The BX Express building in 2015. Photo: Barbara Roden.

Golden Country: From stagecoach headquarters to provincial courthouse

The BX Express Company headquarters building in Ashcroft has had an interesting life.

Apart from the Canadian Pacific Railway, no outfit had as large an impact on Ashcroft as a destination and a transportation hub than the Barnard Express Stagecoach Company, which was commonly known as the BX. Its final headquarters in Ashcroft still stands, and today we’ll be looking at its second life as a courthouse.

The company was founded in 1860, and its original headquarters was in Yale. It moved to Ashcroft in 1886, with the original headquarter building at the corner of Railway and 3rd. In 1911 the headquarters moved to a new building at the corner of 6th and Railway, which still stands; the oldest surviving building on Railway Avenue.

The Journal had the following to say about the new headquarters in February 1911: “The new office, which is bungalow style with overhanging eves and coloured a pretty green, is certainly a credit to the town.

“The interior of the building is fitted up and affords ample accommodation for the public as well as for the staff. The dimensions of the building, 57 feet by 26 feet; the front portion is set aside for the public with a comfortable private office on the left for Manager Willis J. West, leading from the main office in the centre of the building. The rear is devoted to the express department and a spacious vault. Very shortly every department of the B.C. Express will be moved from the old property at the north end of town, which has been sold, and the familiar Cariboo stage will be seen gaily dashing through town.

“The stages will load from the back of the office. Several other buildings have been erected on the new property such as a blacksmith shop, carpenter’s shop, work shop, an up to date garage of large dimensions, making it all quite a cluster of useful buildings.”

The heyday of the building as the BX headquarters was a short one. With the coming of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (in 1913) and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (in 1914), the BX’s days were numbered. The company came to an end in 1920; but it still owned all those Ashcroft buildings. Willis West was successful in having some of them, including the headquarters building, converted for use in a new cannery, but in 1925 the provincial government expressed interest in turning the building into a government office and courthouse.

There had been a courthouse in Ashcroft since 1891, located near the corner of Brink and 6th Streets (conveniently for all concerned, it was right beside the Ashcroft jail). When the provincial government took over the former BX headquarters, the courthouse was moved there, with the former courthouse torn down in 1930.

The “front portion set aside for the public” when the building was the BX Express office was still open to the public, with the government agent office occupying the middle space of the building. The office to the left of the public space, which had once housed BX manager Willis West, became the private office of the government agent.

A large room at the back of the building bordering 6th Street, which had originally housed the express department, became the new courthouse. There was access to it via a door from the government agent office, but the main access was through an exterior door at the back of the courthouse, where the stagecoaches formerly loaded. A small addition on the left rear corner of the building within the eaves line became the judge’s chambers. The cost of the renovations to the BX building was reported to be $4,422.

It seems that this conversion of the BX building was intended as temporary quarters only, until a new government building could be erected. In 1928 the Department of Public Works invited tenders to build a new courthouse and jail for Ashcroft. However, no contract was awarded, and the project was indefinitely postponed.

For almost half-a-century the BX building served the town and area as courthouse and government agent office, but eventually the need for new facilities was apparent. In 1974 lawyer Ken Houghton, who knew the old building well, said that “I have appeared in court on many occasions in the old building. It was usually too cold in winter and too hot during the summer.”

Houghton was speaking at what was described as “A memorable day in law enforcement in Ashcroft,” when “new and spacious quarters for court hearings were officially opened. The building also houses a judges’ room and witness room.

“The government agent will also have new accommodation in the building. This move is temporary, the building being leased from Safety Mart Foods.” The space was at the south end of the Safety Mart building, and now forms part of the store’s stockroom.

Bill Hartley, Minister for the Department of Public Works, said at the opening of the new facility that “The old BX Stagecoach building … is simply not adequate for court facilities for the 1970s, and I should add that the Provincial Government intends to build a new Provincial Government Building to include a new court facility in Ashcroft, as soon as we are able to make arrangements for a suitable site.”

Government is not necessarily known for moving particularly quickly. The courthouse remained in the Safety Mart building until the fall of 1977, when it was moved into a double-wide trailer on Brink Street, where it operated until the end of May, 1983. In late July 1983, a new Law Court building, built for a cost of $740,000, was opened on Brink Street beside the Royal Canadian Legion.

In May 1995 the building was badly damaged by fire and pulled down. Despite promises by the provincial government that it would be replaced by a new courthouse, it was not, bringing to an end more than a century of justice being dispensed in Ashcroft.

At the 1974 opening of the new, temporary courthouse in the Safety Mart building, Bill Hartley noted that that the Government Agency would soon be moved from the BX building. “I am sure,” he said, “that the old BX Stagecoach building which has served for many years as Government Agency and Court can be preserved as an important historic building.” By 1975 it had been boarded up, and there was uncertainty as to whether it would remain or be torn down.

On August 6, 1979, Ashcroft council under Mayor Ward Bishop adopted Bylaw No. 337, “Being a Bylaw to designate the B.X. Stage Lines Building (Old Courthouse) as a Municipal Heritage Site.” The building, now lovingly restored, has been in a variety of private hands ever since.

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