ALTHOUGH CITIZENS DID NOT REALIZE IT at the time, the period 1900 to the outbreak of World War I was Victoria's Indian summer. Never again would the city have such a busy industrial complex. On the surface nothing was changing. Mrs. James Dunsmuir gave extravagant parties at "Burleith." Expensive and rare automobiles made their appearance in city streets. The Board of Trade and its closely associated members including the Todds, Wards, Rithet, Cuyler Holland, Wilsons, Renoufs and Turners were as active as ever and just as party and banquet conscious. Racing, soccer and cricket dominated the sports field. Nobody who really wanted work needed to be without a job.
The prosperity was not, of course, continuous. The year 1908 was especially poor, but Victoria had had setbacks before, notably in the prosperous 1890 decade when from 1893 to 1898 a financial panic in the States caused many bankruptcies and amalgamations in Victoria. By 1910 the American investment in British Columbia totalled $65,000,000 and it was to be expected that when America sneezed Victoria would catch cold. But the coming trouble for Victoria was more deep-rooted. It was not due to the war clouds in Europe. The devastating effects of World War I were no more envisaged in Victoria than in say London or Brussels and indeed Victoria did not suffer too badly if at all. The coming trouble was not due to labour.
Labour was causing 144 But labour unrest seemed to be directed more at competing imported Chinese and Japanese labour than at the social order. As far back as 1886 a Working Man's Political Association had been formed and had put up candidates in Victoria and Nanaimo, but politically it had made little headway. Disrupting strikes occurred in other parts of the province involving the C.P.R. and the Kootenay mines. The most serious of all was the 1913 strike of Nanaimo miners who seized the town temporarily but were speedily subdued by specially dispatched militia units. Victoria with its more patriarchal economy was spared these labour upsets. To be a socialist in Victoria was to be a social outcast. Victoria's fundamental economic troubles were to stem from the rapid growth of cities like Vancouver and Seattle. She was being rapidly overtaken in population as the following figures indicate: Victoria Vancouver Seattle 1870 7,886 no figures 1,107 1880 5,925 no figures 3,533 1890 16,841 18,829 42,837 1900 20,219 27,198 80,671 One of the first to see where the future lay was David Russell Ker of the Brackman-Ker Milling Co. This company which was to become famous for the quality of its milled products throughout North America started in a modest way with Brackman's grist mill at Shoal Bay, Saanich. David Russell Ker, one of pioneer Robert Ker's four sons (see page 115) became a partner in the firm in 1882 at the age of 20.
In the 1890's the firm built a new mill near the Outer (Rithet's) Wharf at the entrance to Victoria Harbour, processing local and imported cereals. David Russell Ker aroused much criticism among commercial circles when he started a Vancouver branch in 1894. But he was more far-sighted than his contemporaries. BrackmanKer finished up not as a Victoria organization but with three mills on the Mainland and 14 grain elevators in British Columbia and the prairie provinces. David unfortunately did not live long enough to see the full results of his foresight. He died in 1923 after a long illness at the early age of 60 and the business and social contacts to be made at "Kershaugh" at the northeast comer of Yates and Femwood, where he lived with his wife, a daughter of pioneer librarian Henry Heisterman, were sorely missed.
Outside "Kershaugh," he built the first boulevard on Yates Street and the fine maples he planted are still there. In his lifetime, besides founding the Ker family fortunes, he headed the Board of Trade, the Agricultural Society and raised the funds for the new Y.M.C.A. building on Blanshard Street He is also credited, particularly by Senator Harry Barnard, Victoria's mayor at the time, with getting the Empress Hotel built in Victoria. In contrast with Brackman-Ker was the fate of the Albion Iron Works. They were originally founded on Discovery Street by Jos. Spratt in 1861, but by 1890 covered 31/2 acres, a whole city block, bordered by Pembroke, Store, Chatham and Government streets and employed 230 men. Directors of the reorganized company registered in 1882 were the well-known Robert Dunsmuir, R. P. Rithet, Robert Ward, J. Trutch and Jos. Spratt. In these works were built the rail cars for the E. & N. Railroad, pipes for the Victoria and Vancouver waterworks, engines and boilers for most vessels on Puget Sound and colliery engines. One of the biggest jobs was the repair of H.M.S. Amphion at a cost of $150,000. The Company had a monopoly of stove manufacture in the Pacific Northwest and from its stove showrooms at 515 Pembroke, now a lumber warehouse, most houses in B.C. obtained their stoves.
