Now known as the Helmcken House Historic Site the Helmcken house, which was originally built and owned by John Helmcken, is the oldest house in Victoria. The house is considered to be significant for two reasons the first being its illustrious first inhabitant John Sebastian Helmcken and the second being its proviing an excellent example of the evolution of wooden houses in the British Columbia of the late 1800’s.
As discussed in Tuesday’s post, John Helmcken was a British-born physician who travelled to Vancouver Island in the late 1800’s as an employee of the HBC where he eventually setled in Victoria and went on to be a major player in both the establishment of British Columbia as a province of the Canadian Confederacy as well as the establishment of many of B.C.’s longest serving medical institutions.
When Helmcken liven in this house, between the years of 1853 and 1920, it was a one story squared-log house covered in shingles and it remains one of the few surviving samples of piece-sur-piece building in the province. Piece sur piece construction is the method of building small houses which are made of heavy rectangulas shaped timbers where each timber is laided horizontally with a dovetail notch at both ends in order to form an interlocking grid.
Somewhere around 1856 the building’s dining room was added on which is clad in cedar shingles and provides an excellent example of vernacular post and beam construction. This building method is unique in that it uses heavy timbers rather than a type of dimensional lumber (such as 2”x4”) and was typically used in situations where a structure is constructed out of logs or tree trunks without the avaliablity of high tech saws.
Another addition added in 1889 saw the building further modified for the youngest daughter of John Helmcken with the construction of a two-story frame complete with the home’s front verandah. Unlike the pervious aspects of this building, this latest addition was built professionally out of mass produced drop siding.
At the time of its original construction, the home was built directly next to Helmcken’s in-laws and while James Douglas’ home has since been demolished these two homes were important as they were some of the first to be built outside of the HBC’s Fort Victoria and marked the beginning of the area of James Bay as Victorias’s earliest residential area.
Helmcken House was bought by the provincial government of British Columbia in 1939 marking it as the first provincially owned historical site in B.C.