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Kelowna  

Preserving log house

Colin Dacre

The city of Kelowna is taking steps to preserve a 147-year-old log house built by one of the area's first European settlers after it was damaged in a fire earlier this year.

In a close vote last week, the city decided to earmark $29,000 for the construction of a temporary roof to protect Fleming House from the elements.

The city's website says Fleming House is a two-storey structure built from hand-hewn pine logs in 1871 by Frederick Brent. It says Brent also constructed the Grist Mill, which is the oldest Grist Mill in British Columbia.

The site says the farmhouse is a rare structure from that era, because there was little construction during the recession. The house's squared logs are about 35 centimetres high and 17 centimetres thick, it says.

The house and mill were bought and sold over the years, and in 1900 John Dilworth added milled siding and plaster walls. He also added the rear shed roofed storage area, the porch and veranda and two corbelled chimneys, it says.

Soon after these modernizations in 1908, they were bought by William Fleming. The mill and house were relocated to Kelowna's Heritage Park in 2002, it says.

Don Knox of the Central Okanagan Historical Society says it's essential to take care of these structures to preserve local heritage.

The mill site itself is important because it was the first commercial enterprise in Kelowna, and is a good example of how things were done at that point, he said.

"People would come from all over the area with their grain to be ground and so they would get together and socialize and visit and catch up and in most cases they hadn't seen each other in quite a while," he said.

Over the summer, a fire from someone cooking by the side of the house "got away" and caught on to the house, Knox said. The house was burned quite severely, with the worst damage being to the siding and the interior, he said.

The Central Okanagan Heritage Society recommended "to do the minimum necessary to mitigate current threats, and preserve the building for future restoration or rehabilitation," reads a Dec. 3 report to the Kelowna city council from the parks and building department.

Putting a temporary roof will give the city more time to take more concrete approach to future heritage sites, it says.

As the Okanagan Rail Trail becomes more popular, it says, pedestrian and cycling traffic adjacent to this site will increase, and interest in these buildings may also increase.

"Hence there may be increased potential for future restoration works," it says, adding that Fleming House and the Grist Mill can be considered for other uses.

The report also says that these buildings cannot be insured because they don't have fire suppressants, and until a fire hydrant is installed or other fire prevention measures are put in place, fire remains a risk to these heritage sites.

Knox said the fire stripped the house of the additions and it went back to how it was originally built.

It is also important to preserve structures such as Fleming House because Kelowna doesn't have any of the older quality homes that were originally here during the 1860s and 1870s, he said.

"Quite a few of the older houses were torn down so we really don't have a lot left that gives us a sense of how things used to be," Knox said.



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