Interesting Architectural & Historic Facts

(As researched by Erin Baker, Artisan)

  • Bastion Square is located in the heart of Old Town Victoria, B.C. The ceremonial entry arch (1994), located at View and Government Streets, welcomes visitors to a historic pedestrian sanctuary featuring on three sides the first major public buildings erected in BC after union with Canada and opening on the Wharf Street side to a grand staircase with a spectacular view of the Inner Harbour.
  • The area, established by the Hudson’s Bay Company (1843), became the bustling trade post christened as Fort Victoria which consisted of one and two-story wood buildings and octangular Bastions of three-stories. The North Bastion stood at the entry of what is now Bastion Square.
  • The Hudson’s Bay Company selected this site as the location to run their resource gathering empire on the Pacific Coast, a role that the Fort took on as company headquarters in 1846. From the Fort the HBC traded with aboriginal people to acquire furs, coal, salmon, gold, cranberries, whale oil, and ice from glaciers to sell to Californian gold miners thirsty for cocktails.
  • With the discovery of gold on the BC mainland in 1958, Victoria’s population blossomed from 300 to over 5000 within a few days. The energy pulsing through the developing population was filled with a lust for adventure, carousing and lawlessness giving rise to the historic buildings of Bastion Square including the earliest luxury hotels (Burnes House (1886), and Beaver Building (1882), the first Supreme Court building (1889, now the Maritime Museum), The Board of Trade Building (1892), and the Chancery Chambers (1905).
  • Today the area thrives, showcasing the Maritime Museum of BC, historic pubs and fantastic restaurants. From April to October Bastion Square hosts one of the oldest and most prestigious open air markets featuring local artisans, musicians and farmers.
  • Bastion Square is a very old and very haunted place. Generations ago there was a jailhouse located in Helmcken Alley. The building is gone, but the indelible memory of its numerous executions still lives on. Many visitors to this historic location have experienced firsthand the terrifying sound of rattling chains, followed by the apparition of a man dressed in an old prison uniform. It is believed this man was killed by an impatient guard who was walking with the man on his way to his execution. The jail had also acted as a graveyard for the unclaimed bodies of the prisoners who died within the walls. When the prison was demolished in 1885, the dead were ignored, as if they were never buried there.
  • In Boomerang Court, the circles of bricks are where the remains of the dead are buried.
  • In 1963, under the direction of city planner Rod Clack, Bastion Square was developed as a heritage book-end to the modern scheme for Centennial Square. View Street was closed off and a pedestrian sanctuary was created, set off by restored historic buildings on three sides and a magnificent view across the harbour on the fourth.

Board of Trade Building

  • The Victoria Chamber of Commerce was founded February 9, 1863, its first duty being to organize an armed escort to accompany gold shipments from the Caribou. In 1878 the name was changed to the British Columbia Board of Trade. In February of 1893 the Board of Trade occupied its new premises

Burnes House (1886) & Beaver Building (1882)

  • These were the properties of hotelier Thomas J. Burnes. Burnes erected one of Victoria’s earliest luxury hotels to serve successful gold miners and English remittance men. The building cost Burnes $20,000 and served as a fashionable hotel close to such public amenities as the Court House, Customs House, HBC warehouses, and waterfront. In 1967, under the direction of architects Pearson and Lester, the exterior of Burnes House was restored and the interior redeveloped into a charming series of multi-level speciality shops, and later, offices.

Chancery Chambers (1905)

  • Is a Edwardian classical structure that served as office space for the legal fraternity.

Law Chambers (1899)

  • Rattenbury not only carried out extensive renovations to the Supreme Court building itself by creating a new Langley Street Entrance, he also bracketed the courts with two of his own designs. The overall scheme is a restrained version of Italianate featuring very fine brick detailing. This form is conceived as a Renaissance palazzo facing the square. This was one of the first restorations done as part of the Bastion Square Revitalization scheme.

Rithet Building (1861, 1865, 1885, 1889)

  • The south flank of Bastion Square, the Wharf Street Entrance, is marked by the Rithet Building, Victoria’s finest example of West Coast Iron Fronts. The marks on the base of the cast iron columns tell the story of the structure, which was built using and early k.d. construction technology. The two northern bays, spanning 9 columns, are dated to 1861 and were made at the San Francisco Foundry of Peter Donahue’s Union Iron Works. The southern bays were cast later, in 1888, by Victoria’s own Albion Iron Works. The upper storeys were added over the years, the most northerly in 1865. They were built in the Italianate style and use iron fronts on the facade.
  • In 1978, the Province of British Columbia bought the buildings and restored them for office use. During the restoration process, they uncovered the original Fort water well, complete with mechanical pump. This has been made into a fountain for the lobby.

Supreme Court Building 1889 (now the Maritime Museum)

  • In 1887, the Chief Commission of Lands and Works authorized the erection of a new Court House, a brick building on a stone foundation on the site of the old police barracks and jail. Tiedemann’s design was supposedly based on a court building in the architect’s native city of Munich. Local tradition has it that this was the first building in Victoria to make extensive use of reinforced concrete. The brick facing was stuccoed and rendered to resemble the grouting of huge granite blocks. The building was competed in 1889 at a total cost of $35,075. In its day the Court House presented an impressive spectacle, towering over other buildings in the immediate area and looking out over the harbour. The elevator remains a high point of the interior and is the oldest lift in B.C. still in operation. During the 1900-1901 remodelling, many of the windows were filled in, the main arches of the east portico were converted into windows and the interior space was redefined as an office. The Court House’s last hearing was held in February, 1962, just before the courts moved to the new buildings on Courtenay Street. During 1963-1964, the old Court House served as a temporary City Hall. In 1965, the Maritime Museum was relocated there.

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