FROM THE COLLAPSE IN 1914 of the great land boom until the outbreak of World War II Victoria was economically in the doldrums. The population was static. Between 1921 and 1931 the city gained a mere 300 people and the position in the environs was not much better. For a community with a declining industrial complex whose prosperity depended on a continued influx of people with means or marketable skills, this was a serious matter. One effect was to cause ambitious young men to leave a city in which they had no future and to seek their livings elsewhere. Another was to endow the city with a preponderance of pretty, eligible girls ... a situation like that in Eire today where so many young men find it hard to make progress and emigrate to England.
Victoria, after the first excitement of World War I had subsided, was a very sleepy town indeed. It was so quiet that a cougar, presumably of a studious nature, was shot on the steps of the Public Library in 1926. Citizens joked that at some hours of the day a cannonball fired down Yates Street would endanger only the bobby-helmeted policeman on traffic duty at the Douglas Street intersection. But a static economy does not necessarily imply social somnolence. In the field of sports the 1920's saw the triumphs of boxer Jimmy McLarnin, soccer player Dave Turner, Torchy Peden the cyclist, Dr. Jack Wright, tennis ace and basketball wizard Norm Baker. They were conversation pieces for the many who loved to meet and gossip. The "Gay Twenties" also meant gay parties: the more leisured sometimes went to two parties in one day. Dancing, tennis, whist and boating were great favorites.
Socialites moved in tightly-knit groups and it was very important to be seen in the company of and to invite the "right" people. Everybody knew and talked to everybody and it was a common, smiling complaint that shopping was difficult because of the gregarious nature of citizens. An expedition downtown to Spencer's or the Hudson's Bay Company store could easily resolve itself into a half completed shopping list and a pot of tea, a piece of "Golden Rod" cake and chit-chat at Clay's, the caterers. But it was a very good era for the housewife. Housewives enjoyed service of a standard incomparably better than that they enjoy today. Tradesmen could not easily replace a lost customer and their politeness amounting almost to servility, was on a par with the punctuality of deliveries to customers' homes. Especially important to retailers was the patronage of the old families and the newer middle class. Many among the latter were retired Imperial Army men from India, ex-officials of the customs service in China and widows in good financial standing. They accounted for a large proportion of those of British birth who doubled their numbers in the 20 years to 1931.
Keeping the goodwill of the more prestigious families sometimes meant barter deals. Towards the end of the century, Mrs. J. D. Pemberton paid an account with cabbages; three dozen eggs in lieu of cash settled the amount owing by another customer, while Mrs. Arthur Bunster, the brewer's wife, tendered beer in settlement of her account. Refrigeration and the supermarket were unknown in the early 1920's. Cheese was cut from 25-pound slabs, sugar scooped from a bin, bacon bought by the piece or sliced before the customer's eyes at the counter. Victoria abounded in well-stocked specialty shops, among the more prominent being the delicatessens of Mrs. E. J. Dale, M. S. Harvey and Mrs. J. J. Johnson, all on lower Fort Street; the florists Ballantyne's, Brown's.
Victoria and Layritz nurseries, and A. J. Woodward & Sons (still today in 600 block Fort Street). Outstanding stationers and booksellers were Barber & Hold- 211 croft ( who recently closed down), Horseshoe Book, Macey Abell & Co., Sweeny McConnell, Victoria Book & Stationery and T. N. Hibben. In the furniture business leading merchants were J. Bartholomew & Sons in the 1100 block Fort, Home Furniture, then at 712 Fort, Smith & Champion, the Weiler Furniture Co., and Standard Furniture Co., while in the "fancy goods" category the Persian Art Store, Green's Jewelry Store and the Needlecraft Shop were much patronized. Women bought their hats from any of 11 milliners of whom only three are still in business today, namely: Crown Millinery, Miss Frith and Malleks Ltd. The footwear field was led by Maynards, Hawkes, Munday and the Old Country Shoe Store.
