The Community Heritage Commission “Heritage Conservation Award” was created in 2020 to recognize excellence in preservation, restoration, rehabilitation or adaptive re-use of built heritage.

This year, the Commission recognized the Bromham house (Anne Fitzpatrick and Ken Schultis), Collier House (Gerry Chatelain) and the Merchant Block (Bill Laird) and their respective owners for their outstanding work preserving their heritage properties.

Three of the members of the Heritage Commission introduced the award winners to City Council on February 27. Leading up to the award was a “tea” with fine china, sweets and savouries, and treasured small chats that come with finally being allowed to host in-person events again. Past winners were also invited to attend.

When City Council met later in its chambers post-tea, I had the great pleasure of presenting the award to Bill Laird. However, I took a different approach to the presentation and concentrated on the history leading up to the construction of the Block, as opposed to other two presenters. The Archivist in me couldn’t help herself. I left Bill to speak about the structure and what he did–remodelling the upper storey on one of the stores to accommodate four new suites. Bill is all about sustainable development and making the downtown a livable city centre.

“As a bit of background, Bill did not own the Merchants’ Block when it was placed on the Heritage Register in 2010. He was, however, a member of the Heritage Commission, serving as a community representative. I had asked Bill to put his name forward because I felt we needed someone with construction knowledge. When Bill agreed, he told me that he only it was only to ensure that none of his buildings would be placed on the Register.

The Merchants’ Block was constructed in 1929 after a fire threatened our community. The blaze started from a gas lantern in the Regent Café and the volunteer firemen were on site within five minutes. The fire hydrant on the Shuswap wasn’t working properly, so water was obtained from the closest hydrant at Thomson’s Garage on Alexander St.

As the restaurant burned, the Horticultural Building next door caught fire. Then it spread to Hansen’s Barbershop, Palmer’s Meat Market, and Glasgow’s store.

Several buildings behind the stores also caught fire. The home of Mr. and Mrs. Grant, owners of the café, was razed and all their possessions lost and McCurdy’s barn was scorched.

The Forestry Department came to the rescue and offered to pump water from McGuire Lake as the City supply was taxed. The reservoir that held 50,000 gallons had been filled twice and 25,000 additional gallons pumped from the lake.

Total damage was estimated to be $30,000 and no lives were lost, but domestic water was on the top of the City Council’s agenda at the next meeting.

Mayor Cyril Thomson reported that, when the hydrant on Shuswap was opened and examined, a small beer bottle was found inside and might have caused the hydrant’s reduced water pressure. Someone at the meeting suggested that likely Alderman Pardy had lost it, but the worthy alderman countered pointing his finger to Alderman Glasgow. To this day no one knows who stashed the bottle of beer in the hydrant!

The local business owners didn't point fingers. They rallied and within four moths the Merchants' Block was reborn from the fire's ashes. I'm so pleased the Bill has chosen to be a steward of this piece of history."

Award recipients to date