One of the oldest community heritage sites in British Columbia, Irving House dates back to 1865. Described as “mixed gothic” style, this design was the work of James Syme for Captain William Irving, known as the “King of the Fraser River.”
The design of Irving House, with its elaborate wall dormer, verandahs, and gingerbread bargeboards, bears a striking resemblance to contemporary pattern book designs included in Villages and Cottages by Calvert Vaux.
From the chapter titled Settlement in the West, from A Concise History of Canadian Architecture, historian Harold Kalman describes the Colonial Administration Buildings as “a group of six separate buildings—perhaps to reduce the risk of the spread of fire. . . . The most noticeable features of the buildings are their hipped roofs with flaring bracketed eaves; the prominent balconies and verandas; and the distinctive exterior treatment in which the red brick wall were overlaid by cream-coloured wood strips arranged in diagonal and perpendicular crossed patterns.
The press had a field day, describing the main building as ‘something between a Dutch Toy and a Chinese Pagoda,’ a pagoda ‘wigwam,’ and—closer to the mark—explaining that the style of the architecture is that of the ‘Elizabethan period.’ The buildings soon became known as ‘the Birdcages,’ probably because of the cage-like appearance of the wood appliqué.” Fire destroyed the buildings.
The “borrowing” of styles from history has been revived by the postmodern architects of today.