Imagine stepping into a place that intertwines the city’s past, present, and future seamlessly. Welcome to Centennial Square, the embodiment of Victoria’s vibrant civic life, the epicentre of our culture, and an enduring tribute to Mayor Richard Biggerstaff Wilson’s remarkable vision.
Born in 1904, a descendant of British-born pioneers, Wilson was a native son, fully immersed in Victoria’s intricate tapestry. He held a deep-rooted connection with the city, fostered by his family’s long-established clothing store on Government Street, dating back to 1862 – the same year Victoria was officially declared a city.
The Square’s Struggle Through History
By the time Wilson came to power as Victoria’s 54th mayor in 1962, Victoria had weathered many storms – fluctuations in fortune, the ravages of two world wars, and a depression that left its mark on the cityscape. Nowhere was this more evident than in the area encompassing City Hall, an architectural relic that had lost its shine over the years.
Plans were underway to replace the decaying City Hall and adjoining blocks with a modern city center. The prospect of losing the historic City Hall to a $5-million Woodwards store stirred a controversy. However, Wilson’s election marked a turning point, shifting the focus from demolition and replacement to renovation and renewal.
Preserving Heritage: Wilson’s Vision
Wilson championed a progressive strategy, rallying for the City Hall’s restoration and extension. He also proposed transforming the surrounding area into a communal space for city dwellers. His vision wasn’t just about preserving the past; it was about creating a balance between the new and the old, ensuring the city’s evolution while retaining its historical charm.
Supported by City Planner Rod Clack, Wilson engaged renowned local architects, including John Wade and Bob Siddall, for the revamping of the City Hall. This extensive project led to a complete overhaul of the interior, a reshaped main entrance, and a contemporary addition on the west end.
Centennial Square: A Celebration of the City’s History
Once the location of a public market and the main Fire Hall, the area adjacent to the City Hall was repurposed into a unique blend of the old and new. The multi-level parkade, an architectural marvel designed by John Di Castri, graced the square, along with ground-level specialty shops.
The transformation of Centennial Square incorporated elements of the city’s history in ingenious ways. Recycled bricks from the former Public Market building were integrated into the surrounding paving, creating a tangible link with the past.
On the 100th anniversary of Victoria, Centennial Square was born – a lively urban space that seamlessly melded Victoria’s heritage and modern aspirations.
Centennial Square Today: A Melting Pot of Activities
Over the years, Centennial Square has undergone significant transformations, with each addition enriching its cultural appeal. Today, it serves as the venue for various civic activities, ranging from protests and honouring ceremonies to music festivals, art displays, and theatre performances. It’s a vibrant hotspot that showcases the spirit of Victoria in all its glory.
Richard Biggerstaff Wilson: A Legacy That Lives On
Richard Biggerstaff Wilson’s contributions extend beyond Centennial Square. As a testament to his achievements, Wilson received the Order of Canada before his death in 1991. Among his many accomplishments was helping to establish the University of Victoria as a degree-granting institution. Centennial Square, teeming with life and echoing with stories of the past, stands as a fitting testament to his vision, encapsulating his dream for a civic gathering place that resonates with the city’s history and community spirit.
A Tribute to Victoria’s Heritage
Centennial Square is more than just a public space; it is the embodiment of Victoria’s soul, a blend of heritage and modernity that breathes life into the city’s civic narrative. The square stands today as a testament to the city’s resilience, its rich history, and its continuous evolution, all while offering a space for community engagement and cultural enrichment. And at the heart of it, all is the enduring legacy of Mayor Richard Biggerstaff Wilson, a man whose vision shaped the city we know and love today.