New REW Headquarters an Historic Treat

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You may have heard that we (REW) have outgrown our office space: half of us are in a temporary facility, while we wait for our "new" building to be completed. Then we can all move in together.

I want to share some of my excitement about the new building (and photos - see below).

Why so enthusiastic, you ask? Is it the new building's size? Its modern features? Its location in downtown Nanaimo, by the sea?

Those things are great - but my excitement about the building is related to its history and what this renovation means for our little city (not to mention our company).

The Old Newspaper Building

Our city of Nanaimo was founded in the 1850s - Canada didn't even exist, yet. The city was booming throughout the Victorian/Edwardian era because of MASSIVE amounts of high-quality coal directly underneath the city and under the ocean (up to 1 million tons extracted per year).

The Nanaimo Free Press was founded in 1874 and is now the second oldest continuously published paper in BC. In 1893, its operations moved to a newly constructed 3-storey brick building just one block from the waterfront. This is the building that we purchased!

In 1930, a great fire razed a big part of downtown - the third floor of "our" building was damaged and eventually removed. (We're putting it back!)

A final piece of history - during the Second World War, there were five air-raid sirens in our city - one of them was on the roof of the Free Press building.

What this means for Nanaimo

There is a perennial effort in Nanaimo to honour our colourful past, but this effort is often buried by the machine of progress and maximum profit. It doesn't always seem to make economic sense to preserve relics of the past. A lot of valuable historic architecture has been demolished in recent decades, even though these buildings can be seen as assets for our vital tourism business.

I was already proud of REW, because it's a technology company supporting 70+ staff — in a city that struggles to develop revenue streams to replace the old resource extraction economy. But for REW to be involved with restoring an historic building downtown to its former glory and to fill it with staff, all shopping in the downtown core? YES! Thank you REW, on behalf of the city.

My Tour

Morgan brought me to see the renovation and it was really cool. The building has a lot of original features that made my eyes pop. The most exciting thing for me? Huge beams of old-growth fir that you simply can't buy today. See the fir joists in the photo below, next to the newer composite ones added during the renovation:

You can still see the saw marks from the original milling more than 120 years ago (I think it's amazing that an organic material can remain sturdy for so long):

The brick walls must be at least 18 inches thick. Here's an old hole that must have housed some kind of pipe in it?

These arched windows only survive on the sides and back of the building. I wonder if we are keeping the style of these?

This pipe in the wall of the 2nd floor has probably been out of use since the 1930 fire.

During construction, they discovered an old well(?) in the floor, which had been mostly filled in since its original function. These bottles were found in that hole, I believe, indicating that the well was filled in a long time ago!

Morgan gave me the bottles and they're now on my office window - I will clean these up and include them somewhere in the new building when it's done!

Comments (10)

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Denver Realty Experts

are the bars on the windows to keep you guys in?

Your At Home Team

That is exciting Gerry. As you stated, it is very important to restore the old buildings if not for the historically value, but for the livelyhood of the city. I look forward to seeing more photos as the project moves forward.

GerryThomasen

Greg, the bars reflect a less savory period in our downtown's history. But I imagine they will remain in place anyway, considering the contents of our office!

David-or-Sallie, thanks for the backup - I'll tell our council/city staff that even foreigners "get it".

GerryThomasen

"Hey Gerry, we found this 100-yr-old pit under the new building with a bunch of old garbage (pre-plastic era) in it - we're about to fill it in and cap it - but we thought you would like to poke around a bit, first, because we already found some old bottles."


Too much to ask? I think not!! ;)

mikey

I love old buildings as long as they're not haunted!

Cindy

Well Gerry, you made me do it... I just surfed the web for "Nanaimo" and now I'm going to have to move there. I knew ya'll sat on the water, but I didn't expect the mountains too. I'm sure the University brings a vibrancy as well. Any town dubbed "The bathtub racing capitol of the world" is more than OK in my book.

There was an article linked from the REW facebook page a while back, perhaps from your local newspaper, about the revitalization of the building. Touching piece that really drove home the benefits of what Morgan is undertaking. How "awe"some to be one of the first occupants in what may be the buildings next 120 years.

GerryThomasen

Mikey - We'll have to let you know, after we move in and some of us work some late nights, alone!

Cindy - Great! Yeah, I'm an immigrant who only expected to do a few years of school here, and now I'm never going to leave. The mountains, the ocean, the mild climate, the laid-back attitude. Good for the blood pressure!

REW Val

Nice article Gerry - now I'm more excited than ever to move!!

Susan D.

Well, I can't wait to see the pictures of the new facility! I bet you guys are very excited!

kenna real estate

I love that old stuff! When I was a kid I went to work with my Dad, His Company redid the brick and we found so much cool stuff, I really like the pictures and the history. When they where building that building the workers sharpened their handsaws at lunch and has to wipe their butts with a Sears Catalog since toilet paper was not invented yet. They had no idea waht a website was? History!

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