Victoria West History

Vic West History

2020 marks a couple of major anniversaries for the VWCA, including 90 years since the association was originally founded, 50 years since we became a registered society, and 10 years since we officially took over the community centre!

To celebrate these milestones we want to showcase important, people, places, and changes that have helped make Vic West the vibrant and diverse community it is today. Vic West is steeped with local history and plays an important role in the development of Victoria as a whole. We’re so proud to be a part of this community and can’t wait to share what we’ve found with you! 

This project would not be possible without the help of…


History of the Vic West Community Association

By: Justine Semmens, VWCA President

The area known to residents as Banfield Park has played a vital and foundational role in the development of the community of Victoria West. Known historically as ‘Bonze Beach,’ the waterfront and meadow leading up to Craigflower road has served as a focal point for the community virtually from the inception of permanent non-Indigenous settlement in the region. The community centre, for its part, and in one form or another, has been its anchor.

The story of the Victoria West Community Association gets its start with Charles Frederick Banfield (1877-1959) and Dr. Melbourne Raynor. Both men were a part of the Vic West Men’s Brotherhood. Dr. Raynor wanted to provide a healthy place for Victoria West residents, including safe areas for children to play and assistance for the area’s elderly. Banfield, who was born in Saanich to British immigrants, built his home in Victoria West in 1909 (402 Skinner St). Employed first by the British Colonist (the ancestor of the Times Colonist newspaper) and then by the Crown as the King’s Printer, Banfield was Victoria West’s first resident to be elected as a city alderman. He was deeply involved with the community. In addition to founding the Gorge Vale golf course and helping to establish the Fernwood Athletic association, Banfield joined the Victoria West Men’s Brotherhood in 1925, becoming a pivotal member.

 The Brotherhood was established around 1915 as a social club and veteran’s group. Meetings were initially held at the rented athletic hall on Catherine Street and later at Semple’s Concert Hall. The Brotherhood acquired Victoria West Park, preserved Gorge Park and saved the now public areas on Elk Lake from housing developments. The organization was also involved in school projects, picnics, and helping out the poor through charity concerts and other means. Committees, in the first two years, included the “House,” Parks and Playgrounds,” “Streets,” “Health and Morals,” and the “Athletic Committee” in charge of football, lacrosse, and baseball teams. In 1918, the “Production Committee” started Victoria’s first garden plots by leasing land on part of the old Songhees reserve.  They delivered food hampers from these gardens to the homes of Destitute families. These hampers also included bacon from the pigs raised by the “Piggery Committee.”

The original clubhouse was located directly adjacent to the present-day Victoria West Community Centre building.  In 1930, the Brotherhood expanded to welcome women. It changed its name to the Victoria West Community Association, effectively establishing our community’s first full-fledged community centre, with the community association serving as one of its major projects. It has been an essential feature of Craigflower village ever since. Disrupted shortly in the 1940s as Victorians focused on the war effort, Banfield helped to revive the community association in 1947. In 1948 he successfully spearheaded a campaign to acquire the land around the community centre to turn into a park. The park was named in his honour.

521 Craigflower Road

With the passage of time and economic hardship in the region, the community association faded briefly from Victoria West. The current association was formed under the societies act in 1970 as the Victoria West Community Development Association. In 1976, the VWCDA acquired federal funds to build a new, larger, more functional community centre. The present-day 8,000 square foot community centre was opened on April 9, 1978. It was run as a three-way venture between the City of Victoria, the VWCDA and the YMCA. The YMCA remained on the site for over thirty years until, in 2010, the community association assumed responsibility for the centre. Since then, the community centre has served as an important hub for community gatherings, youth outreach, early childhood education, adult fitness, and continuing education. In fact, in 2014, the Victoria West Community Centre was the busiest hub of activities sponsored by the City of Victoria. Doubtlessly, the community centre is the most prominent project of the Victoria West Community Association. Other projects include placemaking, food security, and community development.

The Victoria Heritage Foundation also has more history of Vic West.

History of the Songhees People in Vic West

By: Justine Semmens, VWCA President

The Coast Salish people and their ancestors have called the coastal regions of the Salish Sea home for more than five thousand years. The area is known today as Vic West resides on the traditional territories of the Lekwungen People, known today as the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations. These Nations share common cultural and linguistic heritage with other Northern Straits Salish speaking peoples such as the W̱SÁNEĆ,T’Sou-ke, Semiahoo, Samish, and Lummi First Nations.   

