The BC Provincial Court’s Interior Region stretches from Princeton to the Alberta border and from Golden to the US border. Judges and judicial justices sit in 21 court locations in this region, as well as in two virtual bail courts where all participants appear by video or telephone. Maintaining court operations throughout the region has posed particular challenges in the last 18 months.
Access to some court locations was interrupted not just by the COVID pandemic, but by the weather as well. When devastating floods caused community evacuations in Princeton and Merritt in November 2021, courts in the area relocated to alternate sites including a Civic Centre in Merritt. Happily, all of the displaced courts have now returned to their regular locations.
Historic buildings pose challenges
Many of the court locations in the Interior are very old, beautiful buildings. However, these historic buildings present access and other challenges to members of the public attending court proceedings, as well as to those who work in these environments every day. In the last two and a half years, adapting old spaces to meet COVID safety requirements added to the challenges of conducting court.
On top of this, the provincial government has been carrying out much-needed renovation and construction upgrades in several of the Interior Region’s court locations to address the pressing needs of ageing court buildings.
Opened in 1901, and the only BC courthouse designated a National Historic Site and still used for court, the Rossland courthouse is undergoing upgrades to the electrical and security systems and adding new lights at the main entrance.
In the West Kootenays the Nelson courthouse, designed by prolific BC architect Francis Rattenbury and opened in 1909, had renovations done in the last year including:
Rattenbury is one of BC’s best-known courthouse architects. He arrived in Vancouver from England in 1892. He was 25 years old and had just finished articling in his uncles’ architecture firm. Nevertheless, he won a competition to design the new Parliament building in Victoria. The project was marked by dissension, cost overruns, and delay, but it opened in 1898. It was Rattenbury who thought of outlining the building’s exterior in electric lights at night, making it the first public building in the world to be lit this way and starting an enduring tradition.
Rattenbury went on to design the Nanaimo Law Courts, the Nelson Courthouse, and the Vancouver Art Gallery (originally the Vancouver Law Courts) as well as courthouses for Chilliwack and Victoria that are no longer used as court locations. He also designed Victoria’s Empress Hotel and other hotels, houses, schools, banks, and railway stations in western Canada before returning to England in 1930.
Rattenbury’s personal life has inspired books, plays, and even an opera, but it shouldn’t overshadow his contributions to BC architecture in the early twentieth century.
The Vernon Law Courts, opened in 1914, is undergoing substantial renovations:
• remediation of the structural foundation
• rebuilding of two court rooms
• redesign and rebuilding of the Sheriff’s area and prisoner cells
• roof upgrading
• repairing interior water-damaged areas
• upgrading electrical - changing from gas fired heating to electrification, with the goal of achieving zero emissions and becoming an example of an historic building achieving a ‘green’ status.
In the East Kootenays, the mid-century Cranbrook courthouse, opened in 1956, has been through a significant transformation including:
• a new HVAC system
• new ceiling tiles in some courtrooms to improve acoustics
• a new roof
• universal public washrooms
• a new elevator
• outside cladding on the building.
In the Okanagan valley, the modern Kelowna courthouse, opened in 1994, is having two elevators replaced along with necessary mechanical upgrades.
We appreciate your patience and cooperation
These renovations and upgrades will provide improved, safer environments for both the public who use the courts and those who work in these buildings. However, for long periods in the last two years and currently in some cases, court staff and the public have worked in and attended court in construction zones.
The Provincial Court appreciates the stamina, resourcefulness, and determination of the public, justice system participants, court staff, judicial justices and judges in the Interior Region as they continue to make courts function while these environments are being improved. We also appreciate the construction workers who try to disturb court proceedings as little as possible.
Photo credits: Grant Marchand, Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, Judge Marguerite Shaw