A Stormy Decade

THE LAST EIGHT YEARS OF THE 1870 to 1880 decade were with the exception of the 1930 depression years the most dismal in Victoria's economic history. The population declined from 7,000 when the last royal governor left office in 1871 to under 6,000 ten years later. Hundreds became destitute. Hundreds more emigrated to the States where conditions were not much better. Many went back to Eastern Canada or worked their way by ship to England. Yet this was the Confederation decade. It started off with the brightest prospects.

By 1870, Victoria had partially recovered from the letdowns which followed the Fraser River and Cariboo gold rushes. With the departure of the transient gold-seekers and merchants and the establishment of the Legislature for the whole of British Columbia in Victoria, the city's economy seemed to be on a reduced but firmer base. In fact during Anthony Musgrave's two years as royal governor ( 1869-71 ) the city's population had doubled.

Joseph Trutch, the first Lieutenant-Governor who succeeded Musgrave, had brought back from Ottawa most generous terms in return for the province joining the Confederation. They included construction of a trans-Canada railroad terminating in Victoria, work to begin within two years. The province was to receive $100,000 per annum for its graciousness in allowing Ottawa to build it.

The shrewder citizens saw government jobs, political appointments, contracts for supplying the railroad builders, endless opportunities in real estate speculation and all the benefits obtainable through distant federal supervision of expenditures incurred locally. Had anybody told the roistering crowds that within a decade the premier of a poverty-stricken and despairing province would be suggesting that Vancouver Island become a separate kingdom with its own queen, H.R.H. Princess Louise, he would have been considered a super-Jeremiah.

By 1871 dwellings had stretched beyond the Douglas-Johnson Courtenay-Wharf street boundaries of 1862 to Pembroke Street in the north, easterly to Quadra, to a good part of James Bay in the south with Wharf Street, as before in the west. But within this area were many vacant lots. Before the 1858 Fraser River stampede there were very few dwellings which could be called residences. There was James Douglas's home where the Provincial Museum now is (a tablet marks its site) .

Orchard House was built in the early 1860's at 600 Michigan, almost opposite the home of Macdonald, the unfortunate banker. Out of town, a couple of hundred feet north of Fort Rodd was Belmont House, built by Chief Justice David Cameron about 1855. Belmont House overlooked Esquimalt Lagoon. Not a trace of it remains today. It was the scene of many gay parties in its time and its grounds later became part of Hatley Park (Royal Roads).

David Cameron owed his affluence to Royal Governor Douglas, his brother-in-law. The appointment created great friction because Cameron did not have many qualifications except his kinship with Douglas. He had been an unsuccessful cloth dealer in Scotland and a coal mines clerk before being promoted to the Bench. Also erected in this period ( in 1863) was the home on Carr Street (now incorporated in Government Street) where the talented Victorian artist Emily Carr was to be born eight years later.

The Carr residence on the northeast comer of Simcoe and Government Streets is now being restored by the Emily Carr Foundation. Emily was known as "Klee Wyck" (the smiling one) by the Indians in whose villages she painted. She did not do much smiling at home, being thought a willful child by her family. She was happier with the Carr's cows than with her sisters, and was frequently banished to the barn to keep the cows company where she could indulge unimpeded in her enjoyment of cigarettes. Her new bold style of painting earned her nothing but hostility in Victoria and Emily frequently stuffed her work in the garbage can.

When after her father's death the family fell on hard times Emily lived on Simcoe Street and took in boarders. Not one to be trifled with, she turned the hose on one of them. Not until she was 58 did Emily become famous, Ottawa having recognized her talent. She was careless of her appearance ... many living residents recall her pushing a battered pram downtown for groceries, her petticoat showing beneath her skirt; but she was meticulous in her work. No Canadian artist has excelled her in ability to portray British Columbia mountain, forest and sea. No artist has managed to emulate the stark, almost savage majesty she brought to her studies of nature.