But Victoria was still very much a man's town. Men had not only the clubs to themselves but also 30 cigar stores and eight shoeshine parlours. The cigar stores included the Callender stores on Yates Street, the Columbia, Empire and Horseshoe stores, E. A. Morris, still today at 1116 Government Street, and Two Jacks Dope two blocks along (at 1313) . Among the most popular restaurants apart from the Empress Hotel were the White Lunch at 554 Johnson, the Poodle Dog, the Strathcona, New England Hotel, 1312 Government Street and the still popular Old British Fish & Chips on Broad Street.
A large salmon could be picked up from the Outer Whad fishermen for 25 cents. Most people used the streetcars, a far less expensive method than the motorcar of getting around. Domestic labor also was cheap and abundant. A Chinese would often work for and live with one family from boyhood to his death. There was little competing advertising to cause the frantic rush for "bargains." Through the decades Victorians had become accustomed to very "genteel" forms of advertising, in striking contrast to those of today. While today the public considers price all important, up to around 40 years ago to mention prices in advertising would have been considered rather vulgar. Going back to the earliest years Janion & Green in 1860 were somewhat hesitatingly advertising sugars and groceries with no men Colonist. In the same year Lester & Gibbs, the coloured grocers at Yates and Waddington Streets, announced in an equally minute advertisement that they sold self-raising flour, bacon, firkins of Hope butter, Java and Rio coffee, black tea, crushed sugar and Worcester sauce.
By 1870 advertisements were calling attention not to prices, but to connections. Fredk. Reynolds, Family Butcher, announced merely that he was "Purveyor by arrangement to H.M. Royal Navy," Van Volkenburgh & Co., that they were "Purveyors to His Excellency the Marquis of Lorne and Royal Highness Princess Louise." They gave no address, but climaxed, or anti-climaxed their imposing introduction in very small print with "geese, turkeys." Merchants did not hold sales, but "auctions." Lumley Franklin announced that he would auction at his sales room on Yates Street "an assortment of wines, groceries and liquors," and C. T. Millard ( Wharf Street foot Yates) "salt beef, butter, codfish, dried peaches, cheese, soap, split peas, oatmeal, peaches and jellies." Food advertising coincided generally with the arrival of ships. The Hudson's Bay Company, then on Wharf Street, announced: "NEW GOODS ex PRINCESS ROYAL" and listed sugar, tea, pickles, sauces, cheese and salt.
Janion & Rhodes announced "Ex ALPHA" Scotch oatmeal, new currants, figs and table salt. Even in 1912 The Farmers' Exchange, a downtown store, were advertising food items with no indication of price. This reticence was on its way out in the Gay Twenties. Kirkham's Grocery on Fort Street probably started the new trend with a large quarter page advertisement in 1922 giving items and prices. The Hudson's Bay Company, which opened its present department store in 1921 after it had stood empty for seven years, took a succession of full page advertisements in the daily papers, competing with Spencer's, the only other large regular advertiser, for prominence. The notable feature of their full page advertisement is that food and prices are buried in a small square in the corner. They quoted: "Marmalade -4 lbs. $1.00; Tea 60 to 80¢ a lb; coffee 65¢ in 213 lacquered tin; pastry flour 49 lbs. for $2.75; Wesson's cooking oil 15 oz. 50¢; butter 48¢; potatoes 10 lbs. 25¢."
Food was astonishingly expensive. A good wage in those days would have been $100 a month. Compare that with a below average wage of $500 a month today, multiply 1921 prices by five and we get: Marmalade 4 lbs. for $5. Tea $3 to $4 a lb.; coffee $3.25 a lb.; butter $2.40 lb.; potatoes 12½¢ lb. This too was at a time when people walked a lot and were hearty eaters. And yet old-timers maintain they not only ate well, but could put money in the bank too. People did not have to spend on automobiles, oil heating, refrigerators, electric washers and driers; houses too were, for the ordinary people, much smaller. An advertisement in those times asking for carpenters on an out of town job offering $3.00 a day less board $1.25 indicates the large proportion of the budget which went on food. In the "Gay Twenties" two upheavals occurred which shook society to its foundations. One was prohibition, the other the great depression.
