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Vernon Courthouse: an architectural beauty built to last a century

The Vernon Courthouse celebrates its centennial this year. (photo courtesy of the Vernon Museum and Archives).
Image Credit: Composite/ Charlotte Helston
April 09, 2014 - 2:58 PM

VERNON - As the largest, most expensive of its kind in B.C. 100 years ago, the Vernon courthouse was a sight to behold. Fast forward to today, and it remains a powerful fixture of the city, perhaps more so because of the time that has passed and the modern structures that surround it now.

You don’t see a lot of buildings like the Vernon Courthouse. Many from its era have been torn down or lost their character through renovations. Look around Vernon and few buildings carry its awe-inspiring presence. We compared it with other courthouses in the Interior, and you can see for yourself in the slideshow below how Vernon stacks up. 

They don’t build them like they used to, and Vernon based architect Wally Neumann says they didn’t build many to begin with.

“They were the civic buildings, those that had the dollars behind them. You couldn’t afford them otherwise,” Neumann says.

The Vernon Courthouse, designed by architect Thomas Hooper, was criticized by some as overly lavish and expensive. Locally quarried pink granite from Okanagan Landing was used for the exterior walls and Italian marble for the main staircase, floor tiling and pilasters. B.C. fir was used for interior wood finish and trim and the furnishings for the courtrooms and government offices were all made with white oak. Stained glass windows and a glass dome (no longer there) allowed natural light to stream into the courtrooms. It all cost $198, 876—considerably higher than any other courthouse built in the Interior. That's roughly $4.1 million in today's dollars.

“Our society has a mentality of building things to last a relatively short period of time,” Neumann says. “It’s buildings like the courthouse that show you they can last.”

He says granite is rarely used in exterior construction today, and if it is, only as a thin layer for aesthetic purposes because of how expensive it is. You pay a pretty penny for granite countertops in your kitchen, let alone an entire wall. It’s one of the reasons the Vernon Courthouse has remained intact over all these years—granite armours the building.

Aside from its structural integrity, the architecture also adds to the building’s atmosphere. Its romanesque pillars and looming size demand respect from whomever walks through its doors.

“The architecture really is a function of what goes on inside,” Neumann says.

That synchronicity is hard to come by these days. Most large commercial buildings house a variety of different businesses and offices making it challenging to reflect a cohesive theme, Neumann says. What you tend to end up with is generic, box-like structures that don’t quite have the same personality as the courthouse.

You can explore the building for yourself this Saturday during an open house celebrating its centennial. Tours, mock trials and information on the building’s history will be on the agenda. Doors are open from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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