Updated: Aug 10, 2020
Awhile ago, I was thrilled when a blog post I wrote was picked up by a magazine. Wanting a copy for my ‘brag book’, I’ve been keeping my eye out for the publication to show on shelves. It is late. So, today I drove down to the street address of this magazine, but no one answered my knock. The waiting continues.
The trip was far from wasted. I’d parked down the street a bit, and on my walk noticed plaques in the yards of several of the residences located on the street. When I stepped up to the first one, I realized I was looking at a heritage house designation marker, and I snapped a photo. From that point on, I wandered the block taking other photos. The shots I captured were of the markers, not of the homes themselves, as that seemed mildly invasive. These might be older homes in one of Kelowna’s designated heritage neighbourhoods, but people do currently make their homes within their walls.
One of the first things I noticed was that these houses represented multiple styles of architecture. Some are quite modest, and later I would read that their construction reflected the financial realities of the time. I liked that these homes were considered important as a marker of the history of Kelowna, not only as a tribute to the wealth which founded Kelowna.
The homes are also all named with the names of former residents — people who had significant connections to the history of Kelowna and who either built or lived in the building named after them. One of the original residents who lived in a house on Lawrence had a street named after him. One helped establish a hardware store. One owned an orchard in Glenmore. One was one of the original administrators of the Kelowna Golf Club. As I heard about the occupations represented, it was like being taken back in time, like falling into a movie set with dirt-paved roads and horses and buggies trotting down the lane. My imagination was engaged.
When I was younger, I worked as a maid in Vernon and cleaned the Vernon Music School — housed in a gorgeous Victorian heritage house. Last summer at Kopje park, I took copious photos of Gibson House because one day I will be writing a novel set there. Brandon, a character in one of my novels (Honey on My Lips), lives in a fictional heritage house. In university, one of my favourite essays centered on the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. I’ve been interested in and inspired by character homes for a long time. I’ve also spent years driving through these homes on my routes in and out of downtown Kelowna. Stumbling across these Lawrence Avenue addresses was a great perk to my day.
I didn’t know until today, though, that in the Bernard – Lawrence neighbourhood of Kelowna, there is a heritage walking tour of buildings who, according to the tour’s brochure, are a “Presence from the Past.” I liked the phrase. It really did capture how reading about the owners of these homes made me feel.
It’s an odd thought to know that the people who built Lawrence Avenue are now dead and gone, but they all had dreams, lives, families, a sense of purpose. Now, new families live in the buildings the settlers created. I know this because as I walk, family dogs run up to me from behind their fences with tails wagging. They bark at me from inside windows while I pass by. To me, a dog makes a house a home. Today in one yard a tree is being pruned by a landscaper, in another, leaves are being raked by a resident. The more things change, the more they stay the same for property owners.
According to the City of Kelowna website on heritage planning Lawrence avenue is part of a heritage conservation area. The website defines this as “a distinct area with special heritage value and character, designated for long-term protection and heritage conservation purposes in an Official Community Plan.” Such areas are established because “Kelowna’s older residential neighbourhoods are under redevelopment pressure, and the citizens of Kelowna expressed a desire to preserve the character and quality of these areas” (https://www.kelowna.ca/our-community/arts-culture-heritage/heritage/heritage-planning-initiatives). In other words, even though these properties are now worth extreme amounts of money to developers, we don’t want our local history torn down and forgotten. In Kelowna, we want to remember who our founders were. We want to remember where we came from.
Kelowna offers both a heritage grant program and a heritage building tax incentive program for owners of these properties looking for financial assistance with maintenance or historically minded renovations. In order to qualify for such assistance, a home must be listed on the Kelowna Heritage Register, or must be located within a Heritage Conservation Area.
“We value, respect and celebrate built, cultural and natural heritage as a major contributor to our community’s identity, character and sense of place.”