Alas for a great industry. The last remnant of the Albion Iron Works disappeared in 1953 after purchase by Eastern interests. It was stated that wages in Victoria no longer justified manufacture here. Gone too, swallowed up in amalgamations or transferred to the Mainland, are nearly all the other large concerns of that era. We no longer have M. R. Smith & Co., biscuit manufacturers, who started here in 1859 supplying the Royal Navy with 3,500 loaves a day and whose factory at 120 Niagara Street, James Bay, was a mainstay of employment there in the early 1900's.
The sash and door industry meant millions of dollars to Victoria at the turn of the century. The pioneer was probably D. 0. Stevens who in 1863 was operating Steam Sash & Door at the corner of Government and Wharf Streets, adjacent to the James Bay bridge. At the turn of the century the Victoria Planing Mills (J. Muirhead and J. G. Mann) employed 100 men. The Shawnigan Lake Lumber Co. had two acres on Discovery Street between Store and Government Streets, whose manager for 30 years was Victoria resident T. Elford. A reorganized company still occupies the same site today. Lemon Gonnason occupied an entire block on the waterfront at Orchard and Government Streets for the manufacture of sash, millwork and lumber. This firm finally went out of business in the 1950's when a fire destroyed their plant.* Jacob Sehl, who came to Victoria in 1858, manufactured furniture at his three-storey brick built factory on Laurel Point. His nearby mansion, where British America Paint now have their plant, was a landmark for ships entering the harbour.
Sehl started furniture manufacture in 1879 and in the 1890's was running with associates a two-storey retail store at 66/68 Government Street, called the B.C. Furniture Co. His plate-glass windows were a sensation in Victoria. The largest mill in Victoria was owned by the Sayward interests. It occupied a two-storey block on Store Street north of and adjacent to the present Capital Iron & Metals. Downtown the Sayward interests built on Douglas Street in 19 10 the Sayward Building, said to be Victoria's first multi-storey office block. This block, one of Victoria's finest office structures, is now owned by members of the Ker family. William P. Sayw-ard was a California "forty-niner" who arrived in 1858 and started his first mill at Shawnigan Lake in 1861 and the Shawnigan Lumber Co. in 1868.
Many of the huge stumps * Ocean Cement now has the site. 147 between new growth in the area are reminders of the Sayward milling operations. Gone too are the Pendray (Victoria) soap works started in 1875 at the comer of Humboldt and Douglas Street ( opposite the present Humboldt Street liquor store). At one time the works turned out 40,000 pounds of soap a week. Their "electric soap" 20 bars for $1, was a good seller. They moved their works to Laurel Point about 1900 in keeping with the general trend of industry towards that area. Pendray's soap works installed Victoria's first telephone from their plant to Jeffrey's store at the corner of Government and Yates Streets. But shortly afterwards on May 15, 1,880 telephones came into use generally and within three weeks the Victoria and Esquimalt Telephone Co. had 50 subscribers.
Directors of the Company included Rithet, A. A. Green the banker whose former home is the Art Gallery, E. A. McQuade, of the pioneer ship chandler family and Captain J. D. Warren. R. B. McMicking was president, and the first telephone company office was in Trounce Alley. The increase in telephone subscribers gives a good indication of Victoria's growth. In 1912 there were 5,110 telephones; in 1922 13,223. The next eight years to the beginning of 1931 showed an increase of only 4,037 telephones bringing the total to 17,270. The Telephone Company really came into its own in the "retirement city" period ... 1950 to 1970. In 1940, for instance, there were 20,154 telephones, in 1950 34,506, in 1960 63,051 and by 1970 there were 100,544 phones. Illustrating the drift to the suburbs were the figures for Gordon Head - 214 phones in 1940 and 8,360 on January 1, 1970. In addition to Brackman-Ker, Victoria at the tum of the century had another large cereal firm - Victoria Roller Rice & Flour Mills - who had two buildings, one of four storeys on Store Street. One of them is now used by Capital Iron & Metals.
The 1,000-ton ship Thermopylae was in constant shuttle service bringing rice from the Orient to the Company's wharf to be milled and re-exported as flour. Headquarters of the important sealing industry was the Victoria Sealing & Trading Co. on Discovery Street. Grant came from Granville, Cape Breton. He became a skipper, lost his ship in the American civil war, then blockaded the River Plate with three vessels to aid the Argentina government. Later his ship the Thomas E. Kenney foundered in the Atlantic and he and his wife and two sons were picked up by a passing schooner. In addition to Sehl's furniture factory, Victoria had John Weller's plant. John Weiler started his factory in 1862 on Government Street. In 1879 he built a block at the comer of Fort and Broad (51/55 Fort Street).