Her work today is highly prized and very valuable. She died in 1945. The Carr home was originally on a 10 acre lot which provided the family with vegetables and milk as was the custom of the times. The lot was subdivided to allow room for a hotel, the Park Hotel, the site now occupied by the Emily Carr apartments on Douglas Street. Buyer of the site in 1863 was Bill Lush who promised he wouldn't run a tavern, but soon broke his promise and the Carr family had to put up a fence to shield them from the noise and drunks.  Bill Lush came to a bad end. He assaulted a Royal Navy marine for which the magistrate fined him $150. He went back to his tavern, swallowed strychnine and died.

Vernon Villa, later renamed Ivy Hill, was the home of Donald Fraser, M.L.A and later became the home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Vernon, Charles being a pottery manufacturer and gold commissioner and related to Donald Fraser. Mrs. Vernon was the daughter of Mrs. Duncan McTavish, and Mrs. McTavish bought the home from her daughter and renamed it Ivy Hill. A path led up Ivy Hill to the R. P. Rithet family next door. A wedding (famous in its time) took place from Ivy Hill ... that of Margaret Elizabeth McTavish to a wealthy New Yorker, Dr. E. Fuller.

The McTavish's, of course, were one of the great landowning families of Victoria. Although Victoria in the early 1870's was, architecturally, nothing to call attention to, the pioneers could congratulate themselves that they had at least made a dent in what was till they came, an Indian preserve. A start had been made on hospitals (St. Joseph's and what was to become the Royal Jubilee), education was looked after in the Colonial and Craigflower schools, a police court and judiciary were functioning.

The three hospital buildings erected in Esquimalt in 1855 to accommodate possible casualities from the Crimean War were still in existence. They have since been demolished ... the last of them in 1939. Public buildings included the new Court House (1860) and the Colonial Police Barracks ( 1861 ) in the Birdcage assembly of buildings, the firehall on Yates Street ( 1861 ) , the drill room and the jail on Langley Street ( built 1862). The Wootton home of California redwood went up in 1859 at Courtney and Quadra. The house was demolished in 1952 and the site is now that of the fine new Y.M.C.A. building.

The Woottons are a well-known Victoria family. Henry Wootton, a former ship's officer, arrived here in 1858 and got the position of Harbourmaster to which was later added that of Postmaster, the previous postmaster having disappeared with a large sum of money. He brought out his wife from England and their daughter Anne married Elliott Hammond King. The latter was not so fortunate in his attempts to get a livelihood. He started a newspaper, calling it the Victoria Gazette.

But the former Victoria Gazette had stopped publishing only a few months before and the publishers sued him for using the name of their paper. The Victoria Gazette had earlier printed all official bulletins and it seems that Elliott Hammond King's secondary object in starting a new Gazette was to get the job of Queen's Printer. But his newspaper folded and nothing came of the job.

The Wootton-King alliance yielded a daughter, Annie and two sons, Henry and Ted. The sons founded the still functioning King Bros. ship brokers. Henry also helped to fit out Victoria's famous dug-out Tillicum. The 30-foot Tillicum sailed with Captain John Voss and a newspaperman named Luxton from Oak Bay and across the Pacific in 1904. Luxton deserted the vessel at first opportunity, Voss took on another crewman, who was washed overboard, and eventually arrived in Margate, England, after an epic 40,000-mile voyage.

The story of the Tillicum thrilled readers all over the world. In London Captain Voss was made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, but he was a man of uncertain temper and departed England leaving the Tillicum to rot. It was brought back to Victoria thanks largely to the efforts of Geo. I. Warren who helped to locate her and induced two Greenwich Yacht Club members to part with her. He raised the funds for her return by freighter and she is now lodged in the city's Maritime Museum.* Citizens evinced mercurial optimism during the first few years of the Confederation decade. There was much private and public building. Erin Hall, home of the Nesbitts (a grandson is well known as a Victoria historian and for his laudable efforts to preserve what is worth preserving in our environment) went up in 1874. A novelty of Erin Hall was a 20,000-gallon water tank which supplied every room. The house cost around $10,000 ($75,000 today). The site with its several acres now houses many smaller dwellings. The original Samuel Nesbitt had a biscuit factory at 59 Yates.

