IN THE LAST TWO DECADES TO 1970 Victoria has seen changes greater than any in her history. The city has been transformed from a "Sleepy Hollow" to a bustling modern city. The transformation began with new and better buildings. The B.C. Power Commission Building on Blanshard Street broke a construction halt of decades when it was erected in 1951. In the same year the huge block-long Douglas Building went up, providing accommodation for the many hundreds of additional civil servants demanded by the trend to greater bureaucratic control of everyone's life.
These new buildings were followed by the B.C. Electric structure at Pandora and Blanshard Streets, in 1954, a private enterprise corporation which was soon to fall victim to the socialist component of the Social Credit government policy. Heralding the awakening from a lengthy torpor, downtown Victoria got its first office building proper in 40 years with the erection of the Canada Trust headquarters at 650 View Street in 1956. This was followed with the new Law Courts (1962) built at a cost of $2,377,000, Canada Permanent Building, corner of Douglas and Fort Streets in 1963, the Bentall Building in 1964 at 1070 Douglas, replacing McEwen's restaurant which had occupied the site for 10 years, and Executive House in 1965 at the junction of Douglas and Humboldt Streets.
But these buildings were only the beginning. International House went up in 1969 on the site of the former Woodward's stores, the Toronto-Dominion Bank Building at Douglas and Johnson Streets, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce structure at View and Douglas and a new office block at View and Quadra. Away from downtown the "Murals" Montreal Trust Building was erected at 1057 Fort and the Alexis Building at Quadra and Fort. These were only two of a large number of new office blocks. Even greater were the changes outside the city proper. James Bay became largely an apartment complex with the Simcoes, Regent Towers, Beacon Towers and other buildings. The Dallas Road waterfront was transformed in the same way and the 78-suite Camosack Manor erected in 1967 dominated Victoria's skyline by day as the nearby water tower with its "torch" illuminated the night sky.
Farther out still, huge, modem shopping centres like the Town & Country, Mayfair, Hillside and Shelbourne Plaza testified to the purchasing power of the rapidly increasing urban population. With the expansion, Victoria's leisurely way of life disappeared. Downtown Victoria where women in 1950 used to shuffle into Safeway in slippers and haircurlers, became dominated by brisk businessmen. The leisurely arm signals of traffic police were replaced with signs telling pedestrians when they could and couldn't walk and red, yellow and amber lights. Tremendous parking difficulties were offset only partially by the creation of more and more parkades.
Progress demands its price and the price in Victoria's case included the sacrifice of many fine and not-so-fine old homes and landmarks. Old homes, jewels in an emerald setting, gave way of ten to many smaller jewels crowded together with no setting. These changes took place in the city area mainly in the Vancouver-Cook-Blanshard zone, the latter to make room for a low-cost housing development and increased traffic volume. But the environs also were renewed. The old Oak Bay Boathouse was demolished in 1963 to make way for a large, new Marina. The Willows Hotel at Cadboro Bay and Eastdown Roads was sawn in half and carted away in 1960 to allow the erection of Cranleigh House apartments.
Also demolished was the Old Charming Inn at 1420 Beach Drive, where Kipling wrote his ode on a night out in Victoria: A gilded mirror and a polished bar Myriads of glasses strewn ajar. That's my recollection of last night. The streets were narrow and far too long. Sidewalks slippery, policemen strong. The slamming door, the sea-going hack. That's my recollection of getting back. A rickety staircase and hard to climb. But I rested often, I'd lots of time An awkward keyhole and a misplaced chair Informed my wife that I was there.
Kipling's reference to the rickety staircase recalls the fact that the Old Charming Inn, formerly the Oak Bay Hotel, was built in 1905 in 19 days ... a tempo which gave craftsmen little time to achieve perfection. The last proprietors of the Old Charming Inn were the late Stanley and his widow, Mrs. Morrow, whose charm lived up to the name of the Inn. It was pulled down in 1962 to enable construction of Oak Bay's most prestigious apartment block, the Rudyard Kipling. Another price demanded by progress was better road communications. The "narrow and far too long" streets of Kipling's day were replaced with highways where cars could travel three and four abreast and where an official speed limit of 30 miles per hour (honoured more in the breach than in the observance) replaced the six miles per hour limit of 60 years ago.
