For years, the caretakers of Kilby Historic Site have been watching the 105-year-old treasure deteriorate.
The paint was peeling off the exterior. The roof was failing to do its job. Even one of the porches was clinging to life.
The disrepair was becoming more and more dangerous. The general store building, as it stands today, probably wouldn’t weather another winter.
“It was getting very bad, so we rattled some chains,” said Bev Kennedy, a member of the Fraser Heritage Society, which manages the day-to-day operations of the Harrison Mills site.
Grants large enough to renovate have been few and far between since the provincial government’s “devolution” of B.C.’s historical sites. In the early 2000s, the province went from being the operator of the sites, to offering long-term management agreements to whoever was able to look after them. Money for repairs was deferred indefinitely.
Kennedy and the rest of the FHS didn’t want to see Kilby disappear, so they kept at it.
The FHS board began planning a massive, local fundraising project. Kennedy also wrote a 12-page report, complete with startling photographs of the failing building, and submitted them to the government. It was a long shot.
“Maintenance to these sites has been deferred,” Kennedy said. “But we kept knocking on doors.”
Her report got the attention of Mark Brown, manager of Historic Places and Stewardship within the Heritage Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. He oversees the stewardship of all 11 historical sites.
“We recognized the situation had become problematic (at Kilby),” he said. “Things have deteriorated to the point that it needs to be addressed,” he said. “Obviously the government has had some significant funding challenges and trying to save money where we can. But we can’t defer altogether.”
So, the ministry found emergency funding to help save Kilby. And last week, crews with Tekton Project Management moved in and started building the scaffolding for a restoration project that could total $250,000.
Restorations to the general store building will include a new roof, retrofitted windows, new paint and more. Like most restorations of older buildings, they won’t know the complete list of jobs, or the complete price, until they start taking things apart. For now, the government has earmarked about $200,000 for the project.
Mel Jorgensen, also a part of the FHS, says it could be at least $30,000 more in the end.
It’s been at least 15 years since the building saw anything other than “patchwork paint jobs,” said Jo-Anne Leon, manager of the site. The project will be closely watched the FHS.
When any work is done to a heritage site, there is a strict rule book outlining what can and cannot be done, titled Adhering to Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, issued by Parks Canada. Kennedy keeps her copy close at hand.
“It’s our bible for a conservation project,” she said, working to make sure the Tekton (hired by the province) and the sub-contractors Tekton hires keep with the code. If not, the site could lose its heritage status.
“You replace like with like materials,” Kennedy says, unless there is a way to retrofit without being noticeable to the public. That means, in short, that a cedar shingled roof must be replaced with a cedar shingled roof. A wooden framed window must be replaced with a wooden framed window.
Tekton’s assistant supervisor for the project, Phil Finlayson, has been working specifically on heritage sites for the past five years. Kilby’s grounds manager will be learning about proper restoration while the project carries on throughout the summer, and they’ve also hired a handful of local workers for certain jobs.
But the most exciting part of the restoration is the conservation of the building, and being able to document it for future generations.
Kilby will remain open throughout the two-month restoration process, and staff will “interpret” the work for visitors. As the construction workers learn how Kilby was built, they’ll be passing on that information to the FHS. This means that visitors can look forward to not only learning how life was lived in the early 1900s, but also how the building came to shape.
Leon and others will be photographing the entire process, as it will be an important piece of history down the road.
“We want to leave a great legacy,” Kennedy said, by showing others the restoration.
“We’re extremely excited,” she said. “I’ve been here 25 years and I was distraught at the shape of the building and could happen to it. It needs to be treated with the dignity and respect that you would give an elder, because that’s what it is. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and that’s a point of fact.”
Brown reiterated that feeling this week.
“It’s a very important hertiage site,” he said. “I’m only happy that the Ministry of Forests was able to rob some money from other areas (to complete this project).”
There are more than 270 buildings and structures on the province’s provincially-owned historic sites. Brown says the Ministry already has or is in the process of funding emergency and life safety improvements to five other sites, with Kilby site being the largest of the projects.