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Jan Advocate 2017

132 V O L . 7 5 P A R T 1 J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 7 THE ADVOCATE VOL. 75 PART 1 JANUARY 2017 The building is part of a generously spaced group of structures including a picturesque old church, a gift shop with parking lot, and a rather grand old home across the highway. The buildings are located in the settlement of Nicola, which in the late 1800s and early 1900s was a hub in the Nicola Valley. Nicola originally had a small courthouse built in 1884 or 1885. Local residents looking for law and order helped to fund the building of that original facility. The provincial government called for tenders for the “new” courthouse in Nicola, to replace the original structure, in late November 1913. At around the same time the provincial government also called for tenders for a courthouse in Merritt, which as of 1913 had only temporary facilities in place. James Layfield, a Vancouver builder, arrived in the Nicola Valley in January 1914 to undertake both projects. Construction of the Nicola and Merritt courthouses was completed by the summer of that year. The Nicola and Merritt courthouses originally looked the same. The buildings were designed by the Provincial Department of Public Works— apparently the first time in British Columbia that in-house architects undertook this task rather than leaving courthouse design to private architects.1 The replacement of private architects (among them those responsible for the spectacular courthouses in Fernie, Nelson, Rossland and Revelstoke) with Department of Public Works designers inaugurated an era of “relatively austere utilitarian designs” for courthouses in the province.2 Though born in Rio de Janeiro, the particular government architect responsible for the Nicola and Merritt courthouses, Henry Whittaker, had been educated in England and confined his artistic flourish on the buildings to what are described as “slight Tudor architectural touches”.3 Apart from their relative austerity, the Nicola and Merritt courthouses shared another feature which, this time, was more in common with certain of their older counterparts in the province: they were set far back from the road. In the case of the Merritt courthouse, its 23-metre setback from Nicola Avenue was said in newspaper coverage of the day to have been intended to allow “all sorts of possibilities for putting in gravelled walks and flower pots such as is to be seen around several of the court houses in the province”.4 Presumably the aspiration to rival in this regard older courthouses such as Fernie’s (which an admiring Merritt journalist reported was “situated upon two acres of ground”5) and the luxury of a rural location explain the gracious front lawn in Nicola as well. Given the Nicola and Merritt courthouses are only about 11 kilometres apart, one might wonder why both were built. This said, from today’s perspective it is easy to overestimate the ease of covering that distance. The


Jan Advocate 2017
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