Five years later he built a factory on Humboldt Street, and in 1891 a four-storey factory of brick next door and at the turn of the century employed 65 men. His name is commemorated in two downtown office blocks. Other undertakings included six breweries, among them the Silver Spring Brewery started by Frederick Tate in 1898 and Loewen & Erb (Phoenix Brewery) who were turning out 4,000 barrels of beer a year and had the practical monopoly of up-island trade. The first brewery in Victoria was started in 1858. Loewen & Erb bought it out in 1870. There were in addition shirt and overall manufacturers (T. B. Pearson & Co.), bookbinders, boot and shoe makers, carriage builders, engineers and many shipyards. The most notable shipyard was the British Marine Railway Co. on the eastern shore of Esquimalt Harbour. Wm. Fitzherbert Bullen, founder of the Company, arrived here in 1884 and was with the Albion Iron Works for many years. In 1897 he established a branch also in Vancouver. British Marine turned out four ships for the Canadian Pacific Steamship Co., including the S.S. Maquinna and repaired several warships. Wm. Fitzherbert Bullen married Annie Amelia Bushby, daughter of Judge Bushby and granddaughter of Sir James Douglas.
He died in 1921, seven years after selling out to Alfred Yarrow, and was widely acclaimed as one of the founders of the Victoria shipbuilding industry. Other shipyards at the tum of the century included the Star, Union, Clyde, Foot & McDouglas, Jones, McIntosh and Robinson yards. If one wonders how they kept busy, official figures for 1891 give the answer. In that year 1,349 vessels 149 ( excluding B.C. coastal ships) arrived in Victoria and 920 of them were from overseas. The centralization in Victoria of government, finance and manufacture, enabled fortunes to be made in the retail and brokerage world. One of the oldest firms still in existence is the Hickman Tye Hardware Co. Mr. T. H. Tye came here from Britain in 1863 and with partners formed Matthews, Richards & Tye. Later he bought out his partners. The firm did very well out of the Klondike gold rush and the opening up of mining in the interior.
Mines, logging camps, shipping and canneries needed immense quantities of provisions. Along Wharf Street in 1903 were J. H. Todd & Son, and Wilson Bros., wholesale grocers whose building later was on Chatham Street. Turner Beeton & Co. ( wholesale drygoods, Big Horn brand shirts and fire and marine insurance brokers) were at 90 Wharf and also at No. 71 opposite Rithet & Co., general brokers. J. H. Turner of Turner, Beeton and Company was associated with J. H. Todd in the fish canning and general merchandising business, operated with him the Victoria Produce Market and had a four-storey brick building at Government and Yates Streets. Turner was mayor of Victoria from 1879-81. His partner, Beeton, appointed himself British Columbia agent-general in London.
There was some controversy about this. Anyway it was a happy combination for Beeton ( and later his partner Turner who also became agent-general) were able to channel inquiries about investment in the province and direct people with capital direct to Turner Beeton & Co. Businessmen of those times considered it quite fair to use public office for private gain. Their reasoning was that they were giving the government something, i.e. their knowledge and expertise ... and it was only fair they should get something in return. Also on Wharf Street with warehouses and quays were Rithet & Co. at street numbers 104-6 and 1 18. Robert Ward, one of Victoria's most enterprising businessmen, had his offices in the nearby Temple Building which he had built to the design of the well-known architect McClure.
Ward was broker, insurance agent and dealt in general supplies, import and export. He was also president of the Board of Trade when they opened their new building on Bastion Square and presided at the sumptuous banquet in the Driard Hotel lasting until 4 a.m. which marked its completion. Ward and his family suddenly left Victoria for Britain in the early 1900's, never to return. Prominent ship chandlers of the time in addition to McQuade's (P. McQuade came here in 1858 from Albany, N.Y.) were E. B. Marvin & Co. Their building was next to McQuade's on Wharf Street (No. 74). Marvin had many adventures getting here. His ship was wrecked in a storm in the Pacific, losing its mast. In one of the gold rushes he canoed alone on the Fraser River from Fort Hope to Quesnel.
Such experiences were by no means uncommon. John Teague, a Cornishman, mayor of Victoria 1894-95 and the architect responsible for the Royal Jubilee and St. Joseph's hospitals and the Oriental Hotel, booked passage from San Francisco to Victoria. He was landed at Whatcom on Puget Sound and had to get here in a "plunger." During the Cariboo gold rush he walked 9 ½ days on six pannikins of flour. During the last three days he had nothing to eat at all. John Teague eventually became navy storekeeper and his $12,000 home in Esquimalt is now the Admiral's House. Admiral's House saw many gay parties in the 80's and 90's, and became the home of George Phillips, British naval architect stationed here from 1905 to 1917. Prominent retailers in the early 1900's included Thomas Shotbolt and D. E. Campbell, druggists. Campbell at 66 Fort Street marketed his own specialties ... Campbell's sarsparilla blood purifier, Rose Leaf face powder, Japanese hair tonic. As though fearing the effect of these revelations on the reader, a trade directory of the time added that he was very popular". Lawrence and Goodacre had taken over the Queen's Market of the defunct Mayor Harris and with it the navy contract.
