ARMCHAIR ARCHIVES – City’s heritage is being turned into brick fireplaces

Allan Matthews school. (Image: BC Archives)

The Armchair Mayor is on staycay this week. In place of his usual editorials and columns we present some blasts from the past. The following column was originally published Sept. 19, 1987 as Kamloops was about to lose the Allan Matthews heritage building. It wasn’t the last.

THE IMPENDING LOSS of the Allan Matthews school building should come as no surprise to Kamloops people, who have been paying paradise to put up parking lots for years.

In the last decade, this city has lost about 10 historically significant buildings for roadways, parking lots and the steel-and-smoked-glass monstrosities that pass for modern architecture.

That’s one heritage building per year, a rather alarming rate of attrition.

Never again will we look upon the pleasant simplicity of the Commercial Block, for example, torn down a few years ago in the misguided Victoria Street West road construction project. That beautiful old building ended up in brick fireplaces all over town, and Allan Matthews faces the same fate.

I fear the hearths and facades of zero-clearance fireplaces will soon be the only physical remains of Kamloops’ incredibly rich past. In a few years, the city will officially be 100 years old, though its history stretches back much further to fur-trading days, and we’ll have little to show for it except pictures and relics in glass cases at the museum.

Allan Matthews, contrary to earlier information put out from city hall, is indeed on the local heritage list. It’s not considered high priority, but it’s valuable enough to be on the B list of historical buildings, meaning it doesn’t necessarily deserve total restoration but that at least parts of it should be protected.

That the city, in its planning for a new police station, didn’t even bother to consult the local heritage committee indicates just how unimportant city hall considers heritage buildings to be. Call in the ‘dozers and build something new.

Not every old building is worth saving, of course. There are established criteria for listing important buildings, including age, architectural style, construction, historical importance, setting and, not least, cost. Allan Matthews, built in 1912, is old and historical and, though not especially pretty, deserves to be saved.

A lot of cities are like Kamloops, carelessly throwing away their history, but others capitalize on it. Victoria, of course, is the classic in B.C. Nowhere else in western Canada can you find history alive in old buildings like you can in our capital city. Yet, despite the fact it has benefited from massive public funding for its heritage buildings, Victoria is losing many of them to the demands of developers who want to replace old brick with new two-by-fours.

This year, North America suddenly discovered Nelson, a once-decaying Kootenays centre that realized what it had — lots of old buildings — and did something with it. The movie Roxanne, starring Daryl Hannah and Steve Martin, showed off not only the beauty of Nelson’s mountainous setting but of its early architecture, creating an economic boom.

Nelson, of course, has not had to contend with the same pressures of development that Kamloops and other cities have. Here, the trend will continue. After Allan Matthews will come two or three buildings on Lorne Street, demolished to make way for the waterfront centre (there’s talk of moving them into a “Heritage Village,” but if you believe that will ever happen I’ve got a Red Bridge with new decking to sell you).

The seriousness of the situation is indicated by the fact that Kamloops has fewer than 60 buildings left on its heritage list. As the economy picks up the wrecking balls will swing at an escalating pace. It’s sad.


… Former city alderman and former Western Canada Theatre Company board chairwoman LOIS HOLLSTEDT, now of Vancouver, was up for last night’s invite-only opening of the new Pavilion Theatre … so was actor-playwright KEN SMEDLEY, who I hear is writing better plays than he did when he lived here quite a few years ago. (Cheap shot; that’s sort of an in joke) … A little journalistic shop talk: DUART FARQUHARSON of the Vancouver bureau of Southam News was in town Thursday scouting up local copy. Before Vancouver, Farquharson was in Southam News’ Cairo bureau. Quite a change from the pyramids to the Lions … MIKE REIMER, sports editor at The News, leaves at the end of next week to transfer to the Calgary Herald’s sports department. He joins former News sports editor BEN KUZMA. I think I sense a trend … Local school trustees and educators who haven’t been paying attention to the scary statistics revealed all this week in the Southam News literacy report (which ends today) will be able to catch up later. The series, based on surveys and interviews by PETER CALAMAI, will be published in book form soon.

Mel Rothenburger has been writing about Kamloops since 1970.

About Mel Rothenburger (9224 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

1 Comment on ARMCHAIR ARCHIVES – City’s heritage is being turned into brick fireplaces

  1. R A George // July 4, 2020 at 12:25 PM // Reply

    Now that’s a funny picture.Remember when I said a former school mate said you were a nerd in thiose obviously far off days.A picture is worth a thousand words.

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