The alleys of the early days - Waddington (lower Yates to Johnson Streets), Duck Alley, Commercial, Poodle Dog, Wilcox, and alongside Hayward's Funeral Chapel, still exist, but excite only a curious glance today. The mud and furtiveness of these dark passages of the pioneer and later years has given way to illuminated cobble- and hard-topped lanes, most of which serve as the rear entrances to warehouses and there is no trace of former life such as the city's first bowling alley, livery stable and commercial baker which once graced Waddington Alley.
But an enlightened city administration and progressive retailers strove to retain the unique atmosphere. Citizens downtown could walk through newly-created secluded passages on Yates, Government and Fort Streets, the more charming because of their novelty. One passage in the 700 Block Yates Street, had in summer an open air continental-style caffe where the shopper could take coffee beneath gay-coloured sun umbrellas. The city was indebted mainly to three men for the modernization of downtown Victoria, namely Roderick Clack, former city planner who now has a similar post in Ottawa; former mayor R. B. "Dick" Wilson and Thomas Shanks McPherson.
To Roderick Clack's foresight, energetically backed by Mayor Wilson, Victoria owes the planning of Centennial Square, the model renovation of Bastion Square, the remodelling of the attractive City Hall and the harmonious colouring of downtown buildings. Downtown buildings were repainted in accordance with a plan pioneered by the City of Norwich in England and brought to the attention of city administrators by architect John Wade. Thomas Shanks McPherson, after whom the McPherson Theater (once the Totem Cinema) is named, died in 1962 and left over $3,000,000 to be divided between the City of Victoria, the University of British Columbia and other institutions.
It was the greatest legacy in the city's history. McPherson was a bachelor of retiring disposition ... so much so that the greatest difficulty was encountered in finding a photograph of him after he passed away. The extent of his fortune was a surprise to his fellow members of the Union Club where he used to add up and initial carefully every bill he incurred. It was even rumored that in order to save expense he would as winter approached move the desk in his modest office near to the window in order to save switching on the electric light. But like many people who make money he was careful with it. One could say that most of the big fortunes in Victoria were made as a result of personal sacrifice.
For instance David Russell Ker of the great Brackman-Ker milling firm drew only $200 a month when the mills were making thousands of dollars monthly. All profits were reinvested in the business. In this way many of the big businesses the benefits of which we enjoy today were built up. McPherson operated on the principle that a dime saved was a dime earned. He dealt in real estate and his life interest was to build up his investment portfolio. He came to Canada as a young man from Scotland, ran a general store in Nelson and went to California where he engaged in pottery manufacture. Coming to Victoria he operated in real estate and insurance, one of his biggest ventures being the construction with others of the Central Building on View Street in 1911.
During the great depression the Central Building had only one rent-paying tenant, but McPherson survived this. He developed much land in and around the Colwood area, including the Colwood Golf Club itself where he frequently played and was proud of the fact that he achieved a hole-in-one on each of the four par three's. So wise was McPherson in his investments that his $3,225,000 fortune increased around 50% in the five years between his death and the funds becoming available to the city, university and other beneficiaries. International Nickel and Cominco were in his portfolio. But the McPherson bequest, generous though it was, would have been of small account without the general expansion of the 1950's and 1960's.
The growth was not in Victoria itself, but in the environs. Between 1951 and 1966 Greater Victoria's population increased from 104,303 to 175,767 - a gain of 75% in 15 years. The newcomers were mainly the retired, European immigrants and students. The students were the result of the founding in 1963 of the University of Victoria. By 1970 the university was catering to 6,000 students and the total capital investment was estimated at $24,000,000. Numerous imposing buildings and a Centennial Stadium turned a 380-acres Gordon Head area, once the abode of military and skylarks, into an educational conglomerate worthy of the world's largest cities. Still greater were the changes in social strata introduced by the students. Beauty spots like Beacon Hill Park, Centennial Square, Willows Beach and Dallas Road, formerly the preserve of those in the autumn of their lives, were now redolent with serious, polite young men and girls, many of them wearing jeans.
