New REW Headquarters an Historic Treat
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.
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!