On Aug. 8, Irving House will celebrate its 150th birthday with festivities coinciding with a newly written tour for guests.
The building is the Lower Mainland’s oldest intact residence, named for riverboat captain William Irving. Known as the “King of the River,” Irving made his fortune ferrying treasure-seekers up to the Klondike, and while his services weren’t inexpensive, Irving could always be counted on to ensure his charges’ safe passage.
Though few ever made it rich, there was never a shortage of passengers, and Irving collected on each of them whether they struck gold or not, according to Michelle Taylor, heritage programmer for the City of New West
After his death, only seven years after the house’s construction, Mrs. Irving moved to Portland while her daughter continued to live in it, eventually selling it to the city in 1950.
Taylor said that an incredible effort has been made to keep the house as the Irvings left it.
“We have some great pieces,” said Taylor. “The city has kept a good relationship with the Irving family (now the Briggs), and every so often they will donate some photographs or mementos that belonged to the family.”
Irving House plays tricks on the senses; the building breathes history. Richly coloured wallpapers and portraits of royalty adorn every room, while effects like hairbrushes seem absentmindedly left on armoires or writing desks, as if their owners were called for dinner and are soon to return.
With its owner being a seasoned seafarer, the house itself was built watertight like a cabin on a ship. Because of this, the house never creaks as other houses would at its age.
“I know it’s a trope, but it’s important to know history, to know where you’ve been so you know where you’re going,” said Taylor.
One step out through the Victorian doors of Irving House and the sounds and sights of the modern world come rushing back in. Car horns sound where there were carriages not so long ago. An antique, some might call Irving House. A relic of another time. Or a link perhaps to yesteryear, one of the last that encapsulates New Westminster’s rich heritage better than swan faucets and lace gowns ever could.
Unchanged by both fire and modern taste alike, those four walls have played silent witness to a great narrative: the rise of a city and the birth of a nation. Before there was a Canada there was Irving House, and there’s something to be said about that.
The Irving House 150th birthday celebrations are set for Saturday, Aug. 8 from noon to 5 p.m. Festivities include tours, lawn games, crafts, cake and a chance to dress up in historic costumes for a photo booth. Admission is by donation, and Irving House is at 302 Royal Ave. Call 604-527-4640 for information.