A visitor to Victoria today is greeted with all the accoutrements of a building boom. Cranes dot the skyline. Streets are torn up, traffic diverted and sidewalks are barred with portable fencing. On a recent trip into downtown I discovered that most of the antique stores I intended to visit, had closed up shop. Welcome to the twenty-first century.
I guess today’s Victoria is somewhat reminiscent of the days when gold-seekers swarmed the streets. It all began on Sunday, April 25, 1858 when townsfolk were returning from church. The “Commodore” – a wooden side-wheel American steamer, entered Victoria harbour and 450 men disembarked – typical gold-seekers, complete with blankets, miner’s pans and spades and firearms. Within a few weeks a town of approximately 230, had been invaded by over 20,000 adventurers and gold prospectors.
While the great majority of these people were transients, the rush of gold-seekers transformed the sleepy village of “Fort Victoria,” into a bustling centre for commerce. A wild land-boom followed. Lots that had languished on the market for $25.00 were snapped up a week later for $3,000 each. For most of the nineteenth century, Victoria remained the largest city in British Columbia and was the foremost in trade and commerce.
I’m sure the original residents felt as bewildered as I do at the sudden and drastic change to their home town. Suddenly there was building everywhere. And what building it was!
The Empress Hotel greeted travellers arriving by water. Rattenbury had designed the elegant legislature building to replace the burned down “bird cages.”
Banks created cathedrals of finance, complete with coats of arms. Church spires dominated the skyline.
Victoria looked the part of a jewel in the British Empire.
Subsequent building booms have seen many historic buildings torn down and others altered dramatically. But there are still hints of Victoria’s Imperial past. You find it in funky doorways.
Many of the original rounded entries, with curved windows on the side have been modernized in the interests of economy and efficiency, but a few remain. Look for them in “old towne” along Government and Wharf Street.
These are just a few of the treasures I found. Do you have a favourite doorway in Victoria? In your hometown? Why do you like it?