A quaint and unassuming log house, you could stumble upon the Helmcken House by accident if it weren’t for the Heritage Site sign out front and the outdated design. As you wander Thunderbird Park next to the Royal B.C. Museum, you’ll find the abode parked where it has always been since being built in 1852. Facing Elliott Street Square, the Helmcken House is the oldest house in British Columbia still standing on its original property. It was built by the Hudson’s Bay Company for Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken, who was a doctor for the famous Canadian company. The house was placed right next door to Governor James Douglas when he married the Governor’s daughter. Unfortunately, Sir James Douglas’ house was demolished at some point in time.
Dr. Helmcken was an important figure in Victoria and British Columbia’s history, which adds a great deal of heritage value to the house. Not only was he a fantastic doctor and the founding president of the British Columbia Medical Association, but Dr. John Helmcken also became a statesman and one of three negotiators that helped British Columbia gain entry into Canada as a province
When first built, the house was a simple log home, but several additions were made as the years went on. The dining room, which features cedar shingles was added in 1856, while the front verandah was built in 1889 for the doctor’s oldest daughter. It’s easy to tell which came second, as building had changed since the original house went up. The drop siding of the verandah contrasts with the lovely cedar and wood of the first sections. Architect lovers will appreciate that the house shows off three distinct architectural styles and construction techniques. Aside from the Governor’s house next door, the Helmcken House was among the first few houses built outside of Fort Victoria. It helped mark the beginning of James Bay, which is now one of Victoria’s most popular and charming residential neighbourhoods. In fact, thanks to those two houses, James Bay is also Victoria’s oldest residential neighbourhood!
Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken died in 1920. His house became the first provincially owned historic site in British Columbia, having been purchased by the provincial government nineteen years later. Dr. Helmcken’s daughter had kept his room in tact as a shrine to her late father, and today, there are numerous artifacts on display. Amongst them is the doctor’s 19th century medical kit. The Helmcken House will take you back in time to before British Columbia was a province of Canada. Just hops away from the Royal B.C. Museum and close to downtown Victoria, B.C., it makes for a quick walkthrough. At the same time, it allows a big window into Victorian life during the 19th century, and an important point in time for the city and province! It can make for a fun visit at Christmas, as the rooms are dressed up as it would have been in the 1920s during the holiday season.