Age was offset by youth, mostly well-behaved, impecunious youth, especially in 1970 when so many discovered that university education was no passport to a job. It was a curious paradox that equal higher educational opportunities for all should have coincided with employment opportunities for so few. The newcomers who were retired people represented another "gold rush," twentieth century style. Increased social security benefits enabled many people from other parts of the province and from Canada as a whole to spend their declining years in a more pleasant environment. It was estimated in 1969 that of the 30,000 retired people living in Victoria 41% came from the prairies and 32% from other parts of British Columbia and that they were bringing $50,000,000 annually into the district, equal to 13% of the total economic intake.
The retired were largely responsible for the tremendous surge in apartment building and a factor in the increased market value of homes from an average of $3,200 in 1941 to $25,000 in 1970. The immigrants from Europe were mostly Hungarians, Germans, Italians and Dutch who endeavoured in spite of the liquor laws and Anglo-Saxon dull Sundays to introduce a gayer Continental note into social life. Especially successful was the German Edelweiss Club which counted 300 members. These European newcomers helped to counter the increasing Americanization of food outlets through franchised retailers by establishing a large number of delicatessens, the varied food of which appealed to immigrants and natives alike.
Americans also tended to settle in increasing numbers in Victoria where they could find the law and order and absence of racial strife and tension conspicuously absent in many parts of the United States. Another stimulus to transformation was the tourist trade. The restless, footloose 1960's engendered a tremendous surge in travel. In 1927 the number of visitors to Victoria was 350,000 who came with 18,300 automobiles. In 1969 the corresponding figures were 2,283,000 and 700,093. Motels and hotels multiplied to cope with the traffic, lining the Gorge, the Old Island Highway and even the Patricia Bay Highway itself.
Among the larger new downtown establishments were the Red Lion Inn (1962), the Imperial Inn (1961) , the Queen Victoria Inn and the Wilson Inn on Blanshard Street. At the end of 1970 Victoria had 3,800 rooms to serve tourists. Victoria's back door became its front door. The overnight visitor instead of viewing on arrival the Parliament Buildings and the Empress Hotel and their lawns encountered 13 miles of black-topped highway leading from Swartz Bay to downtown, the city approaches lined with the showrooms of car dealers and other commercial buildings. But it did not deter visitors from coming, from which one may assume that the final downtown goal was well worth it. Certainly few cities on the North American Continent could boast of Victoria's downtown amenities.
The fine new museum and archives complex completed in 1969-70 rivalled the parliament buildings in artistic concept. The Carillon Tower, a centennial gift of the province's Dutch community, and the fountains and displays conveyed an atmosphere of opulence in great and pleasing contrast to the many smaller communities from which many of Victoria's visitors came. Nowhere was the price of progress felt more keenly than in the business world. The years 1950-70 saw the disappearance of many firms whose names were household words in old-time Victoria and the transfer to Mainland interests of the control of many others. Among the first to go were J. H. Todd & Sons, Ltd., who moved their offices from 1306 Wharf St. to Vancouver in 1954, extinguishing a connection which had endured since pioneer Jacob Hunter Todd arrived here from the East in the early 1860's.
Jacob Todd started as an odd-job man, building a fence for James Douglas on Fairfield Road, and finished up as owner of a fleet of 20 seiners, 300 gillnetters and 40 packers, all of them flying the famous Todd houseflag - a horseshoe on a red background. Like many of the pioneers he owed his fortune primarily to the Cariboo gold rush. He purchased for a song the Victoria interest in the Lightning Creek claim which turned out to be one of the richest claims ever exploited. The Todd's former "Fairview House" was on the site of what is now McCall's Funeral Chapel on Johnson Street. Two years after the departure of J. H. Todd & Sons Ltd., Sidney Roofing & Paper, one of Victoria's biggest employers, moved to Vancouver. This company started in Sidney in 1912 making asphalt tiles, moved into town and was sold by its chairman, Robert Mayhew, a later ambassador to Japan, in 1948.