Later, Nesbitt's cracker factory moved to Fort Street, between Langley and Wharf Streets. Wentworth Villa went up on Fort Street hill, a mile from town. It was the home of Mrs. Blinkhom who arrived with her husband and niece Martha Cheney in 1851 after a seven-month voyage round the Cape in the 300-ton barque Tory. The building with its "sugar cake" eaves still stands at 1156 Fort and houses antiques (The Connoisseur Shop). The Blinkhorns managed the Bilston Farm at Metchosin. When her husband died Mrs. Blinkhom moved into Wentworth Villa with her niece who had meanwhile married Captain Henry Ella, a handsome officer of the Hudson's Bay Company. 

The dearly loved old lady died at the ripe age of 80 leaving many good works behind her. Captain Henry Ella's tragic death in 1873 while crossing Burrard Inlet in a canoe (the taxi of those days) ended 18 years of happy married life for Martha. Before and after marriage Martha kept a detailed diary of life among the few who made up Victoria's early society. People walked, canoed and rode tremendous distances. Company was sought for its own sake. John Muir of Muir's sawmill in Sooke (he bought it from Captain Grant) and his sons John and Archibald used to ride to the Metchosin farm.

Captain Grant, the erratic surveyor, travelled to Sooke by canoe, calling in at Metchosin on the way. Martha travelled by canoe to the Governor's ball at Fort Victoria and attended a party on the warship Trincomalee, riding horseback back to Bilston farm next day. The Langfords ( including daughters) and Mrs. Skinner and baby used to visit Metchosin on foot. Dr. Helmcken frequently walked from Victoria or his View Royal farm to Metchosin. Prominent people Martha mentions in her diary include the Rev. Robert Staines (the ecclesiastical pig fancier) and wife, Governor James Douglas, Captain and Mrs. Cooper, Mr. and Mrs. Barr, the two Miss Reids, Mr. Newton, Mr. Pearse, Mr. McKay and Mr. Martin. Captain Cooper and James Douglas never agreed.

The captain was a stout, irascible former Hudson's Bay skipper and a thorn in the governor's side from the moment he arrived. He met Blinkhorn on the voyage out and with him built a schooner to ship lumber to San Francisco. Then he tried to ship cranberries from the Mainland. Douglas regarded both moves as an infringement of the Company's trading rights and banned the cranberry shipments. But Douglas needed cash to run the Colony. Liquor then, as now, seemed a promising source of revenue.

The moral issue - debauching of Indians and Company employees could also be invoked. Douglas proposed to license liquor vendors and also that members of the Executive Council be barred from the trade. Cooper being in partnership with notorious liquor vendor James Yates (Yates Tavern on Yates Street) at first angrily opposed Douglas, but Douglas knew his man. After being generously plied with H.B. liquor, Cooper agreed to his proposals. An hour or two later, as the effects of the hospitality wore off, Cooper's earlier objections returned. He visited his partner in Yates Tavern and stimulated by more alcohol and the bawling out he received from Yates he staggered into the street yelling "Down with the Hudson's Bay Company! Down with monopoly!" Finally he went down himself for more than the count - most enjoyable for the onlookers.

Cooper sold out in 1856, went to England and protested against the high-handedness of the Company. He came back to Victoria and when Britain took over the Colony from the Hudson's Bay Company was, to the disgust of Douglas, appointed harbourmaster in 1859. Insult to injury, he hadn't paid the Company for his land and owed a large debt to their store. Cooper was a surety for the British Colonist which under editor DeCosmos constantly abused Douglas. He later sold out his Esquimalt land at a profit and went to New Westminster, heading a campaign for a subsidized steamer service to San Francisco which would put the Mainland in a more competitive position with Victoria ... again to Douglas's annoyance.