Other prominent merchants of the time included Nicholles & Renouf, 151 general hardware, 61 Yates; the Victoria Vinegar and Sauce Works run by J. H. Falconer, a Scot; the Victoria Steam Bakery; the Ledingham & Christie Carriage Works at 97 Cormorant and their competitors, the Brayshaw Carriage Factory at 17 Broughton, Brayshaw having come here from New Zealand. Also worth mention are Braden & Stamford, civil engineers, who employed 30 men and put in electric lighting and waterworks in Port Angeles and many other cities. In the retailing field David Spencer began to expand at the turn of the century. Spencer arrived here from Wales in 1864 and at first went into business with Wm. Denny. In 1891 his store at 65 Government Street was 240 feet long and had a frontage of 66 feet - enormous for those years although only the width of a house lot. Notable commercial buildings which went up at the time were the Duck Block on Broad Street ... Simeon Duck, who arrived here in 1859 and died in 1905, was a pioneer blacksmith and carriage builder before he became M.L.A. and Minister of Finance; the Jewell Block and the Wilson-Dalby Block.
The Jewell Block, named after Henry Jewell, was where the present Metropolitan Stores and National Trust are at Yates and Douglas. The opulence of the City Hall today is in great contrast to the skimping on municipal administration customary in the times of our fathers. The City Hall got an addition in 1 890 and this followed a rather disgraceful episode when the chairs of the mayor and councilors and office furniture were auctioned off to satisfy a creditor. Also seized and sold were the corporation seal, a stone crusher, two horses and a wagon and four dump carts ... representing probably the total fixed assets of the City of Victoria. J. W. Carey, mayor in 1884 when the episode occurred, seems to have been a rather pig-headed man. He was an old-timer, having arrived in 1856 and very self-important. A previous City administration had incurred a debt of $875 with lawyers Drake & Johnson. The new councilors, headed by Carey, approved. the signing of a cheque in payment, but Carey refused to sign it. He had some grudge against Drake & Johnson, but what the grudge was records fail to show. The upshot was that the sheriff, acting on the orders of Drake & Johnson, seized the City's assets. A crowd of 700 people attended the auction and a number of leading citizens thought it a dreadful disgrace.
The auction had begun when D. W. Higgins, acting for a group of public-spirited merchants, offered the sheriff a cheque in payment of the debt if he would stop the bidding. The sheriff agreed to this, but meanwhile much of the property had been sold. Mayor Carey, obstinate as usual, refused to accept the unsold City property and refurnished the City Hall with furniture hired from Weilers. The Colonist promised he would never get in office again and the next election proved them correct. Rithet succeeded him. An outstanding building of 1899 was the Exhibition complex and race track at the Willows fairground. Its main roof was 56 feet high surmounted by octagonal towers rising to 100 feet with an open cupola. The open balcony was 75 feet from the ground and afforded a splendid view. The building with its 20,000 square feet of floor space, two staircases to the galleries and its fountains was a justifiable source of pride. Near to it was the best race track in the Pacific Northwest.
The Exhibition Building appears to have replaced that of the B.C. Agricultural Association built in 65 days in 1891. Before that fairs and exhibitions were staged in the Fair Building at Beacon Hill Park although in the 1860's Victoria's first fair was held in Market Square between Broad and Broughton Streets and followed up with a sumptuous dinner at Ringo's Restaurant. Also at the tum of the century Victoria got a new Government House. Cary Castle burned down in 1899 and Lieutenant-Governor Mcinnes lost $3,000 of his personal effects in the blaze. The new Government House built in 1905 lasted until 1957 when the popular Lieutenant-Governor Frank Mackenzie Ross, a former Scot who won the Military Cross in World War I, was burnt out, also with the loss of valuable personal effects. The present building replaced it in 1959.
The first public library, made possible by a Carnegie grant, was opened by the Duke of Connaught in 1891. It stands today at the comer of Yates and Blanshard Streets and architecturally compares favourably with the 1951 addition built on to it. One of the fruits of Confederation was the construction in the 1890's of a new Post Office. It superseded the Post Office on the southwest corner of Yates and Government Streets, an area which during the Hudson's Bay Company's regime was occupied by so-called government buildings and later in 1873 was the location of the Adelphi Saloon, the Bank of North America, the Colonist and Barnard's Express offices. It was in this Post Office that Noel Shakespeare, Postmaster, used to call out the names of those for whom mail had arrived following the arrival of a ship. The 1890 building now houses, with additions, the Customs and Excise branch, corner Wharf and Government Streets. The Post Office moved in 1952 to the fine new Federal Building on Government Street at Yates.
