canada. This elaborate High Victorian style building’s second storey bay windows are the only ones remaining in the City’s commercial district.1897
421–431 Baker St.
Mara-Barnard Block detail
Delightful decorations: in this case the ornamentation high on the face have been nicely mimicked in a modern shop below. Look for it.
Pilaster Literally, a pillar of inferior quality. This is a decorative mimic which is designed to give the impression of substance, rather than to actually support substance.
Furnished Rooms A brass sign high on the wall of the KWC Block reveals that whatever the other delightful decorations one sees, development depended upon commercial success.
Bank of Commerce
Faced with Kootenay
marble this building
with its four Ionic pilasters and street–level lintels shows the influence of the Beaux Arts Classical style. With the Bank of British Columbia’s 1901 takeover, Nelson had one of the first Bank of Commerce branches in the Province. Reflecting its optimism and confidence in the City, the Bank built this branch in 1907.1907
459 Baker St.
Store This building was
the first three–storey
structure on Baker
Street. Note the highly decorative brickwork facade, arched windows and a high parapet. The cornice projects so far from the parapet that it required the support of cast–iron modillions.1897
446 Baker St.
Company The interior
of this Classical Revival
brick edifice featured solid oak fittings and maple floors. This emporium sold groceries, liquor, dry goods, clothing, etc. for many years. Its massive liquor cellar was probably the largest in southern British Columbia. Additions were made in 1929 and 1953. It was adapted for reuse as a multi purpose complex in 1982.1900, 1929, 1953
402 Baker St.
Wilson and Clements,
paid $10,500 for the
lots. Designed and built in one year, it long remained the largest mercantile block in Nelson. At street level, one of the City’s finest grocery stores offered delicacies from afar. The turret, once typical of many corner buildings, is the only one remaining on Baker Street. Arches over the windows on the third storey, decorative brick work and pilasters tie the structural elements together.1901
488–498 Baker St.
Athough built for mine
manager and hardware
store owner, George F. Beer who later became a Nelson alderman, this building acquired its present name by 1900. The second–storey facade of this Queen Anne building includes connecting low window arches as well as a parapet designed to include a plain centre panel flanked by more elaborate textured brickwork.1898
571–579 Baker St.
Houston Block John
architect A.E. Hodgins
to design and construct
this Victorian block. Originally housing a bank, this building still contains two large concrete walk–in vaults. Notice the double arched entrance with its columns of locally quarried marble. The Houston Block received Nelson’s Heritage Building of the Year awarded for 1982.1899
601–607 Baker St.
Designed for millionaire
cattle king, Patrick
Burns, this building
served as the Kootenay
headquarters for the P. Burns Co. and housed one of the most comprehensive butcher shops in Canada. Note the stylized foliage in the imported terracotta panels above the bracketed cornice. Over the entranceway is the date stone with an obvious reference to Burns’ business.1899
560 Baker St.
Burns Building finial The building is awash in detail.
Burns’ Bull Some of the nicest features of these early buildings are their decorations; this would seem to be a testimony to Patrick Burns’ business: cattle.
The Fraternal Order
of the Eagles, Nelson
Aerie, was the twenty–
second to be formed in North America and the fourth in Canada. Built of brick and trimmed with local granite, this structure exhibits late Victorian Utilitarianism. While the ground floor originally housed one of the finest dry goods and ladies’ wear stores in the Province, the upstairs meeting hall served and continues to serve the membership.1909
639–641 Baker St.
Once the best–preserved
early apartment block in
the interior of BC, this
building was designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style and constructed with granite quarried on site. The building, named after Edward Kerr, was considered to be luxurious and modern with conveniences such as electric light, steam heat and gas cooking stoves. Near the top of the exterior’s west wall were charcoal marks purportedly a reminder of the adjacent Opera House fire in April 1935. A fire gutted this building in January 2011; its stone walls were demolished in June 2011.1911
514 Victoria St.
This granite building
was erected as a
service station about
the same time as the automobile was becoming popular. The arched doorway in the centre of the Josephine Street facade provides a contrast to the general square look of the building.1920
561 Josephine St.
City of Nelson Gaol
Nelson’s first stone
constructed as the
city gaol (the section farthest from Josephine Street). Two additions (1902, 1929) including the lockup served as a storeroom and central offices for electrical distribution to the streetcar system, businesses and residences. The majority of these buildings were adapted for reuse by Kootenay School of the Arts including second level additions in 1996 and 2007.1897
606 Victoria St.
structure was built as
the Central Garage. In 1927, Nelson contractor, A.H. Green, commissioned Vancouver architects to redesign it into an Art Deco theatre, which was officially opened on September 5, 1927 at a cost of $75,000. After serving as a movie house and catering to live performances for many years, the building slowly deteriorated. It was sporadically used until restored and reopened as a fine 426–seat theatre in 1988.1924
421 Victoria St.