Martha Cheney frequently mentions hurricane-like winds and rains and bad trails. She churned butter, did the ironing and had numerous children and grandchildren when she died well on in years in Wentworth Villa. Another home in Martha Cheney's time was that of Henry Pering Pellew Crease (the legal firm of Crease & Co. perpetuates his name) who built "Pentrelew" in 1874.

The name is Cornish for "sloping two ways" and the home, now the Victoria Truth Center, sloped towards Linden and Rockland. Henry Crease was born in Cornwall, the son of Captain Harry Crease, R.N. He became the first barrister in Victoria when he arrived in 1858 and later a member of the Legislative Council and Justice of the Supreme Court. Crease was known as the "Father of the Bar" and in view of the times in which he lived it is important to state that this was a legal and not bibulous qualification. His wife must have been very devoted to him. She made the journey via the Panama with three daughters. After surviving the blows of this voyage and six years in New Westminster, she suffered a blow on land when the Crease home burned down just as they were about to move in.

The burned home was replaced with "Pentrelew" and it was a very gay place. Lady Crease as she became after her husband was knighted reckoned that every admiral in the Royal Navy had climbed as a midshipman the cherry trees in the five-acre Pentrelew grounds. A few hundred yards from "Pentrelew" was the home of banker A. A. Green which is now the Victoria Art Gallery. Banker Green must have taken great business risks for the Land Registry records show that his land was consigned to creditors.

The home was acquired by David Spencer who moved there. Henry Crease and David Spencer jointly purchased a 10 a-acre estate.  David Spencer, in addition to looking after his extensive retailing interests, found time to raise 13 children. The children grew up in a 10-room home built in 1874 at the south end of James Bay Bridge. One son, Chris, built a home next door to his father in James Bay and lived there until 1910. After David Spencer moved with his remaining children into what is now the Art Gallery, his original James Bay home became the Poplars boarding house ... a somewhat un-savoury place according to then current reports.

Next door to Chris Spencer lived Cameron, a clothing merchant. Michigan Street. Enlivening the somewhat sombre decade was the marriage in 1878 of Martha, youngest daughter of Sir James Douglas to C.P.R. survey official Dennis R. Harris at the Reformed Episcopal Church. This was one of the unforeseen by-products of Confederation. Bridesmaids were the Misses Helmcken, McTavish, Gridge, MacDonald, Langley, Wallace, Tolmie and Bushby.

Some of them seem to have been a bit overworked. Their names appear at numerous weddings. The groomsmen were Messrs. R. Gridge, A. W. Jones and A. Mackenzie. Martha and her husband did not travel far for their honeymoon. Destination was Steven's Hotel, Saanich. Two years before, another well-known Victoria resident tied the marital knot for the second time. B. W. Pearse of Femwood married Miss Jennie Palmer. The Misses McTavish and MacDonald were again among the bridesmaids.

Pearse who, it will be recalled, laid out the townsite with Pemberton, built Femwood, a small stone house, at Vining and Begbie Streets in 1860. To judge by the frequency with which his name appears on title deeds, he must have speculated a lot and done very well out of land during the gold rushes. Femwood, with additions made in 1883, became a two-storey mansion of 15 rooms. The estate was bounded by Fort, Haultain, Victoria High School and Richmond (Jubilee Hospital) . Pearse died in 1902. The estate was valued at $290,000 and the A THE LAURELS B SPENCER ( ART GALLERY) C PENTRELEW (CREASE) D CRAIG DARROCH (DUNSMUIR) E NESBITT F PRIOR G BARNARD (DUVALS) house demolished in 1969..