Nothing else could have changed so drastically the appearance of downtown Victoria as prohibition. Saloons were banned from 9 1 7 to 1921. Eighty hotels and saloons, including the Brown Jug and its 50-foot-long bar, largest in the West, the Dallas Hotel and Cliff House opposite the rifle range at Clover Point were forced to close. Very few proprietors were as fortunate as those of the Angel Hotel on Langley Street who were able to sell the site for the Federal Government Building. Most of the 109 hotels and saloons, deprived of their bar revenue, became rundown and some like the Occidental the abode of prostitutes. Victoria's appearance was transformed as one hotel after another came under the wrecker's hammer but the ghosts of old downtown Victoria can still be seen on lower Johnson Street in premises like those of the American Hotel at 533 Yates, now used as a food warehouse. Naturally enough, Victoria's considerable brewing interests fought prohibition fiercely.
The author is indebted to Herbert Anscomb, who was in the prohibition years prominently associated with brewing interests, for much of the information which follows. Herbert Anscomb came here from Maidstone, Kent, in 1911, worked for the Victoria Phoenix (now Lucky Lager Breweries) and Victoria owes to his ability one of its oldest surviving industries, the Growers Wine Company. He was Victoria's youngest mayor (1929-31), reeve of Oak Bay 1925-27, co-premier in the John Hart and Byron Johnson governments, a Leader of the Opposition and at times Minister of Finance. The brewers were unfortunate in that Premier Wm. Bowser (19 15-16), who was inclined to prohibition was succeeded by Harlan C. Brewster, a Baptist and total abstainer. Bowser limited liquor sales. Brewster, British Columbia's first Liberal premier, banned them altogether. There can be little doubt that Brewster's fanatical anti-alcoholism was partly due to the abuse of liquor in Clayoquot where he served some time as a bookkeeper. In Clayoquot meals were not served, but "poured." The government lost little revenue by banning liquor.
Liquor revenue was derived mainly from licence fees and in Victoria these went to the city. Brewing interests were especially annoyed because Bowser, as attorney-general, had ordered all hotels to have guest rooms in order to stop pseudo-hotels from selling liquor. When the brewers, who were interested in many hotels, complied at enormous expense, Brewster came along and with him prohibition. The brewers were given no compensation. One of the Reverend Inkster's main arguments was that grain used for brewing liquor could be used to feed the poor, but he did not explain how the poor were to pay the farmer for his grain or whether they were interested in a grain diet. When the ship in which Inkster was voyaging to New Zealand was mined and he was rescued, brewers were rather sorry. Prohibition or no prohibition Victorians loved their drink and 215 circumvented the law by devious ways. Many ordered liquor in Alberta and took delivery at a local warehouse.
Alcohol could be obtained on prescription from drug stores and citizens developed a plague of colds calling for the prescription of Double "O", or Old Orkney whiskey. There was a tremendous increase in home-brewing and wine-making. As people were going to get their drink anyway, Premier John Oliver's government (1918-27) decided to compromise by going into the liquor business itself. The first government liquor store was on Yates Street west of the Dominion Hotel. Government liquor stores were popularly known as John Oliver's drug stores. The government's venture into the liquor trade has proved most profitable. Liquor in the 1969-70 fiscal year yielded $61,000,000 in profits. After the repeal of prohibition, sale of liquor by the glass was permitted by local option only. In 1931 Victoria turned down this option. The result was a run on taverns outside the city limits where beer could be obtained. This resulted in considerable traffic to taverns in Esquimalt and others outside the city area, notably Six Mile House, Four-Mile House and John Day's Ship Inn. The restoration of more civilized drinking amenities was a long process.
