Updated: May 28, 2022
The starting point for studies of Nelson heritage buildings is often Nelson: A Proposal for Urban Heritage Conservation, an excellent and exhaustive document produced by the Heritage Conservation Branch in 1981, based on work completed in 1978. But while it enumerates hundreds of noteworthy buildings, it also has some blind spots.
For example, it says “The 100 and 700 blocks [of Baker Street] contain no buildings rated of heritage significance.”
This is an astonishing statement since there were least five buildings with heritage value in the 100 block. While they were no doubt overlooked because they weren’t aesthetically pleasing in the 1970s, many other buildings with similarly obscured values were included.
The buildings of note included the Savoy Hotel, at 198 Baker, which opened in 1914 as the Athabasca and was renamed the Savoy in 1924. After a fire struck in 2007, it was empty for eight years until Jimmy Bundschuh gave it new life.
The Dancing Bear Inn at 171 Baker was built in 1901 as the Sunnyside Hotel. It was later known as the Empire Temperance Hotel and the Allan Hotel. It received some belated recognition in Peter Bartl’s recent book The Modern Heritage of Nelson Architecture.
The Sherbrooke Hotel at 140 Baker was built in 1897. Later known as the Victor Hotel, or Victor Apartments, it was demolished in 1993. I am working on a separate post about it.
A statement of significance was completed in 2019 for the Duke Hyssop Labour Centre, built in 1925 at 101 Baker. It was once the Nelson Business College, and in the 1950s was the regional headquarters of the RCMP. It’s also covered in Bartl’s book.
A statement of significance was also completed in 2019 for 110 Baker, a two-storey dental building built by former mayor Tex Mowatt in 1958 to house his office supply business. (I think it is the second youngest building to receive such a statement, after the Dairy Queen.)
Another building, at 182 Baker Street, completely escaped my notice until recently. Only a bit of decoration at its roof line hints at its age.
Although BC Assessment erroneously dates its construction to 1901, it was actually built in 1912 by Ernest K. Strachan for his plumbing business. It was first mentioned in the Daily News of March 20, 1912:
E.K. Strachan is … planning a brick block. It is to cost about $8,800 and will be built on the lot immediately adjoining the Alice roller rink to the west. It will be of two stories with a basement. The upper floor and basement will be used as storerooms and the ground floor as offices.
The Alice roller rink was where the Athabasca/Savoy Hotel was built in 1913-14, directly against the Strachan block’s east wall.
Strachan was issued a plumbing permit on April 8, 1912 for Lot 12. (On July 20, V. Romano was issued a plumbing permit for the same lot, on the Falls Street side, but I don’t know what to make of that.)
According to a statement of significance for this building, completed in 2020, “Ernest Strachan was among Nelson’s foremost plumbers of this era. Between 1899 and 1915
Strachan name’s appeared on over 400 building plumbing permits in the city.”
The earliest photo of the building appeared in the Daily News of Jan. 6, 1913 as part of the following ad:
The ad explained Strachan came to Nelson in November 1898, buying out a previous firm. (His business was previously located at 313 Baker St.) The ad also noted the building
was finished this spring and the entrance is at 120 Baker street. Two floors and a basement are occupied, which gives space of 3,750 square feet. The basement is used for a workshop, and the street floor comprises the office, show room and brasses and stock is carried on the upper floor.
The first part of the street floor gives an idea what accommodations are presented by this firm, as bath tubs of different sizes, in porcelain and metal are shown …
The photo reveals that the ground-level has been drastically altered but the configuration of the upper storey windows is similar today. Here is a better version of that photo, which appeared in a 1913 booklet called Nelson: Queen City of the Kootenay.
Ernest Strachan enlisted for World War I on April 28, 1916 with the 225th Battalion and served in France with the 102nd Battalion. His son William also served with the 220th Band. Touchstones has a picture of them together in their uniforms. In his later years, Ernest moved to Tacoma. He died in 1929, age 57.
Around 1917, the building became the branch office of the Curlew Creamery, which bought out the Nelson Creamery (and also had branches in Grand Forks and Curlew, Wash.) According to the statement of significance:
Milk from ranches as far away as Moyie and Nakusp were processed at the plant. A refrigerated creamery plant with ammonia pipes was located principally on the basement floor. This contained two large copper-lined milk and cream vats, electric churn, ice cream freezer and boiler room. An ice-plant was located in a rear shed. The first floor was used for store purposes and the second floor was used for storage.
