Legal & Professional Era (1889 – 1961)

The Police Barracks and Gaol was demolished in the mid-1880s and a new courthouse was built on the site. This was the first purpose-built courthouse in British Columbia and replaced the former courtroom in the Birdcages (the old Parliament Buildings). When the Courthouse opened in 1889 it changed the face of Bastion Square. Lawyers established chambers close by and several buildings such as the Law Chambers were built specifically to house them. Francis Mawson Rattenbury, architect of the Parliament Buildings, was also the architect of the Law Chambers.

Early Bastion SquareTommy Burnes and his family had operated the American Hotel for many years on Yates Street. With the opening of the new Courthouse they built an imposing three-storey brick hotel behind the American Hotel, facing Bastion Square. The Burnes House served as a hotel for many years. On the south side of Bastion Square the British Columbia Board of Trade built their new office building in 1892. This was not just for Victoria, but for all of British Columbia. Even the old wooden Boomerang Saloon was pulled down and replaced by a brick structure (now demolished, about where Boomerang Court is today). In 1911 the Hibben-Bone Block was built to house more professional offices. It is now the Bedford Regency Hotel.

Slowly, but surely, through the 1890s until about 1912 Bastion Square developed as the legal and professional centre of Victoria and British Columbia. However, a depression in 1912, followed by World War I and Prohibition (1917-1920) began to weaken the economic base of Bastion Square and Old Town in general. The rapid growth of Vancouver as the principal port on the west coast drew many businessmen to the mainland. Gradually Victoria started to become a backwater and Bastion Square started to take on a shabby appearance.

Without revenue from saloons, hotels such as the Burnes House were not viable. The Board of Trade Building lost its tycoons to Vancouver. These buildings became storage facilities for moving companies. The Hibben-Bone Block became a hotel, the notorious Churchill Hotel which had a beer parlour in the basement considered one of the roughest in town. Then in 1961 a new courthouse opened on Blanshard Street and the one in Bastion Square was abandoned. In many people’s minds, Bastion Square was ready for the wrecking ball and redevelopment.

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