Restoration is underway at a Vic West heritage home in the 200-block of Robert Street, which was severely damaged by fire in April, 2020. (Courtesy of Vanessa Nicholson)

Restoration is underway at a Vic West heritage home in the 200-block of Robert Street, which was severely damaged by fire in April, 2020. (Courtesy of Vanessa Nicholson)

Restoration begins on Vic West heritage home ravaged by fire

‘Muirhead House’ was built in 1903, damaged by fire in April 2020

Restoration is underway on a Vic West historic home badly damaged by fire last year.

EPIC Project Management is restoring ‘Muirhead House,’ the nearly 120-year-old home at 223 Robert St., with plans to complete the project by the end of 2022.

The structure, built in 1903 for James McLaren Muirhead for about $2,000, is a mix of Edwardian and Victorian influences of the Queen Anne style. The Victoria Heritage Foundation notes its ornate and unique construction, including distinct brackets, decorative shingles, porch columns and a two-storey corner tower, among other details. In 1991 it was designated a National Historic Site, and remains one of few Canadian private residences with the distinction.

The house was in bad shape when it was purchased in 1976 by homeowner Jim Lee, who, according to EPIC Project Management, made restoring the structure his life’s work.

The house was fully restored, but in April 202o was severely damaged by fire. The tall, intricate structure shot flames high into the night air, and it took several hours for the Victoria Fire Department to get a handle on the blaze, which was later deemed not suspicious by investigators. The house had one occupant, who discovered the fire and was not injured.

READ ALSO: No indication Vic West heritage house fire was suspicious

But just a few days later, fire crews were back, putting out smoking debris. There were many items inside the home, crews said, providing fuel for hot spots. The smoking sections were doused quickly but damage was significant and estimated at around $500,000.

Victoria Fire Deputy Chief Dan Atkinson said wood construction of turn-of-the-century homes are generally strong, but construction techniques were different at that time.

“There wasn’t a lot of thought given to fire separation and things of that nature,” he said.

Now the focus is on restoring what’s left. The fire destroyed the roof, exposing the interior to extensive water damage. EPIC says a grant application will be submitted to the Victoria Heritage Foundation to help fund a new roof. Work is also underway to remove compromised structural components and open up the walls so they can dry out. The interior mouldings, doors and hardware will be removed and labelled for restoration and future installation.

“The difficulty comes with meeting current building standards and complying with applicable building regulations without adversely affecting the significant architectural heritage elements of the house,” said a statement from EPIC owner Ben Schweitzer.

He and his crew will retain original materials where possible.

The project management company has set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise additional funds for the project.

READ ALSO: Second fire in three days at Victoria heritage home


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