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By Danda Humphreys, June 2011

How a 1960s mayor saved City Hall from the scrap heap.

If Richard Biggerstaff Wilson could see Centennial Square today, his face would probably break into a big grin, for it was during his decades-ago mayoralty that it was created in its present-day form. And it was largely thanks to his efforts that the oldest City Hall in Western Canada is standing to this day.

Wilson came by his civic-mindedness honestly. He was, after all, a native son. His grandfather and great-uncle, British-born William and Joseph Wilson, had opened a clothing store on Government Street way back in 1862, the year Victoria became a city. 

By Danda Humphreys, May 2011

Government grants another reprieve to long-time guardians of our coast.

The federal government’s recent decision not to remove staff from BC lighthouses has lightkeepers and sailors everywhere breathing a sigh of relief. For almost three decades, the government has maintained that, in these days of automated weather readers, foghorns, and other high-tech navigational aids, lightkeepers are obsolete. But here on our rough and rugged West Coast, they play a crucial role. 

Lighthouse-keepers have been part of our history since Fisgard Light was built in 1860 at the entrance to Esquimalt Harbour. Eventually, more than two dozen lighthouses cast their warning beams along our coast. Stories of disasters and rescues abound, including a few in the first two decades of the 20th century that illustrate how lightkeepers saved others’ lives while risking—and sometimes losing—their own. 

By Danda Humphreys, April 2011

In the ’70s, the Bawlf brothers breathed life into a crumbling city block.

Victorians have had an unexpected treat for the past few months—a Winter Market in the appropriately named Market Square. This latest addition has helped draw attention to an area that, despite its long and colourful history, had until recent times been largely ignored by local citizens. 

By Danda Humphreys, March 2011

A clock hangs as a reminder of conflict between citizens and City council around downtown development.

In March 13, clocks spring forward again as we rush headlong toward summer. In downtown Victoria we have several public clocks, including some that show the time on all four sides. The most titillating of these timepieces—suspended from the ceiling of our major downtown shopping mall—“comes of age” this year.

By Danda Humphreys, February 2011

A burned-out brick façade reminds us of a former chief factor and mayor.

News of upcoming redevelopment in our historic Chinatown would bring a smile to the face of at least one long-ago civic personage if he were still around to hear it. Roderick Finlayson died almost 120 years ago, but his legacy will live on in a soon-to-be-revitalized Pandora Avenue building.

by Danda Humphreys, January 2011

On Vancouver Island, the name Sayward is synonymous with the lumber industry.

One name, three locations. A North Island community, a Saanich road, and a commercial building in downtown Victoria are all, in one way or another, connected to a family by the name of Sayward.

Patriarch William Parsons Sayward was an American, born to English parents near Thomaston, Maine in 1818. He left school at 17 and apprenticed as a house carpenter. In the late 1830s he travelled down the coast to Florida, working his way up to being a contractor and builder. In 1849, when news came of a gold find in California, Sayward journeyed to San Francisco, where he worked as a builder and carpenter. He soon moved on to Sacramento, but instead of digging for gold, he opened a bakery. Staples such as bread being in short supply, he quickly made a fortune feeding the hungry hordes. 

By Danda Humphreys, December 2010

The final resting place of Cedar Hill pioneers celebrates 150 years of history.

Reverend Canon Peter Parker calls it “the drive-by church,” because that’s what most people do—drive by it on their way to somewhere else. Yet at St Luke’s Church, there is history to spare. Celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, St Luke’s—and its equally historic churchyard—offer a rare glimpse into the lives of the first Europeans who settled the area called Cedar Hill.

Over a century and a half ago, Cedar Hill Road was a native trail, the route followed by up-Island First Nations people who traded with the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Victoria. Beaching their canoes at the eastern end of Cordova Bay to avoid the dangerous riptides around Ten Mile Point, they travelled along the east side of Cedar Hill (now Mount Douglas), then followed the hills and valleys south to the HBC settlement on the Inner Harbour.

by Danda Humphreys, November 2010

The 1889 Provincial Court House in Bastion Square now houses a remarkable heritage collection.

More than 150 years ago, Bastion Square formed the northern perimeter of the Hudson’s Bay Company fort, but by the mid-1860s it was part of the newly incorporated City of Victoria. Gone were the fort’s palisades and square, rather bare buildings. Gone too were the bastions, or gun-towers, that had once stood sentinel over the Company’s finest. 

By Danda Humphreys, October 2010

“Our Emily” will again stand tall and proud in the city she knew so well.

This month, at a special ceremony on the northeast corner of Belleville and Government streets, the latest addition to Victoria’s Inner Harbour will be unveiled. Larger than life-size, with a sketchpad on her knee, beloved pet monkey Woo on her shoulder, dog Billie by her side, Emily Carr will sit in splendour on a bronze boulder before the stone pillars flanking the original horse-and-carriage entrance to the Fairmont Empress Hotel.

Except when she was studying in the US, England and France, or travelling the length and breadth of the West Coast to visit First Nations communities, Emily lived her whole life in Victoria. We tend to think of her only in James Bay, but during the course of her daily life she touched many parts of our city. 

By Danda Humphreys, September 2010

William Pendray’s James Bay home is a reminder of early industries that thrived on—and polluted—our Inner Harbour.

During the summer, thousands of cruise ship passengers arriving at Ogden Point head straight for the downtown area. There are many ways to get there, including bus, horse-drawn trolley, limousine or pedi-cab. Those who choose Shanks’ Pony often get their first view of our Inner Harbour from Pendray Street at the western end of Belleville, named for a businessman who, over a century ago, had a home and a business nearby.

by Danda Humphreys, August 2010

A project to boost the profits of Craigflower Farm led to the name of Admirals Road.

 

With all the excitement around this year’s 100th anniversary of the Canadian Navy, it’s fun to figure out the origin of a few of Victoria’s navy-connected street names. Fisgard, Pandora, Herald, Pembroke, Discovery and Chatham are just a few that remind us of British Navy ships that sailed here in the early days. But who named Admirals Road? And why?

Today, Admirals Road crosses the Gorge, passes through the Songhees Indian Reserve, and ends just north of Saxe Point. Yesterday, it was just a simple trail leading from Kenneth McKenzie’s Craigflower Farm to the house he had built for the Royal Navy’s most important local personage.

By Danda Humphreys, July 2010

A therapeutic community sows seeds of hope on farmland “pre-empted” by a Scottish settler.

One year since the Creating Homefulness Society took over Woodwynn Farm, it’s my guess that Angus McPhail, that area’s first white settler, would approve of the modern-day venture playing out on his former property.