As a result of the violent process of colonization, Lekwungen is now considered a ‘sleeping language.’ Thanks in large part to the leadership, teaching and advocacy of Elder Dr. Elmer Seniemten George, one of the last fluent speakers of Lekwungen, the Songhees and Esquimalt people have embarked on the journey to reawaken their language.

Since long before European settlement and colonization in the Pacific Northwest, the Lekwungen people have governed themselves according to family or clan through a patrilineal kinship system, which means that inheritance and descent pass through the male line. Leadership was largely determined by a combination of cultural and economic wealth and hereditary status. Important foundations of the traditional economy included the accumulation of cultural wealth in the form of blankets and intricately designed tools, utensils, and artwork, negotiating access to important sources of food and material resources such as wild game, salmon, herring, and shellfish as well as the management and cultivation of red cedar and camas flowers. The cradle board at Songhees Point commemorates, in part, this site’s important ceremonial significance as the place where infants’ cradles were placed in the water to mark their passage out of early infancy once they had learned to walk.

 The era of European settlement and colonization began with the arrival of Captain James Cook who made landfall on the Nootka Sound in 1778. A dozen years later, the Lekwungen first came into contact with Europeans upon the arrival of the Spanish captain Don Quimper to Esquimalt harbour in 1790, two years prior to Captain George Vancouver’s arrival in the strait of Juan de Fuca. 

Half a century later, in 1843, the Hudson’s Bay Company established the trading post of Fort Camosun, later renamed Fort Victoria (the ramparts of which are still outlined in brick cobblestone along Fort Street and Bastion Square) with Sir James Douglas named as the chief factor. Che-a-thluc, known as “Chief Freezy,” managed Songhees relations and negotiations with James Douglas of the HBC. Douglas had arrived in 1842 to establish the HBC’s Fort Victoria. The Songhees and Esquimalt traded knowledge, food, labour, and land for the HBC’s thick warm wool blankets, which held tangible as well as ceremonial value as a form of commodity currency.

Prior to the establishment of the HBC fort, the Songhees and Esquimalt had villages on Cadboro Bay and near Laurel Point. The Songhees established a new village by the woods near the fort, which they helped to build, in order to facilitate their burgeoning trade relationship with the fort. Settler-colonial and indigenous relations were tense at times. In 1844, tensions came to a head following a forest fire that burned the woods near the fort down. Falsely blaming the Songhees for the danger to the fort, colonial authorities moved the village across the water. 

In 1849, the British colonial office designated Vancouver Island as a crown colony. A year later, amid a backdrop of severe cultural destruction, epidemic disease, and economic distress, the Songhees and Esquimalt people agreed to enter into a verbal agreement with James Douglas, now governor of the colony. Representing one of the fourteen Douglas Treaties, the Songhees Nation understood that it was providing resource and land access to the colonists without permanently relinquishing land title or the entitlements of the Nation to continue to use the land for fishing, hunting, harvesting, and spiritual practices. The colonial government interpreted the Douglas treaties as a formal relinquishment of title and access. Most of the First Nations named in the Douglas Treaties never actually signed these agreements, which were subject to extensive revision following verbal negotiations. The Songhees Nation was relegated to a reserve which stretched along the west coast of Victoria harbour from Lime Bay the Gorge and inland to Alston road and which bisected the area that would one day become Vic West. 

In 1878, the Songhees lands were cut in half again in order to complete the E & N Railroad. The construction of the railroad was a vital component of British Columbia’s willingness to enter into confederation in 1871.  The E & N in particular, which was championed by JamesDunsmuir for the transportation of coal from his mines up Island to the Port of Victoria, provided Sir John A. MacDonald with the local platform that won him his federal seat as the Minister of Parliament to Victoria from 1878 to 1882. 

Then in 1911, after decades of pressure from municipal  and provincial governments and local business leaders to establish an industrial presence on the Inner Harbour, the Federal government moved the Old Songees reserve to its present-day location on Portage Inlet, adjacent to the reserve established for the Esquimalt Nation. 

After the Old Songhees reserve in Vic West was vacated, some parts of the village were razed to make way for heavy industry and other parts were left derelict. By 1970, much of the industry in the area of the Old Songhees Reserve had dried up, leaving in its wake a polluted, industrial wasteland. Revitalization efforts started in 1980 to begin to restore the ecological capacity of this region of the community. 