When saloons were again allowed customers had to sit down and drink. Before prohibition they had to stand. The saloons were also provided with separate lounges for women. This recognition of women's right to equal treatment with the men is said to be due to a Victorian "Sylvia Pankhurst," who walked into the Balmoral Hotel (the site now occupied by Canada Permanent at Fort and Douglas Streets) and demanded to be served. It was not customary for women to enter saloons and the barman refused to serve her. The woman sued, her case eventually came before the Supreme Court and it was ruled that a woman was "a person" within the meaning of the legislation. Victoria got its first cocktail lounge in 1954 in the Strathcona Hotel. Soon afterwards music was permitted in places where drink was sold.
Prohibition may have been a disaster for Victoria's hotels and saloons, but the introduction of prohibition in the U.S.A. under the Volstead Act (1917-1933) contributed to the fortunes of many local businessmen. The smuggling of liquor to the States became a vast business. Whiskey was trucked from local warehouses to Spoon Bay in the Uplands, Smugglers' Cove in Gordon Head and other points and shipped from there at night to keep rendezvous with United States receiving vessels. Liquor ships also left Kingston's Wharf and handed over their cargoes to United States ships at lonely Gulf Island spots and sometimes even went as far as San Francisco. One boat, The Ark, was operated by Frank Clark, son of a city policeman. The twin-screw S.S. Kitniakwa was operated by Johnny Schnarr and the M.31 by Capt. Boydell. The weekly Alexander boats from San Francisco which docked here, also packed liquor for thirsting United States compatriots. Smuggled liquor was wrapped in burlap and Eli Bean, a local junk dealer, used to sell 3,000 sacks a week to one outlet alone.
Liquor was also smuggled in double-bottomed scows which took lime from quarries near Six Mile House to Seattle. A whole fleet of liquor ships was owned by Western Freighters who paid wages quadruple those of Canadian Pacific Steamships, namely $250 for a seaman against C.P.S.'s $60 to $65. Victorians, it will be seen, found a way to circumvent prohibition, but there was no way of circumventing the world-wide depression. The depression was first felt in Victoria towards the end of 1929, a year notable for Winston Churchill's address to the Canadian Club. It reached its greatest depth in 1932 when 12,000 of the area's 40,000 people were on relief and every second worker was out of a job. In Saanich 380 out of 1,500 families were on relief.
Douglas, Johnson, Government and Yates Streets were full of beggars. Cars almost disappeared because few could afford gas. Cinemas and restaurants cut prices. Crime increased. Many houses and business premises were burgled. Even the planks from sidewalks were stolen. Many school teachers were dismissed as parents could not afford to buy their children school clothing. In 1932 when Canada had 800,000 unemployed, the province's overdraft for unemployment relief was $2,393,600 and the city's relief expenditure $164,143, or 8.5 % of the budget. Building permits show the extent of the decline. In 1931 city permits totaled $1,892,262. In 1932 they were only $389,673- a decrease of 81%.
Sawmills closed down, Yarrows, the Victoria Machinery Depot and the Federal dry-dock cut staffs to the bone; the Empress Hotel staff outnumbered guests. A relief camp, one of several, was set up at Macaulay Point and paid single men 20 cents a day with board. The city put many unemployed to work at Macdonald Park, paying them $1 a day. The relief dole for a married man was $20 a month. Retailers and landlords also suffered heavily. People could not meet their obligations for the ordinary necessities of life. Many landlords considered it better to let their tenants live rent free rather than have their property empty and exposed to vandalism. The city would have liked to help the needy more than it did, but it was itself badly in debt. It had in fact been in financial difficulties long before the depression. By 1937 the city had $16,000,000 in bonded debts and had made two issues, one of $1,008,000 and one of $500,000 for relief alone.
