Golden Country: The Ashcroft Public Building part 3

Golden Country: The Ashcroft Public Building part 3

The Great Fire of July 1916 finally got the building in motion, and work began later that year.

In July 1916, following the destruction of most of the business district of Ashcroft in the Great Fire that started on July 6, word had been received from the Dominion Government in Ottawa that work on the Public Building to house the post office, telegraph office, customs office, and telephone exchange would begin “at once”. Ashcroft postmaster J. Richards received a telegram from the Dominion resident architect, asking if the site for the building had been “cleared of impedimenta, in the shape of other small shacks, which had been ordered removed, as construction on new government building was to begin at once.”

“This will be good news for the people of Ashcroft, although some regret is expressed that a local contractor was not successful in getting the work,” wrote Journal editor R.D. Cumming. “However, we are willing to sacrifice this selfish ambition now that we are sure the building will soon be an actual fact.”

(It should be noted that the announcement that construction was to start “at once” was made on July 8, 1916, and the telegram Richards received about the state of the Public Building site was sent sometime around October 20, 1916. Did I, in the second part of this series, take back my comment from the first part about government not moving swiftly? I take back that take back.)

Previously in this column I have documented the installation of the Ashcroft telephone exchange, and Cumming’s almost breathless interest in it, as expressed through the pages of The Journal. I suspect that the men installing the telephone system grew a little tired of R.D. breathing down their necks; and since the Public Building was being erected immediately beside the Journal office, I have a feeling that the builders gained a sidewalk superintendent.

Looking through issues of The Journal in 1916 and 1917, this impression is borne out, with the progress of the Public Building featuring in articles and in the Local News column. In the November 4, 1916 issue Cumming noted that “The foundation for the new public building is being placed, and if the good weather continues for a week or so the concrete, which is the most critical part of the work, will be done.”

On November 18 Cumming wrote that “Work on the new public building is still going on in spite of the cold weather. The concrete work which was delayed somewhat on account of the elements is nearly completed.” A front page story on December 2, headlined “Public Building: Foundation Works Finished And Framework Well In the Air”, noted that “The Ashcroft Public Building which was begun about a month ago by Mr. Hunt, of Victoria, contractor, is progressing very rapidly. A large showing has been made since the skeleton has been thrown up and if the weather continues as favourable as it has been in the past the building will be ready for occupation sooner than was at first expected.

“Mr. Hunt is sparing no expense or trouble in his effort to turn over the finished article at as early a moment as possible. The conditions surrounding the temporary post office and telegraph office are the incentive. The post office staff in particular are viewing the progress of this edifice with an ambition not unalloyed with impatience.” Cumming added that a change of plan for the building had added a cornice to it, “which will add to the architectural beauty and finish off the building.”

Work on the building seems to have ceased until January 1917, when Cumming reported that Mr. Hunt had returned after the holidays, and that “operations are again under way at [that] structure.” In the January 13 issue Cumming wrote—tongue firmly in cheek—that “Mr. Hunt … is convinced that the press is indispensable. He had to borrow some Journal paper a few days ago to patch up a broken window temporarily until his glass would arrive; and we feel more and more the weight of our responsibility.”

On January 27, 1917, The Journal reported that exterior work on the Public Building was nearing completion. The original plan had called for the building to be made of brick, causing Cumming to lament at the time that such a decision meant local contractors would not be able to bid or work on the project.

At some point, however, the decision was made to construct the building of wood (the current brick facing was added in the 1930s). Cumming regretted this decision as well, writing that it meant the building was only a “temporary” one.

“Temporary? Why? Because any work undertaken by the government that is built of wood and not stone, is necessarily temporary because it is not likely to endure much longer than a hundred years the rage of the elements… . In the ordinary course of events, it will not survive time and tide, but will perish sooner or later.”

He noted, however, that the building was “a very fine piece of workmanship, and on the outside is beginning to assume a finished appearance,” adding that there had been no delays on account of the weather. “Work on the inside essentials is going on rapidly and the electric wiring and plumbing is well under way.”

While construction of the Public Building continued, the offices it was being built to house made-do in other locations around town. It is not known where the post office had temporarily set up shop, but in the issue of February 3, Cumming noted that it was a less than ideal spot. “The building which is being used just now for a post office is a refrigerator. You can look up through the ceiling at any time during the night and see the stars.”

Clearly, work could not proceed fast enough on the new building. However, there was still some way to go before the Public Building was able to open for business.

To be continued

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