Description of Historic Place
Irving House is a large, one and one-half storey plus basement wood-frame residence, designed in the Gothic Revival style, located on its original site at the corner of Royal Avenue and Merivale Street in the New Westminster neighbourhood of Albert Crescent. Irving House is remarkable for the extent to which its original exterior and interior elements have survived. Operated as an historic house museum, it also includes a collection of many original furnishings from the Irving family.
Irving House is a direct link to the earliest pioneer development of New Westminster. The city was founded by the Royal Engineers as the colonial capital of the Mainland colony of British Columbia in 1859. After the Royal Engineers were disbanded in 1863, many of them stayed to help build New Westminster as a center of trade and commerce. Irving House dates from the time of the first development of civilian structures in the new community. Completed in April, 1865, it is one of the oldest extant buildings in the province.
Irving House is valued for its association with Captain William and Elizabeth Jane Irving and their family. Captain Irving arrived in New Westminster in 1859 and established a successful riverboat trading business on the Lower Fraser River where he became known as "King of the River." Irving invested in the B.C. and Victoria Steam Navigation Company, which later became the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company, and was a leading citizen in New Westminster, a Mason, a founding member of the St. Andrew's Society, an honorary member of the Hyack Fire Company, a member of the committee to study the terms of B.C.'s union with the Dominion of Canada, and a city councillor. Ownership passed through three generations of the Irving family before the house was acquired by the City of New Westminster in 1950.
This house is of architectural importance as a fine example of Gothic Revival architecture and as an example of Mid-Victorian era domestic taste, and reflects the status attained by the Irvings in the early days of the city. It is a testament to the skill of architect James Syme (1832-1881), who appears to have adapted the design from a pattern book, and the abilities of its builder, Thomas W. Graham. The interior retains many original features, including wallpaper, plasterwork, furnishings and carpets, that are important as a demonstration of the high degree of design and craftsmanship that was available in New Westminster in the 1860s.
The heritage value of this house also lies in its interpretive value, as the oldest historic house museum in B.C. The museum was established in 1950 and is an important cultural feature for the interpretation of New Westminster's heritage to the public. On display in the house is a collection of period furniture, including a number of original pieces from the Irving family. The City of New Westminster continues to own the house and operates it as part of the civic museum and archives. It represents an important period in the growth of the City and demonstrates to visitors the lifestyle, possessions, and aspirations of the pioneers who helped to establish the City of New Westminster.
Source: Heritage Planning Files, City of New Westminster
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Irving House include its:
- location on Royal Avenue at the corner of Merivale Street, on a site sloping towards the Fraser River, with the basement exposed at the rear
- form and scale as expressed in the rectangular plan, one and one-half storey plus basement height and symmetrical massing
- side gable roof with a front gable wall dormer over the central door to the second floor balcony
- wooden construction, including wooden framing, wide lapped redwood weatherboard siding and wooden trim
- elements of the Gothic Revival style including extensive carpenter ornamentation, decorative scroll-cut bargeboards and balustrades, lathe-turned finials at the roof edges, and trefoil attic windows
- wraparound verandah, incorporating the original full open front verandah with later additions around the sides of the house, including square chamfered columns with brackets
- Palladian window and door assembly on the second-floor front facade
- fenestration, including: 2-over-2 double-hung wooden-sash windows with external shutters; ground floor French doors that open onto the verandah from the two front rooms; and stained glass insets in the side door on the north facade
- original front door with glass sidelights and transoms
- internal brick chimneys with corbelled tops
- brick foundation walls
- interior features that date to the time of construction, including original plasterwork (such as ceiling medallions, cornices and rope mouldings), wallpaper (such as the foil wallpaper in the front two rooms that dates from 1865), woodwork (such as doors, floors and trim), fireplaces, staircases and gas lighting fixtures
- other interior features as adapted or added by the Irving family, such as the bronze newel post statue and electric lighting fixtures
- collection of period furniture, including a number of original pieces from the Irving family
- setting within a manicured garden with mature holly and cedar trees and a replicated wooden fence