The mistreatment of the Songhees by all levels of government and society had devastating impacts on the people and their families. The ravages of colonization, which included the loss of traditional economies, governance, culture, language, and land through cultural assimilation, the traumas of residential schools, and the reserve system have taken their toll. Steep population decline provides a stark reminder of the violence these losses represent. Whereas the Songhees numbered around 8,500 in 1859, the federal census identified only 200 members of the Nation in 1920.

It is a tribute to the strength of character, determination, and cultural vibrancy of the Songhees and Esquimalt People that these Nations are flourishing once again. Today over 530 Songhees are dedicated to the re-establishment of their traditional culture, language, and community, supported in part by the magnificent and architecturally inspiring Songhees Wellness Centre. In addition to the economic partnerships and initiatives established through the Songees Development Corporation and the Skwin’ang’eth Se’las Development Company, the Songhees Nation currently host over 2,000 tenants on their lands.

Bibliography

Historic Homes

Write-Up Courtesy of the Victoria Heritage Foundation

One of the most amazing ways to get a glimpse into Vic West’s past is through our neighbourhood’s historic homes! Did you know, Vic West has over 60 properties on the City of Victoria’s Heritage Register?

In the 1880s and 90’s Vic West was a desirable place for prominent families as it had direct access to the Inner Harbour and the Gorge, gorgeous views of the Olympic mountains, and meandering shoreline dotted with sandy beaches. Families such as Dunsmuir (coal and E&N Railway), Gray (Albion Iron Works), Muirhead (lumber and milling), Troup (shipping), Barnard (BC Coast Steamship Company), Brackman (Brackman-Kerr Milling Co) and Fairall (brewers), all lived in elegant homes throughout Neighbourhood.

Unfortunately, only the Brackman (1004 Catherine St), Gray (1135 Catherine St) and Fairall (505-07 Springfield St) homes still exist from this group, and the oldest Muirhead and Fairall homes are gone. The eventual demise of these large estates came partly with the institution of income taxes during WWI, which made many of them uneconomic for subsequent owners. Left empty, these homes deteriorated and were eventually replaced with modern versions. The Muirhead home on 223 Robert St., unfortunately, was partially destroyed in a fire in the spring of 2020. Work is currently underway to honour its historical significance. 

Interested in checking out some of Vic West’s Historic homes for yourself? The Victoria Heritage Foundation has compiled a fantastic walking tour of the neighbourhood.

Local Business

Write-Up Courtesy of the Victoria Heritage Foundation & Wise Victoria Mortgages

Just like present-day, Vic West in the early 20th century had an abundance of smaller establishments, and no one had to walk far for groceries, meat, drug store necessities, banking or mail. One of these was owned by Norman and Margaret Hill and was located on the corner of Front and Wilson Streets. When in full service, locals could fill up with gas, buy meat and groceries, and pick up their coal supply. Local youngsters with bikes delivered orders. Safeway built on Springfield Street and Esquimalt Road in the early 1940s; being only a block away, Hill’s Grocery slowly became unprofitable and closed in the 1950s. The building is now an apartment complex.

The land between Mary and Russell Streets along Esquimalt Road, now a car rental agency, was once the site of a post office and barbershop. A drug store and a tailor’s shop were nearby. Just up Catherine Street was a tea and coffee shop. Victoria West’s first strip style mall was located on Craigflower Road, between Raynor Avenue and Pine Street. The anchor businesses were McGuire’s Drug store, Baker’s Grocery Store, Cross’s Butcher Shop, and a dry cleaner. It has been refurbished and is still home to several small businesses.

Ormond’s Biscuit Factory, located at 242 Mary Street, was another prominent Vic West Business. Initially, it made crackers and biscuits, but then bread was added to the product list. By 1901 the factory was baking 40,000 loaves a month. The factory was ahead of its time in making deliveries. Delivery customers included the Work Point Barracks, enabling Ormond’s to call themselves, “Bakers to Her Majesty’s Troops.” A polar expedition bought pilot biscuits here, and dog biscuits for their huskies. Though not officially designated, the factory is one of the few remaining industrial heritage buildings in Victoria.

Vic West’s first bank, The Royal Bank of Canada, was located at Catherine and Bay Streets. Built-in 1902, the property was purchased for $2,800, and the construction of the building cost a total of $20,500. The manager occupied the upstairs quarters, and the heat was supplied by a coal furnace, attended to by the staff.

During the mid-1920s, the branch catered to many prominent businesses of the time, including the Victoria Machinery Depot,  Ormond’s Biscuit Factory, and most notably the Silver Springs Brewery next door. Silver Springs Brewery was amalgamated into Coast Breweries in 1928 and eventually dissolved in 1959 when Lucky Lager Breweries purchased it. Today the building is home to Wise Victoria Mortgages. 