It was able to refinance its obligations, but the effects of this are still felt today in city budgets. Houses sold for tax arrears in 1929 sometimes fetched as little as $900 apiece. Affairs would have been still worse for Victoria, depending as it does so largely on government employment, if the Kidd report had been adopted by the legislature. This report recommended a 30 to 50% cut in civil servants and the halving of the salaries of the remainder. The report was partly responsible for the downfall of the Conservative Simon Fraser Tolmie government and for the victory of Liberal "Duff" Patullo, who won the election with the slogan "Work and Wages" - a completely meaningless platform as the depression was world-wide and far beyond the remedial powers of a provincial government.
The Salvation Army as usual was in the forefront of the battle against hardship. It sold booklets of meal tickets to householders, the tickets to be given to needy callers. Some consequences of the depression were falling birthrates, more marital problems and more hospital (mental depression) cases. But although Victoria had to contend with numerous demonstrations by the unemployed, it never experienced the vicious labor disorders of Vancouver and on the whole people did not feel the depression so much, bad though it was, as other parts of the Dominion. One reason was that it cost money to cross from the Mainland to Victoria and many of those who "rode the rods" from the East to Vancouver could get no farther. Again, most people had gardens and could fish or otherwise supply many of their day-to-day food needs. Many generous owners of orchards had signs erected : "Help yourself. Take all you want." But the amelioration of some of the worst effects of the depression was due also to the very active community spirit and to the good sense of the better-to-do who not only gave what they could, but curtailed parties, feeling it wrong to be enjoying themselves when so many were in need.
In so doing they showed much greater common sense than the middle classes of Germany, consisting largely of Jews, during the depression. It was the ostentation of these classes while most were in need which aroused the envy and resentment of the German people and helped to provide fuel for the anti-Semitic flames which Hitler later kindled and exploited. In an effort to dispel the gloom of businessmen during the depression, A. Carmichael addressed the Real Estate Board on January 23, 1931 and urged them to look at the progress the city had made since 1913. He cited the opening of the Crystal Garden in 1925 which had the largest indoor swimming pool in North America, the Empress Hotel, the Kresge Block, Woolworth's (formerly the Vernon Building), Fletcher Bros. Building, the Hudson's Bay Company store and the Bank of Montreal building.
The old livery stables on Broughton Street had been converted 219 into a stage depot for the Vancouver Island Transportation Co., and Victoria had been enriched by the C.P .R. Marine Building, the Memorial Hall and the first unit of Christ Church Cathedral. "Numerous 'handsome' oil and gas stations have replaced ugly vacant corners," Mr. Carmichael added and electric light users had increased from 12,927 in 1912 to 20,823 in 1930. He noted also that tourists had increased from 200,000 in 1923 to 360,000 in 1927. Mr. Carmichael might have mentioned in addition the construction of the Oak Bay Beach Hotel (by Major Merston in 1927), the new Johnson Street bascule span bridge erected at a cost of $918,000 in 1924, the hopes for a movie industry engendered by a film company's construction of a "cow town" in Willows Park and the first flight for paying passengers from Lansdowne Airport on August 3, 1928.
Lansdowne Road, incidentally, was formerly known as Dean's Cross Road, Dean's farm being in the southeast corner of Richmond Road and Dean's Cross Road. The 30-acre airfield was bounded by Lansdowne, Shelbourne, Richmond and Newton Streets and the owner of the land, Mrs. G. H. Scott, gave B.C. Airways an option to purchase the land for $77,000. Unfortunately B.C. Airways tri-motor Ford disappeared on a flight to Seattle three weeks later. If Mr. Carmichael's speech had been delivered three years later it would have been better timed. The depth of the depression was reached a year after he spoke. But then the virus which had slowed down the economic pulse of the world began to lose its potency. The patient began to fight back. Britain went off the gold standard, world prices started to recover, confidence to return. It was a slow process. A mill starting up again here, a shop opening there. Then came the Second World War with its demand for lumber, cement, ships, housing.