British Columbia

Kelowna preservationist relocates her heritage house across the city

Kelowna, B.C., English professor Shona Harrison moved her entire home from Richter Street near downtown to the southeast corner of the Central Okanagan city over two days from May to June. She says she decided to take on the massive project because buyers wanted to demolish the building.

'It's simple in its architecture but very elegant,' says Shona Harrison of 110-year-old Thompson House

The J.N. Thompson House now owned by Shona Harrison was built in 1911 for a prominent Kelowna, B.C., orchardist named John Nelson Thompson. (Old Kelowna/Facebook)

For Shona Harrison in Kelowna, B.C., moving home literally means moving home.

On Saturday, the English professor oversaw the final reassembly of her century-old house on a 13-acre property in the southeastern corner of the Central Okanagan city after hiring trucks to haul it from 1875 Richter Street near downtown the evening of May 30.

The home arrived in the new location on June 1 at 7 a.m. It took more than a week to put the pieces together and connect the house to electricity and water.

"It's a beautiful, beautiful home, like a queen," Harrison said Friday to Dominika Lirette, the guest host of CBC's Daybreak South. "It's a very prominent house…. It's simple in its architecture but very elegant."

The two-storey Queen Anne Revival style house was built in 1911 by local contractor George Ritchie for prominent orchardist John Nelson Thompson. The building changed hands several times before Harrison bought it six years ago.

The J.N. Thompson House being lifted onto a truck at 1875 Richter Street in Kelowna, B.C. (Amanda Snyder)

Harrison teaches English literature and medieval studies at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus and Okanagan College in Kelowna. She sits on the City of Kelowna's Heritage Advisory Council and the board of the Central Okanagan Heritage Society.

She says she gained knowledge about historical preservation by reading about heritage conservation during her postgraduate education and attending heritage conferences and seminars.

Before she bought the J.N. Thompson House, she had renovated two early 20th century houses in Victoria, B.C.

Harrison says she initially didn't have the money to purchase the house from its former owner, but later saw an opportunity when the next owner didn't know how to renovate the old building.

"They were out of their depth, and so during the process of selling, they asked for letters explaining heritage involvement and experience with restoration of houses.

"I wrote my letter talking about [how] I had restored other houses in Victoria … and so they decided to sell it to me," she said.

The house was transported to southeast Kelowna during early morning hours. (Shona Harrison/Facebook)

Harrison says she thought about selling the restored house when she decided to move to an acreage where she can raise horses, but the buyers didn't want it.

"They were going to hold back $80,000 from the sale to ensure that if I didn't get the house off in time — which was 30 days — that they would then use that $80,000 to demolish the house. 

"It became very apparent to me that the house was more of a hindrance for those looking to purchase the land," she said.

The J.N. Thompson House is on the Kelowna heritage register. According to the city, listed buildings could still be demolished, although the council may delay the issuance of the demolition permit in order to allow more time for the property owner to explore other options.

Shona Harrison at her home in its new location on Saturday. (Submitted by Shona Harrison)

Shifting a two-storey house to another side of the city proved to be a massive project — she recruited about 30 vehicles to escort the house and to trim trees along the route.

"We ended up taking off the roof in three parts as well as the side porches," Harrison said. "They lifted the house and then moved it on these beams, onto these huge hydraulic trucks."

Harrison declined to say how much she spent relocating the house.

The City of Kelowna told CBC that typically no more than two heritage houses are relocated within the city every year and residents who wish to relocate a structure need to apply for a building permit.

Tap the link below to hear Shona Harrison's interview on Daybreak South:

A Kelowna homeowner describes how she moved her heritage house from downtown to an acreage in the east end of the city. 10:10

With files from Daybreak South and Zameer Karim

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