Outside the blue box:

🕔Sep 27, 2010

The motel has the unmistakable smell of new: new paint, new appliances, new flat-screen TVs and—most importantly—new owners. It’s hard to believe the building was constructed in the 1970s.

The Eddy Park Lodge fits right into downtown Telkwa. With a cute yellow and burgundy exterior complete with lawn and landscaping, people familiar with the community might rub their eyes, shake their head and wonder if the perfect little motel didn’t just spring up out of the ground to match its surroundings.

As Alison Walker and her partner Andrew Watson take a break from putting a fresh coat of paint on the small self-contained units, Andrew’s father, Fred Watson, regales us with stories about relocated buildings just like this one.

“It just appeared! That’s what everyone says—it just appeared,” he says.

Fred has been in the building-moving business for nearly 50 years, starting with Nickel Bros. House Moving in Vancouver when he was 19 years old. Two years later, he was running a crew for the company, which he did for 19 years, working in Vancouver and Kelowna.

Thirty years ago, Fred started his own business in Smithers and today he and Andrew run Northern Structural Moving together. Fitting the right building to the right property, Fred says, is all about having a vision.

For Andrew, his most recent vision appeared unexpectedly this summer when he made a business call to Telkwa’s Two Rivers Lodge, where the owners were undertaking a major reconstruction. Andrew asked if they needed help.

He left with a new building.

Just across the street, a narrow lot along the highway was for sale. The vision, for Andrew and Alison, was to relocate a thin strip of motel units across the highway, fix them up, and start a business. It was an unexpected, but serendipitous, new direction for the couple. “We were, like, how can we not do it?” Alison says.

Fred is elated. Belonging to what he describes as the “largest recycling industry in the world,” he’s seen countless old buildings, many with great potential and lots of character, saved from the landfill. “They took 140,000 pounds of building supplies that would have ended up in the landfill,” he says. “I had a vision of what this would look like, but I didn’t think those guys would take it to the level they have.”

Working on their night moves
Fred has seen everything under old buildings, from resident hens to porcupines, rattlesnakes and people’s long-kept secrets, but surly sub-floor dwellers are the least of a structural mover’s concerns when transporting a building along public highways and through residential neighbourhoods.

“There’s a lot of red tape involved,” Fred says about the liability involved in taking a house on the road. “You take a 35-foot load on the highway and you take up the whole road.”

As a result, the trips, called “night moves,” take place between 2 and 5 a.m., when roads are quiet and traffic minimal. Fred remembers the time he was moving a cabin from Moricetown to Telkwa: The 30- by 60-foot house needed to be moved with its Italian marble floors intact.

After taking an overnight break in Smithers, the procession continued on to Telkwa and up Tower Road where, up ahead, a couple was headed the opposite direction with a baby on the way. The truck, with house in tow, had to pull into the ditch to let the residents pass. “We got the house moved without damaging the Italian marble floor,” Fred beams.

More common hassles of relocating an old building involve updating the plumbing, electrical and insulation, and bringing it up to code. For example, if Andrew and Alison had changed their motel’s use, they would have had to replace all the half-inch drywall with five-eighths.

Musical houses
When Jason and Joscelyn Krauskopf bought their five-acre property along Highway 16 just east of Smithers, it had an Atco trailer and the framed shell of a house. They lived in the trailer while the house was moved farther back on the property and finished as their permanent home.

After moving into the house, they rented out the trailer for a time. “It started needing work and it was a bit of an eyesore,” Jason says. They called on the Watsons again and had the Atco trailer moved from the property (it found a new life elsewhere as a woodworker’s shop).

When a 1,200-square-foot house on Smithers’ west side came available, the Krauskopfs had a place for the Watsons to move it. “I’ve got a vision for our property,” Jason says. “I want an acreage that has some continuity.”

When the 1960s pan-abode house moved along Highway 16 at 2 a.m., Jason was there to watch it go. Once the house was in place, the Krauskopfs added trim and shingles, and painted the exterior to match their existing home. They opened up the interior and added beams for additional structural support.

They built an addition (an older addition—removed and then moved on the back of Jason’s truck—became a storage shed for recreational gear), and suddenly they had the perfect rental cabin.

“When we travel we look for alternative places to stay rather than just the hotel option,” Jason says. The couple finished their renovations in December and opened the Stonesthrow Guesthouse in January. They were booked through the summer with weddings, out-of-town workers and recreationalists.

Reusing an existing building, Jason estimates, rather than building new, saved their venture about 30 percent.

Classrooms to go
When the Bulkley Valley Christian School decided to amalgamate its two campuses and add classrooms to the remaining one, finding something practical and cost-effective was paramount.

“Our school has a really shrunken population the past few years, as many BC schools have,” says John Buikema, part-time teacher, academic counsellor, and the school’s development director. “We decided we needed to consolidate into one campus and our high-school campus just made more sense.”

Plans to expand the existing campus began with a $4 million “Cadillac” addition, as Buikema says, which included a new gymnasium. A second option, which would add only classrooms, was about $1 million. The school began pricing out portables.

“As we were having that conversation, we found out about a building being available at Northwest Community College,” Buikema says.

A renovation at NWCC’s Smithers campus was about to displace its 13-year-old library building. The school society held an emergency meeting and put a bid on the building. When the bid was accepted, the society had about a month to move the 200,000-pound building from its previous location. Throughout June, contractors re-connected the water, heat and electrical, and added insulation.

“We will probably have a useable classroom building for sale under $500,000,” Buikema says. “We’re just thankful for how well everything went and how co-operative people in the town were.”

Restoring history
Despite Fred Watson’s salty exterior, there’s a romantic side that comes out when he talks about giving new life to old buildings. They aren’t just timber and drywall; to Fred, they represent a piece of history and culture.

“It’s really important that we save buildings like that,” says Fred, who has handled everything from old cabins in Fort Ware and Iskut to the George Little House in Terrace, where local women would gather to exchange news during the Second World War. “I love log houses—old log houses that have character. When someone says, ‘I have an old log house, can you save it?’ there’d have to be almost nothing left for me to say ‘no’.”

As Andrew points out, recycling buildings benefits everyone involved: “They’re really happy. We’re happy. I think it’s been good for everybody.”