Their move deprived not only many men of jobs, but the Boy Scouts and the Salvation Army of a profitable market for old newspapers. The Hon. Robert Mayhew is credited with getting the Federal Government to build the new post office building on Government Street, and Fisherman's Wharf. Other firms no longer with us in name or control include Evans, Coleman & Johnson, with which the later Premier Byron Johnson and his brother "Johnny" - an Oak Bay councillor for over 20 years - were prominently associated; Heaney's Cartage, "Big or Teeny, just call Heaney;" the Northwestern Creamery founded by Francis H. A. Norton in 1911 and now controlled by Silverwood Dairies of Toronto; Shepherd's Dairy; Diggons, successors to Diggon-Hibben and now Willson Stationery; Scott & Peden, now controlled by the Buckerfields of Vancouver, and even the Chinese Daily News, formerly published at 640 Cormorant Street.
The penalty for many Victoria businessmen was loss of jobs or transfer to the Mainland and a speeding up of pressure for those who remained. Gone were the old easy-going days. The heart wards of the Royal Jubilee and St. Joseph's hospitals became almost a businessman's club as more and more succumbed to the new stresses imposed on them. Even Victoria's seagulls were hit by the speeding up. Whereas, fat and lazy, they used to perch on the rails of the Canadian Pacific steamships, unhurriedly awaiting the disposal by stewards of kitchen waste, with the arrival of the British Columbia Government Ferries they found their turn-round time cut by two-thirds.
In the retail field, the take-your-time shopping of 20 years ago gave way to a frantic rush for "sales" and "bargains" caused by the advent of chain and department stores. Woodward's, Eaton's, Woolco and Simpsons-Sears introduced fierce competition not only with small retailers but between themselves. In the grocery field the competition was still more keenly felt. Piggly-Wiggly, Victoria's original chain grocery, was acquired by Safeway in 1935. In the next three decades came The Red & White Purity, Super-Yalu, Shop Easy, Low Cost and Disco stores which have made this sphere of retailing the most arduous of any. Just as in the early gold rushes Chinese managed to extract a living from the worked out Fraser pannings when the white miners had abandoned them, so Chinese took over many small grocery stores when the white grocer found the returns too small.
But it has always been an illusion that because Victoria is a seaside and chiefly residential town, life must necessarily be less competitive. In 1925, for instance, with a population of around 40,000, there were in Victoria 65 meat markets 17 boot and shoe stores 13 stationers and booksellers 30 cleaners and dyers 48 downtown restaurants 30 cigar and tobacco stores 36 dairies 120 confectioners 25 drug stores (including A. H. Peacey at 1864 Pandora and now in James Bay, and the Owl Drug store) and, believe it or not, 180 groceries, one-quarter of them Chinese. The popularity of the large department and chain stores in recent years, most of them owned by outside capital, and their increasing dominance of advertising in newspapers and on radio and television was, in many ways, a regrettable trend.
Victoria, when a smaller city, had a way of life so different from that to be found elsewhere, that it could claim to have individuality. It was largely the British element which provided the well-tended gardens and neat, distinctive individual dwellings which formed the cultural background and earned Victoria the name of "Garden City." As the city and environs succumbed to supermarkets and superhighways it lost something of this distinctiveness. Victorians at the end of 1970 were questioning more and more many of the aspects of "progress." They questioned the new sodium streetlights which turned many quiet lanes at night into replicas of abandoned sets for a Hollywood spy movie; they questioned the wisdom of widened, hard-topped roads, an enemy of birdlife, andthe felling of boulevard trees to enable quicker car travel with consequent more pollution. They questioned the wisdom of more and more highrise buildings and even the wisdom of expanding populations. This new social awareness was a hopeful portent that Victoria would continue to be in the future as distinctive a city as it was in the past ... "keeping the best, improving the rest" and thereby making its contribution to British Columbian and to Canadian culture as a whole.