Wise Victoria Mortgages would love to hear more about the memories you have of 225 Dundas St. Feel free to comment on this post or email volunteer@victoriawest.ca with your stories! To learn more about the history of the building, click here.

Schools

Write-Up Courtesy of the Victoria Heritage Foundation

The first school in Vic West was located above the blacksmith’s shop at Mary St and Esquimalt Road. Children living in the area before that attended Craigflower School, which charged a fee and to get there required a boat trip up the Gorge. In 1888 it was determined that a more suitable local school was needed, and a 28’ by 48’ wood structure was built on Front St, taking in 66 students. By 1895 as more land became subdivided and Vic West’s population grew, enrollment had increased to 150. Additions were built, teachers were added, and space was even rented in the Mary Street Baptist church. 

By 1907 enrollment had increased to 300, and again a bigger school was needed. Architect Colonel William Ridgeway-Wilson designed a handsome two-storey brick building, similar in style to the Lampson Street School, and was completed in 1908. A brick annex became the Manual Training building in 1910, and in 1913 a second brick annex was built for Domestic Science on the north side of the grounds. All remained relatively unchanged until 1971 when a new school was built on the corner of Front and Langford Streets, once the site of seven houses demolished for that purpose. The original brick school was also demolished the same year. The 1910 annex, now the Kindergarten, is all that remains of the first brick structures.

Industry

Write-Up Courtesy of the Victoria Harbour History Project

Vic West in the early 20th century was a hub for industry. Many of Victoria’s working class lived in the neighbourhood. After the Songhees land was sold in 1911, the area was designated for industrial use. People were employed by the many industries wrapped along the shoreline, including the E&N and BC Electric Railway. There were lumber planing and sawmills, storage and wood drying mills, as well as machine shops and metal factories. The Sidney Paper & Roofing Company, Shell, and Union Oil came later. 

At one point, there were seven companies simultaneously active in shipbuilding along Vic West’s coast. One of the most notable ones that still exists today is Point Hope Maritime. Established in 1873 as Colling and Cook’s Ways, Point Hope is the oldest operating shipyard on Canada’s Pacific Coast. Though the yard went through several name changes over the next 40 years, the owners remained William Turpel, and later his sons, Samuel and Emmerson. Expansions made during that period allowed the yard to work on two ships at a time. The shipyard went through two more operators before it was eventually sold to Island Tug and Barge Limited and Victoria Tug Company, who renamed the yard Point Hope Shipyards Limited. Located and named for the point of land that created the deep, sheltered bay on harbour’s west shore, it was perfect for shipbuilding. 

Point Hope changed hands many more times and filed for bankruptcy twice when public perception turned negative towards the maritime industry in the 1980s. The shipyard got a new lease on life in 2008 when Ralmax purchased it. A century and a half since it was founded, the shipyard to this day remains a vital harbour enterprise and provides jobs to hundreds of people.

To learn more about the History of Point Hope Maritime and Victoria’s historical harbour, please visit https://www.victoriaharbourhistory.com/point-hope-shipyard-landing/.

Churches

Write-Up Courtesy of the Victoria Heritage Foundation And Highpoint Community Church

The Blacksmith’s shop that housed the first Victoria West schoolroom also accommodated the community’s first protestant congregation, who built what is now St. Saviour’s Anglican Church at 310 Henry Street. The Victoria West Episcopalian Mission Church of the Holy Saviour was established in 1888 in the blacksmith’s shop, where it operated a “mission room.” In November 1890, the congregation accepted new plans for the church, and construction was completed in 1893 for a total of $2,644. The church bell, a gift from the Dunsmuir’s, came from an E&N steam locomotive. One rector apparently refused to ring it, as he believed it to have been stolen before being donated to the church! In 1895 the Rector was appointed Chaplain to the Imperial Troops, and St. Saviour’s became the Garrison Church. The front pews still have “Officers” stencilled on them. In 1899 it was enlarged for $1,500 to accommodate more troops, but the troops withdrew from the Work Point Barracks in 1905. The church is now a performing arts centre.

