Victoria West Walk #1 (as revised at Jan. 18, 2004)
A loop trip. Craigflower – Coventry – Selkirk – Banfield Park – Galloping Goose to Bay Street Bridge – retrace – Raynor to Craigflower.
Start at the Victoria West Community Centre at 521 Craigflower Road. The building originally housed the Victoria Men’s Brotherhood, established after World War I as a social and veterans’ group. After women got the vote in 1919, the organization changed its name to Victoria Brotherhood and then, in the 1930’s, to the Victoria West Community Association.
Craigflower Road led to Craigflower Farm, named by Kenneth McKenzie after the Scottish estate of Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) governor Andrew Colvile. The farm was one of four established by the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company (PSAC) in what is today Esquimalt to provision Fort Victoria, other HBC posts, and the Russian America Company in Alaska.
Walk west on Craigflower to Coventry, and turn right. At the corner, 701 Craigflower, is a blue wood frame house undergoing restoration. This was the gate house of “Burleith,” the stately mansion built by James Dunsmuir around 1900. Burleith took its name from the mining town in Ayrshire, Scotland, where James’s father Robert had been born. Walk to the end of Coventry at Selkirk Avenue, and look to the left to where Selkirk bends left. The bend was the approximate site of Burleith, of which no trace remains except for pieces of stone wall that have since been largely moved to other properties. Soon after Dunsmuir became Lieutenant Governor in 1906 and moved to Government House, the Burleith property was subdivided. Many period houses on nearby streets such as Northcott and Arm were built at that time. Dunsmuir set to work on a still grander estate at Hatley Castle and never returned to Burleith. The property fell into disrepair and burned to the ground in 1931.
Turn right on Selkirk and enter Banfield Park. It is named for city alderman Charles Banfield, the Queen’s Printer. The park was created in the 1950’s but had to be reestablished in 1969 after it was found that certain legal formalities had been omitted. If the oversight had not been corrected, the treed slopes below the head of Catherine Street would probably have been converted to affordable housing.
Walk down to Victoria Arm, part of the Gorge waterway. Directly across the water on Chapman Point is Gorge Road Hospital. To make way for the hospital, a stately mansion, Ashnola, was pulled down. Ashnola had been built around 1890 by Captain Northing Pinckney Snowden, husband of Emily Ellen Dunsmuir. Emily Ellen was James’s sister and one of Robert and Joan Dunsmuir’s seven daughters.
Walk eastward along the water toward a prominent trestle. The cove below the children’s playground is known as Bond’s Beach, after William Bond, who owned a house at the site. Using discarded tugboat ropes attached to the old Garry Oak tree, children would swing out over the water.
Rounding the corner beyond the green pipe railing, look upward to the right for glimpses of an attractive period mansion, “Roslyn.” The mansion is in the Queen Anne style and was built around 1890 for Andrew Gray, wealthy owner of an iron works. It became derelict but was acquired and restored by the present owner. His action marked the beginning of the Catherine Street revival, which has seen many other fine homes in the area refurbished.
Leave Banfield Park and pause at the trestle. The trestle was built in 1918 for the Canadian Northern Railroad (later Canadian National). Disused for many years, it was recently incorporated into an important recreational trail network. Here the Banfield Park trail meets the Galloping Goose Trail, which runs from downtown Victoria along the upper harbour and across the trestle into the Burnside-Gorge community and then Saanich. There it forks, one branch continuing northward to join the Lochside trail system and the other going westward beyond Sooke to Leechtown.
At the far end of the trestle and to the right is the Selkirk Waterfront development. This includes the Gorge Rowing Club, until recently the home of Canada’s Olympic rowers. The Club sits on the site of an old sawmill that was taken down in 1983. The widening of the Gorge – here called Selkirk Water – made this a convenient site for log booms. Midway across the trestle on the right is a small island called Halkett Island. This was one of several small islands around Victoria on which the First Nations people practiced above-ground burial in wooden coffins. Pranksters or vandals set fire to Halkett Island in the 1860’s.
Do not cross the trestle, but instead follow “the Goose” toward downtown Victoria and past the new Railyards residential development. On the far side of Selkirk Water, next to the rowing club, is “Mount Budget,” a pile of old vehicles being reduced to scrap by the former Budget Steel (now Pacific Recycling). Next, in a clump of trees, is Point Ellice House, built in 1862 and later bought by Gold Rush magistrate and commissioner Peter O’Reilly. The house was home to three generations of O’Reilly’s before being sold to the BC Government in 1974 and designated a heritage site.
Beyond Point Ellice House is the Bay Street Bridge. The modern steel and concrete span replaced the wooden trestle bridge that collapsed in May, 1896, with the loss of 55 lives. The tragedy, North America’s worst-ever streetcar disaster, practically bankrupted the city and stultified development for many years.
Retrace steps northward but turn left at the trestle and ascend the ramp walkway to the junction of Arthur Currie Lane, Alston Street, and Raynor. In 1850 James Douglas started to negotiate treaties with the First Nations around Victoria. The part of Victoria West closest to the inner harbor was set aside as the Songhees Indian Reserve. Alston Street – formerly called Frederick Street but renamed for an Indian Affairs commissioner – was the boundary between the reserve and the subdivided part of Victoria West.
Ascend Raynor to the crest of the hill at Catherine Street. Historic houses lie to both right and left along Catherine Street. To the right or north: #1109, Henry Siebenbaum House (1895); #1131-33, “Maplewood,” or Beaumont Boggs House; #1135, “Roslyn,” the Andrew Gray House described above. To the left or south: #1017, Richard Hamilton House (1913); #1020, “Montview” (1890); #1014, David Steele House (1904); #1004, Henry Brackman House (1900).
Descend the other side of the hill to Craigflower Road and return to the YMCA / YWCA.
(Note: We wish to thank John Adams, historian and author, for his assistance in preparing this walk. John conducts walking tours through Victoria’s many neighbourhoods, and each year he develops a new route to expand his coverage and capture Victoria’s diversity. For his current tour schedule consult www.discoverthepast.com or call John at 384-6698.)