The inter-city postal service was at the turn of the century considerably better than that of today. House delivery ( two deliveries a day) was begun in 1888. Four postmen then covered the whole of Victoria as compared with 158 today. Twice daily deliveries ceased except for downtown in 1954 and Saturday deliveries were cut out in 1969. An exceedingly rare stamp is the 2¼d stamp issued in London in 1859 for use in Vancouver Island and British Columbia. The early years of the century were notable above all, for the construction of the Empress Hotel, one of the city's greatest assets. The decision to build was a very bold one because when the announcement was made by the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. in 1905 there were already ominous portents for Victoria on the economic front. One of them was the decline of the great sealing industry, heralded by a sharp drop in sealskin prices in 1897. Sealers' wages were a main source of revenue for hotels, rooming houses, eating houses, saloons and the general retail trade. City ship chandlers fitted out not only Victoria-based sealers, but those from Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and U.S. Pacific ports which chased the seals to Alaska. Victoria shipyards were building many vessels financed by U.S. capital.
But generally speaking the entire sealing industry was Victoria-controlled. Fifty-seven vessels were fitted out here in 1897 and the seal catch eight years earlier was valued at $247,170. U.S., Japanese, Russian and Canadians harvested the pelts in such quantities that the market was swamped. At the same time the number of seals began to diminish and the Americans were alarmed at the depredations of Canadian and U .K. sealers. There is no doubt that vessels operating out of Victoria were inhuman and wasteful in the extreme. Seals could be speared or shot, and shooting was easier. It was estimated that for every shot seal retrieved, two went to the bottom. Also, at sea it was impossible to distinguish the males which were greatly outnumbered by females. It was reckoned that every female killed on her way to the breeding grounds led to the loss of two seals ... mother and pup. When the U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia it granted the sealing monopoly to the Alaska Commercial Company.
The seal breeding grounds in Alaska and the Pribiloff Islands were as a consequence put off bounds to Canadian vessels. They therefore resorted to open sea or pelagic sealing, killing the seals on their way to and from the breeding grounds. The open waters of the Behring Sea were well beyond the three-mile territorial limit and in these waters Victoria sealers reaped their richest harvests. The United States government was alarmed by these inroads and declared the whole of the Behring Sea to be territorial waters. They began seizing Victoria and U .K. registered vessels. Some 1 9 such vessels had been seized by I 890. Britain protested for herself and Canada against these seizures. An international court rejected the U.S. claims. But the court at the same time so limited the sealing season, ostensibly in the interests of conservation, that Canadian vessels could not operate profitably in view of the distances between port of departure and the sealing grounds.
The U.S. was ordered to pay Victoria sealing interests $463,454 compensation for seized vessels, which was less than half the amount claimed. In spite of the fact that Victoria and British vessels were now practically out of the business, seals continued to decline in numbers as Japanese and Russian sealers continued their operations in the Behring Sea, which was nearer to their home bases. The result was the 1911 Pelagic Sealing Treaty, whereby the U.S., Russia and Japan agreed to limit hunting and tum over a proportion of the proceeds of pelt sales to Canada in return for complete abstention by Canadian vessels from sealing. But the matter was now of academic interest to Victoria. The industry had been practically bankrupt since 1898 and but for the Klondike gold rush which occurred that year Victoria would have experienced very bad times.
The Klondike gold rush obscured the long term effects of the loss of a lucrative industry. The Klondike gold rush also helped to obscure the fact that the completion of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo railroad in 1886 was not an effective substitute for a trans-Canada railroad terminating in Victoria, illogical though the latter would be from a national point of view. This venture of Robert Dunsmuir and his American associates was not justifying itself. The extraordinarily expensive route through most difficult country and the absence of large populations or resources all mitigated against it. The C.P.R. took it over in 1905 and today there is talk of discontinuing the service altogether. The Indian summer was coming to a rapid end marked by serious financial crises in the United States between 1 goo and 1g12 which affected seriously Victoria's mining and industrial interests. They led to many liquidations and amalgamations. Most serious of all, however, was the accentuating disparity in populations. Victoria's 31,140 inhabitants in 1911 compared with 100,401 in Vancouver and 237,194 in Seattle. Instead of queen, Victoria had become a very minor princess.