Pearse became resident engineer of the Public Works Department of Canada after Confederation. It is remarkable as one follows the careers of eminent Victorians how politics and public appointments were intertwined. Take the case of Senator William John MacDonald. His home, "Armadale," was the showplace of Victoria for many years. The stone-towered two-storey mansion stood in 28 acres of park at Ogden Point. It was built in 1876 by the Senator, who, incidentally is responsible for Victoria Day becoming a national holiday. "Armadale" had a dining room 18 x 20 feet, a library 14 x 18 feet and a 12-foot-wide entrance hall. MacDonald Park in James Bay is part of the estate and Niagara Street cuts through the driveway out of which used to emerge the senator's handsome equipage. "Armadale" was a centre of political and social life and a home away from home for Royal Navy officers.

John MacDonald was by all worldly portents a successful man. A pioneer resident, he lived after marriage in 1857 in "Glendale," a cottage on Gordon Street which later became the Badminton Club and then the site of the first Union Club building. Of his six children, Mary married a Royal Navy commander in 1896 and Flora the manager of the Bank of British North America, Gavin Hamilton Burns, in 1890. In its shabby later years "Armadale" became a night spot, fell into ruin and was demolished in this century.

Other notable homes built in the early 1870's were the Charles home at 1038 Fort Street (north side, west of Cook). It was on an acre of land. W.M. Charles was a senior Hudson's Bay Company official. Avalon Villa fronting on Beacon Hill Park was built in 1870 by Peter John Leech, who discovered the Leechtown gold. Peter Leech could have operated a travel agency without ever consulting a map. Before coming here with the Royal Engineers in 1858 he had served in the Crimean War and with General Charles Gordon in Khartoum. He then surveyed northern British Columbia, and on one trip was reduced to making soup out of a dogskin coat, being saved from starvation only by the arrival of some Kispiox Indians.

Leech was one of the lucky few to get a bride from the brideship Tynemouth. Mary MacDonald was one of four sisters in the ship and Mrs. Leech became well known as the organist in the Reverend Cridge's Reformed Episcopal Church. "Avalon" was an ugly two-storeyed house. When it was built Beacon Hill Park opposite was deep forest with a frog pond. There was no Douglas Street. The Goodacre Towers apartment ( north corner of Avalon Street) is now on the site. As a result of Confederation several Federal buildings went up, providing welcome employment. A new wooden drill hall near the Birdcage buildings was built in 1874.

Formerly volunteers had drilled in premises on Broughton Street. H.M.C.S. Malahat on Wharf Street, believed to be the oldest Federal building in Victoria, was started in 1871 and completed three years later. It was originally the Custom House and became the Armed Services recruiting centre in 1959. The City Council was also infected by the initial enthusiasm engendered by Confederation. The Council approved a water bylaw to borrow $100,000 and in 1873 the foundation stone was laid of the Victoria Waterworks Co.

Previously water had been brought from Spring Ridge (at Fernwood and Vining Streets) by the Spring Ridge Waterworks Co., the price having fallen from 25 cents a bucket in 1858 to 20 buckets for $1 in the early seventies. The roof fell in on all this optimism and prosperity in 1873. A financial panic hit the continent. Ottawa, on whose promises Victoria's future was predicted, was as badly hit as any. Factories and shops closed down. Unemployment became rife. Revenues declined.

For Ottawa it was fiscally and politically impossible to honour the generous offers made to Lieutenant-Governor Trutch in return for British Columbia joining Confederation. It hit Victoria like a thunderbolt to learn that construction of the trans-Canada railroad would not only be postponed, but the terminus when it was built would not be in Victoria. To soften the blow Lord Carnarvon, Governor-General, proposed immediate construction of the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway, but the Ottawa government would have none of it. Despair gripped every heart in Victoria. Her whole future seemed blighted. With one decision Ottawa had knocked away the main prop of her economy. Despairing of an economic recovery, residents became politically instead of business activated. What could be extracted from Ottawa became the burning topic in the Legislature, in clubs, in business houses, saloons and homes.