If there are any ghosts hanging out in the closets of the Corless House, that's news to Tracey Green.
But one thing's for certain about her 1917 character home at 1276 Fourth Ave., the creaky old basement storage area is downright scary.
One of 16 homes featured in There's Life in These Old Houses, a Prince George Heritage Commission book published in 1995, Corless House has since been converted into a home decor store -- J.J. Springer and Company. Green, who co-owns the store with her sister Shari, the Prince George mayor, knows enough not to ask an employee to go down those basement steps to retrieve a store item.
"One of my staff members won't go down there," laughed Green. "It's pretty tiny and there's a real scary crawlspace."
Corless House is among the 16 heritage house snapshots on a postcard just released by the Heritage Commission and now available free of charge at City Hall and the Tourism P.G. office. The idea came from Jeff Elder, cultural co-ordinator of the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George, and Cheryl Livingstone-Leman, the city's community services co-ordinator, who saw a similar postcard produced by the Nanaimo Heritage Commission.
"We thought it was a low-cost way to promote our heritage, because we already had the photos," said Elder. "People seem to enjoy it, and everybody has a story it seems."
Corless House is included in the Prince George Public Library's walking tours of the downtown core, a project that began in 2006 to give tourists a taste of the history behind the walls of some of the city oldest houses.
The house was built by Charlie Sinclair two years after Prince George was incorporated as a city, and it was sold in 1919 to Dick Corless, a Prince George pioneer who served as a car dealer, undertaker, coffin maker and furniture dealer. That was the height of a building boom from 1914-20, and the downtown core was a magnet for residential property owners who wanted to live close to their commercial businesses. But not many of those houses survived the wrecker's ball. Green's father Brian lived a block away away on Fifth Avenue and remembers playing in the house with one of his boyhood friends.
The house has been used for commercial purposes for several decades, home to a real estate/insurance office and a dress shop before the Greens bought the building two years ago. Funded by the City of Prince George and the Real Estate Foundation of B.C., the 46-page book is attractively-designed with large photographs and short descriptions that feature each of the 16 heritage houses, all built from 1915-1930. The book project's roots date to 1982, when Kent Sedgwick began using slide photography to begin cataloguing properties of historic significance in five city neighbourhoods -- Central Fort George, The Crescents, downtown, Millar Addition and South Fort George.
The oldest of the homes, the Munro/Moffat House at 153 North Moffat St., was built by John Munro, who opened the first Prince George branch of the Bank of Montreal, and was bought in 1920 by Alexander Moffat, co-founder of Northern Hardware and Furniture Company. The prairie-style home features a broad horizontal line of windows on the second floor and a wide front porch. It's one of the few log houses left standing in a city once dominated by sawmills, which popularized framed 2-by-4 construction.
The Sutherland House, at 1888 10th Ave., is an example of eclectic design, a combination of styles which includes imitation Tudor half-timber and shingle siding, multi-paned glass sidelight entry porches, and a barn-like gambrel roof that juts out in the shape of crucifix.
Nash House, one of three Gorse Street houses featured, has been updated with low-maintenance vinyl siding which closely resembles the 1920s-era clapboard (beveled siding) it covered. The originally carved wood front door, side bay window upper dormer windows remain. The house, as well as the neighbouring Caine and Guest houses on the same side of the street, were built by Alec Nash, a locomotive foreman with the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, to be sold to managers of a proposed, but-never-built pulp mill planned for the Fort George area.
All three of the Gorse Street houses were kit houses made from packaged materials shipped by the manufacturer, B.C. Millwork. Some of the kits available in the '20s were sold by the Aladdin Company in eastern Canada and some were advertised in the Eaton's catalogue.
Until the mortgage system was established in Canada in 1954, people had to have the money saved before they could have their houses built, and to a certain degree, that's why most older houses in the city are small.
Retired architect Trelle Morrow said many of the 1920s houses were built according to the whims of the owners, who picked out floorplans they saw in books or in magazines like Ladies Home Journal or House Beautiful.
"Those houses on the postcard represent vernacular homegrown designs, choices made by people who wanted that kind of house," said Morrow.
"The architectural profession as we know it today was not well established at all in those days. Some of those houses were built on contractor suggestions and some were built on the owner's preferences and that's why you see differing styles. Some of them have Georgian characteristics, some have Victorian or Edwardian characteristics, and after World War 2, a lot of that eclecticism disappeared in the so-called modern era."