Longtime Nelson resident Isabelle Ramsay has fond memories of Ward Street Place: her father, Howard Dawson, owned it in the 1930s and ‘40s.
“I suppose I have a warm heart towards it,” says Ramsay, 94, who recently made a four-figure donation to the Nelson CARES Society to help pay for upgrades to the century-old building. “It seemed to me perhaps it would help make a few structural improvements which would help the residents.”
Born at Brittania, where her father was a land surveyor and mining engineer, Ramsay moved to Kaslo as a toddler, and then to Nelson at the end of August 1931, just as she was entering Grade 8.
At that time, Ward Street Place was known as the Annable Block, after its builder, onetime Nelson mayor John E. Annable. While she didn’t spend much time there, Ramsay recalls ground floor offices and rooms for rent upstairs.
Her father moved to Victoria about 1949, but kept the building for a while. “He would come back and look after it or do some business in connection with it, but after a while sold it,” she says.
Today the CARES Society has just completed fire safety improvements, the first phase in a major overhaul to the building that’s home to six commercial units, 37 rental units, and the Stepping Stones emergency shelter.
Local contractor Trainor Mechanical completely rebuilt the building’s water system before installing sprinklers in every room, both residential and commercial. A new fire alarm system has also been added, along with much-needed electrical upgrades in the suites and interior fire doors.
The Nelson CARES board realized it was time to make some major changes. following the fire that destroyed the Kerr apartments in 2011.
“We wanted to demonstrate our commitment to safe affordable housing. We respect and care about the people we house,” treasurer Ron Little said this week in a news release. “Once the funds became available there was no doubt this was going to be our first move.”
A new mortgage with BC housing helped pay for the recent upgrades.
To improve the look of the streetscape, the building’s exterior also received some attention. Crumbling mortar was repaired and replaced and the facade will be painted. In the process, the building’s original sign from 1913 which reads “Annable Block” was discovered underneath a more modern one.
The CARES Society, which has owned Ward Street Place since 2002, noted that in the last seven years, Nelson has lost 61 low-income rental units downtown despite growing demand — some to the Kerr fire and others in the redevelopment of local hotels that used to contain single-room units.
The next phase in their campaign is to raise enough money to refurbish the Victoria Street wing of the building, move the Stepping Stones shelter to a new location, replace the windows, and paint the remaining sections. That will also allow nine more affordable housing units at Ward Street Place.
Although the campaign hasn’t been officially launched, several donations have already come in including Ramsay’s, which society executive director Jenny Robinson says “made us believe it was possible to get the kind of support we need.”
The society is committed to keeping Ward Street Place safe and affordable for decades to come, they added.