When touring a house built in 1909, it’s best to do so slowly.
Look up, look down, and look all around, because our history is written in the smallest of details. In the handsome house known as Stonehurst, there is something to be noted in every room, from the built-in cabinetry, to the type of flooring used, and even down to the size of the door frames.
It’s a tiny doorframe that owner Rob O’Brennan points out while climbing one of the house’s sets of stairs. It’s tucked neatly away, smaller than a door ought to be.
“That’s the servant’s staircase,” he says. “It leads to the kitchen.”
This is a house from a different era. When it was built, it had a view of farmer’s fields all around. Its owner and builder, Chauncy Eckert, would eventually plot out ways to subdivide the lot into blocks we are all now familiar with today. He would operate his business from the corner office, and many of the decisions he made there helped shape this community. Eckert famously placed an ad in a Winnipeg newspaper calling for farming families to head west for land. One night, 20 Mennonite families arrived, and were eventually settled on Eckert’s land in Yarrow.
It’s interesting history that comes right back to life when traipsing through the buildings of that era. And while these buildings remain all around the area, only a handful have heritage designation. Stonehurst is one of them, and is one of the six buildings that will be open during Heritage Chilliwack’s Heritage Tour and Tapas event, Saturday, Oct. 17.
Stonehurst was once La Mansione Restaurante, and before that acted as a boarding house.
Getting the house back to its heritage state has been a hefty job for O’Brennan and his wife, Gwyneth. But they are experienced at living in and caring for old homes.
O’Brennan has advice for anyone considering delving into buying a heritage home .
“The most important thing is when you move into the house, live in it for six months before you do anything to it,” he said.
The second most important?
“If you live in it for six months and still want to wreck it, just sell it to someone else.”
He has heard plenty of stories of houses being ruined by eager homebuyers, and each one breaks his heart a little bit. The homes offer that glimpse into history that you can feel, he said. You can immerse yourself in another era.
“The best parts of this house are the old parts,” he notes. Although not everything is an antique. There are upgrades, fixes, redesigns, and so on, and while touring he points out all the projects he still wants to complete.
Becoming a heritage site doesn’t mean you can’t make these changes, he underlines. And this is an important factor, since many people may turn away from purchasing a heritage site, or from having their own property designated.
But without that designation, he says, developers can easily tear down all that history.
And that would be a shame, considering the way homes were built in Chilliwack’s heydey.
“A home like this is structurally sound,” he said. “There is no reason it won’t be here another 100 years.”
O’Brennan is thrilled to be on the Heritage Tour, which directly supports Heritage Chilliwack Society.
The tour takes place in the vicinity of Chilliwack’s first subdivision, Mountain View Subdivision, in the area of Gore, Nowell, First Avenue and Young. First developed in 1909, Mountain View was part of the original Nowell Estate and it was Chauncey Eckert, Chilliwack entrepreneur who was instrumental in establishing the Mountain View district.
The self-guided tour features some of Chilliwack most historic and architecturally distinctive homes including the loft in the Imperial Theatre Building, once home to vaudeville performances; Chilliwack’s suffragettes held meetings there in 1915.
Tickets are available for $30 for the tour and tapas, or $20 for the tour only.
The tapas offering at Society runs from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and includes a beverage plus a variety of appetizers with a portion of the tapas ticket sales given back to Heritage Chilliwack Society.
Part of the proceeds will go towards the establishment of a Heritage Designation Fund, to assist heritage home owners with the costs of heritage designation in Chilliwack.
Tickets available at the Royal Hotel or Cornerstone Custom Picture Framing on Mill Street (cash only), or at St. Thomas Church during the event. Heritage Chilliwack is a volunteer run, community based initiative established to engage, advocate for and promote Chilliwack’s heritage.