In 1925, a large single-storey addition was built on the west side.
Palm Dairies acquired the Curlew Creamery and the building within the next few years, but kept the Curlew brand name for a while, along with manager David Townsend. A plumbing permit was issued on March 21, 1934 to make alterations on Lots 11 and 12.
In 1936, Palm Dairies built a new headquarters in the 600 block of Baker Street, where Pharmasave is today (although not in the same building). 120 Baker was then used for storage. By 1946 the latter became a laundry — known variously as West Kootenay Steam Laundry (1948), Kootenay Laundry and Dry Cleaners (1953), and Kootenay Cleaning Centre (1965). Manager Steve Conne turned the business into a coin-operated laundromat in 1963. The fire number was also changed to 182 Baker.
(Greg Nesteroff collection)
Sold on eBay in February 2021 for $16.50 Cdn
Here is the building as seen on the fire insurance maps of 1923 (with undated revisions) and 1959. The pink shading indicates brick construction.
Two unusual things happened in the building’s later history — one of them tragic.
On April 19, 1968, police were watching the building and two other businesses after receiving a tip that they might be targeted by thieves. Cpl. Keith Nicol, on stakeout, spotted a man entering the back door and summoned additional officers. Cst. Gordon McPhail entered while other officers waited outside.
A man later identified as Walter James Polzun, 21, fled upstairs when he saw McPhail approaching. McPhail fired and hit Polzun in the neck. He died four hours later in hospital. John Stanger, who owned the business, said police told him Polzun had the cash register on the floor and was trying to open it when officers arrived.
McPhail was placed on leave and a month later charged with manslaughter through criminal negligence. The trial was held in Cranbrook that October. Nichol testified that McPhail told him he heard a noise behind him while he was searching the building, whirled around in a crouching position and fired.
After deliberating for 35 minutes, a jury found McPhail not guilty.
In this ca. 1977 photo, Kootenay Cleaning Centre is seen to the right of the Savoy Hotel, sporting some fabulous neon signs. (Al Peterson photo)
From 1969 to 1982, the Gemzik family ran Kootenay Dry Cleaners and Laundromat in this building. It was then vacant for the next decade, but was used as a set in the filming of Roxanne in the summer of 1986. Although the brief scene was cut from the movie, it survives in the screenplay that was published in 1997.
EXT. LAUNDRY — DAY
C.D. is walking down the street. Turning a corner he sees a curious thing. It’s the fire truck parked in a space in the street. He looks around, trying to figure out what’s going on. Finally, RALSTON enters the street from the dry cleaners carrying his laundry. He spots C.D.
RALSTON: The wife was using the car.
Filming of Roxanne in the summer of 1986. (Al Peterson photo)
182 Baker Street, 1986, as dressed for Roxanne. (Al Peterson photo)
182 Baker Street, 1992, looking forlorn. (Henry Stevenson photo)
In the last 30 years, the Strachan Block and its addition have been home to many different businesses and organizations, including the Advocacy Centre, Nelson CARES, The Studio, Kutenais Finest Personal Training, Voytech Mobile Computer Services, and presently Lokel Hair Studio, Blackbird Physiotherapy, and Wildlife Genetics International.
The Savoy Hotel, 182 Baker (originally the Strachan Block), and its ca. 1925 addition as seen today.
A bit of old brickwork is visible at the rear of 182 Baker.
In 2020, murals were added at the rear and side.
Updated in November 2019 to clarify that the photo of the building from 1986 showed it decorated for Roxanne and that the Gemzik family owned it from 1969 to 1982. Updated on June 10, 2020 to correct the fact that the Dancing Bear Inn was built in 1901, not 1932. Updated on June 17, 2020 to add details from the statement of significance and images from the fire insurance maps and to note that 110 Baker has a statement as well. Updated on Aug. 13, 2020 to add the mural photo and on Dec. 1, 2020 to add the envelope image. Updated on Jan. 9, 2022 to add the 1992 photo. Updated on May 27, 2022 to add the better version of the 1913 photo.