Located at the corner of Fullerton and Raynor Avenues, the Wesley Methodist Church is a landmark wood-frame church in the Victoria West neighbourhood. Displaying features of the Arts and Crafts style, the overscaled detailing heightens its dramatic presence as the largest building in the area. The Young People of Pandora Street Methodist Church began erecting a small church in the area in 1889, located on Wilson Street at the corner of Catherine Street; it was opened and dedicated in 1891 as the Victoria West Circuit of the Methodist Church. On December 1, 1912, this much larger church building, named Wesley Methodist Church, was dedicated at this new, central location. Seating was provided for 370 plus a choir; the Sunday School assembly room was separated by folding doors that could be opened to accommodate an additional 200 people when required. The ground floor provided a social hall, classrooms, and other services. After church union in 1925, it served the Victoria West United Church congregation. Today the church is run by the Salvation Army as Highpoint Community Church and continues to provide services to the community. 

In addition to St. Saviour’s and the Wesley Methodist Church, there was St. Paul’s Presbyterian on Henry Street, The Baptist Mission on Mary Street, and Saint Mary’s Catholic Church on Langford Street.

Rail

Write-Up Courtesy of E&N Division of the CRHA

The Vancouver Island railway, first known as the Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N) Railway, was incorporated on the 27th of September 1883 by Victoria coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, to support the coal and lumber industry and the Royal Navy Base at Esquimalt Harbour. Construction began on April 30th, 1884 and on the 13th of August, 1886 Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald drove home the last railway spike at Cliffside near Shawnigan Lake. The initial rail bed extended for 115 kilometres from Esquimalt to Nanaimo, hence the original name of the company. In 1888 the line was extended to the City of Victoria, and a massive celebration was held.

The completion of the E&N Railway had incredible importance to the foundation of Canada. Once the E&N line was completed, British Columbia became an official province of Canada, and Canada became a nation. However, the celebration was short-lived when the federal government refused to hold up the rest of the deal and link the E&N railroad by bridge to the transcontinental railroad that spanned the rest of Canada. In 1879 Burrard Inlet became the official end of the CPR, and Vancouver Islands’ hope of a bridge connecting it to the mainland was over. People in BC were so upset they threatened to leave Canada and join the US! 

In addition to the railway that still runs through the neighbourhood, The Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway Roundhouse survives virtually untouched since its construction in 1912. Surrounded by various well-preserved related shops and railway outbuildings, the roundhouse is a particularly excellent example of an industrial structure associated with the steam railway era in Canada. The Roundhouse was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1992 as it is the most intact facility related to the servicing of steam locomotives in western Canada.  

The E&N roundhouse is located on the site of the original 1886 railway terminus for Victoria. This industrial complex was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway to serve as the primary servicing facility for the steam locomotives and rolling stock of the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway. The facility served this purpose until 1949 when steam locomotives were replaced by diesel’s on the island. After that date, the roundhouse served as a service facility for the E&N’s diesels.

The roundhouse complex, consisting of the roundhouse itself, the attached machine shed, the roundtable, the approach tracks, and the rear area, built to house a blacksmith shop and boiler shop.

Passenger service on the railway ended in March 2011, but work is being done by the E&N division of the CRHA to help preserve Vancouver Island’s rail history. Bayview Properties currently own the Roundhouse. The E&N Division of the CPHRA hopes to work with them to celebrate and maintain this historic place.

To learn more about Victoria’s Rail History, check out https://www.onthisspot.ca/cities/esquimalt/eandn; they have an amazing online tour with lots of old photos! 

Recreation

Write-Up Courtesy of the Victoria Heritage Foundation & Vic West Lawn Bowling Club

Entertainment was a community affair in the early days, and Vic West’s social centre was Semple’s Hall, at the corner of Langford and Mary Streets. Shows, concerts, plays and dances gave residents a chance to view imported talent and to showcase their own. Although close to the fire hall, it burned in 1925 and was never rebuilt.

The Vic West Lawn Bowling Club got its start in 1929 when at the urging of the Victoria West Brotherhood, the Parks Committee of City Council recommended that a sum of $1600 be placed in the estimates for the construction of a bowling green in Victoria West Park. In 1930, a clubhouse was built with volunteer labour and useable lumber from the demolition of some old city-owned garages. 

The Victoria West Athletic Association was another active organization up to WWII and produced some world-class athletes. The outflow of young men to war decimated its membership, and it only rallied again in recent decades. Outside of these organizations, recreation in Vic West was provided for the most part by Mother Nature. The inner and outer harbour and the Gorge accommodated rowing for racing, and the many rocky outcroppings were a natural playground for adventurous children.

Do you have any interesting stories or details about Vic West’s history? We’d love to hear from you!! Email us at history@victoriawest.ca or call (250)-590-8922.

 

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