When first I came to Victoria in 1965 I was most impressed by the city’s downtown low building style. It gave a very open and spacious feel to BC’s Capital, city. Having just arrived from Europe this was one of the phenomena I came across in those early days in Canada that made a deep and lasting impression on me. Of course Victoria half a century hence is a different city. Not as low in the building style and not as spacious as I felt it to be that long time ago. Moreover where it was unique due to its short historical development and related building styles, all the new developments recent, present, and future so far look geared to make Victoria exactly like the other cities situated on North America’s west coast in their modern developments. At present the replacement of the Johnston Street Bridge and its surrounds is the biggie to show my point. The design is definitely contemporary. Modern, bright and homogeneous it pays less than lip service
to the area’s history (a very few of the historic building fronts have been incorporated into the designs). Once all is said and done I doubt very much that the future holds tourists who come to Victoria to see the new bridge. Ideally some parts of certain cities incl Victoria ought to be protected from eradication and out of style type development (similar to, for example, national parks).
This entry shows three of my favourite small buildings. They are presented in Black and White only because for now I am partial to b&w.
The first building, originally the Royal Bank Of Canada Building designed by Thomas Hooper, was built in 1909. In the 1950s the building was renovated by the bank. At that time it lost its second story and glass dome, and most if not all aspects of the original Hooper design were covered up (concrete can cover everything). In the 1980s a local bookstore man, Jim Munro, bought the building. He must have spent a lot of money to bring the building back to its original state with among other things the original cast plaster ceiling exposed again but minus second floor. For what Mr Munro has done with this building its new name “Munro`s Books Of Victoria Building“ suits the building to a tee.
Just a few buildings down, on that same Government Street stands the E.A. Morris Building. Mr Morris came to Canada in 1877 and after working for some years in gold mines and explosives factories he bought the at that time ten year old building on Government St. He did very well importing the best of cigars and tobacco and in 1909 he hired the fore mentioned Mr Hooper to design and complete a total renovation of the building. From that day until the anti smoke campaign reached some kind of momentum, not that many years ago, the store was the same, always oozing an air of luxury thanks to Mexican onyx installed around the entrance and inside as baseboard and the use of mirrors, mahogany paneling and mosaic floor as well as many other beautiful furnishings. During the early `defilement of smokers` and the `devil in tobacco` campaign, late past century and the present century this store nearly bit the dust due to local bylaws against showing tobacco and smoke related paraphernalia. In my earlier days when in Victoria, that is where I’d buy my cigarettes and enjoy lighting up using the store’s beautiful lighter on its Mexican onyx stand with its forever burning gas flame. That lighter is no longer going, but the store’s furnishings still are very much the same as they always were. I wonder whether Old Morris Tobacconist as a business can survive these days.
The final building on this short list of favourites is the Dominion Customs House. This is, I believe, the first federal building since BC joined Confederation in 1871. It was built in 1874-75 and its flat roof was used as a look out over the harbour. I wanted to get onto that roof, but today’s occupants (Lawyer’s offices) were not aware of the building’s history nor of access to the roof. Over the years I have photographed the Dominion Customs House from every angle but this one, which was taken a few weeks ago.
Victoria has many thrilling sights and this has been a very short exploration since all the buildings are within a few blocks from each other.