Kerr Construction is deep in the renovation of a much-beloved property in the Queens Park community of the Royal City, New Westminster.
“City of Beautiful Homes”
New West has many grand and impressive homes in its historical register due to its unique history. The city was founded in 1859 by the Queen’s Royal Engineers to be the capital of colonial British Columbia. Queen Victoria herself even chose the name after her favourite part of London, Westminster, when she objected to the proposed name of “Queensborough.”
Although its time as the province’s capital was short-lived, New West attracted many influential people to build large and stately homes within its boundaries over the years. There are many examples of early Victorian and Edwardian homes as well as those built in Colonial, Tudor Revival, and even Cape Cod styles.
Because of this rich tapestry of styles and grandeur, New Westminster gained a reputation as the “City of Beautiful Homes.”
“The Three Birches”
Kerr’s current project has a similarly rich history.
The house was built back in 1939 in the Tudor Revival style by the famed Vancouver architect and engineering firm of McCarter & Nairne. McCarter & Nairne, among many other projects, built Vancouver’s first two skyscrapers — the Medical Dental Building (demolished in 1988) and the Marine Building.
Dr. Albert “Webster” Bowles, a prominent medical specialist and president of the New Westminster Medical Association, commissioned the firm to build the house in which he and his family lived for the next 30 years. The house had three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a livingroom, dining room, kitchen, and a library.
Dr. Bowles named the property “The Three Birches,” by which it is still known today, although the trees are long gone.
After Dr. Bowles, Dr. Michael Piper and his family lived at “The Three Birches” for a further 40 years. Dr. Piper is a famous orthopedic surgeon who worked at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New West. He is well-known for being the physician who initially diagnosed and treated Canadian legend Terry Fox for his cancer in 1977.
Restoration & renovation
Today, “The Three Birches” is owned by Toby and Andrew with their border collie mix rescue Metro.
Toby and Andrew purchased the property in late 2015. They initially weren’t looking to buy a landmark home. They thought the house was too large and the yard too small. But they both eventually fell in love with it. The defining moment was when Andrew walked into the library. He was so moved by its atmosphere that he felt like he was home.
Kerr has been working with Toby and Andrew since shortly after they took possession of the house to modernize the guts of the structure but not lose its original spirit. This translates into updating the electrical and plumbing but not moving any walls. It includes bringing back original floors, keeping ceilings and exposing the original brick chimneys. Where possible, even the old knob and tube fixtures will remain, although just for show.
Changes include adding a bedroom in the newly opened loft and two more bathrooms. A tenant suite has been added in the basement with two bedrooms and a bathroom.
Unique features of the house
One of the original grand features of the house is two beautiful stained glass windows on the second-floor landing. These windows were originally created over 140 years ago for the New Westminster parliament buildings that were never built. They had been placed in storage until McCarter & Nairne salvaged them for “The Three Birches” in 1939.
Toby and Andrew recently had them re-leaded and added their own little historical element to one of the panes – their initials and Metro’s paw print.
Another feature Toby and Andrew are bringing back is the four hidden call bells located in the living room, library, master bedroom, and on the floor of the dining room. Originally used for calling servers, the system hasn’t worked for years. It is a novel piece of history to update and make useful again.
Intense community interest
While “The Three Birches” is private property, this hasn’t stopped members of the Queens Park community from being interested and concerned about the home’s fate. Andrew and Toby have been surprised at the number of individuals who have approached them or Mark, Kerr’s onsite manager, to find out what was happening with the house after the construction fences went up around the property. These concerned citizens were worried that this historical treasure was being torn down.
Needless to say, they were relieved when told the house was being brought back to its former glory while being modernized.
Proud to be involved
Kerr Construction and Design is working hard to make this dream come true and is proud to be part of the legacy of this wonderful historic landmark.