BC Mills · History · urban design

BC Mills “Ready Made” Houses and Fernie

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Top left: MMM, Top Right: OOO, Bottom Left: MM, Bottom Right: Concrete hybrid

Fernie, BC has had its share of bad luck in the past. The town was destroyed in 1908 in a devastating fire that levelled the town except for 37 houses and three other buildings. Rebuilding got underway quickly. The brickworks ramped up production and began turning out as many of their cream coloured bricks as physically possible, except they had to wait for the bridge to be reconstructed to move their product across the Elk River.

Other groups and individuals turned to the Vancouver-based BC Mills Timber and Trading Company for their patented “Ready Made” houses. This innovative system of panelled construction offered purchasers the opportunity to build a permanent house in just over a day.

In Fernie, the local churches turned to the company through their agent, The Standard House Building Company to build homes for their priests. Both the Anglicans and Presbyterians had houses built before their churches were reconstructed.

The Anglican Church minutes of their church council meetings of 1908 mentioned the desire to rebuild the church and to house their minister in a new rectory. They had solicited bids from local carpenters for a small 2 room house for 350.00. It was deemed inadequate and so the minutes go on to mention how the Presbyterians had built a ‘Ready Made’ house from Vancouver. And so the Anglicans decided to copy them and order one too.

The agreement with The Standard House Building Company called for a model ‘MMM’ (like the Presbyterians had ordered) to be delivered with the contractor agreeing to have the basement and foundation ready.

Fernie has a number of BC Mills houses on its streets with a ‘LL’, a ‘MM’, two ‘MMM’s and a ‘OOO’ model. And there is one hybrid model which has the top half of a ‘OOO’ married to a concrete base that replicates the rest of the model. Concrete is a material found in many Fernie buildings. It was readily available and fire proof. Here it’s one of the more unique applications we’ve found.

The BC Mills buildings are found across Western Canada with their most iconic structure being the neo-classical banks they produced for the Bank of Commerce and occasionally the Bank of Montreal. They went out of production in 1910, because, perversely, a house built from scratch was now cheaper than a ‘Ready Made’. The system had a brief afterlife with the Prudential Investment Company of Vancouver which adapted the system for its Talton Place subdivision. But as WW1 began the system disappeared.

None of the BC Mills houses in Fernie are in their original condition, all have been renovated in one form or another but their distinctive roof lines are readily identifiable. There are a few more models left to discover in the town and we keep our eyes open for clues.

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