THE LARGE HOUSES OF THE RICH and the meaner dwellings of the artisans - the latter often relying on the milk from their cow and home-made preserves to balance the budget - were only two of the contrasts which drew tens of thousands of visitors annually to the capital in the years 1890 to 1910. The visitor, arriving on well-appointed steamers, could contrast the fine new Legislative Building with a junk-covered waterfront, exhibiting the mud, derelict hulks, deadheads and slime-covered debris of a busy shipbuilding and manufacturing city.
The fine equipages of the wealthy and the handsome "for hire" carriages of top-flight coachmen like the Winters contrasted with the ramshackle contraptions of cabbies, disputing with much bad language, the patronage of disembarking passengers at Rithet's and other wharves. The visitor could eat in well-appointed dining rooms like that of the Driard Hotel which could seat 350 persons, drink in the Brown Jug or one of the numerous clubs or purchase a quart of Scotch at the nearest grocery store for 75 cents and take it to his room.
He could contrast city dandies wearing spats with businessmen who still came to work riding a horse. A few motor cars were in evidence and also women doing shopping on the new-fangled bicycles, hats and skirts adequately secured in the windy downtown streets. On Saturday night he could join the shopping throng on a regular routine - Yates, Broughton, Douglas Streets and return taking in the stores of Spencers, Hibbens (at 69 Government between Fort and Trounce), Clays the caterers with their bakery, delicatessen and sandwiches, W. & J. Wilson and M. W. Waitt, or go to the newly arrived movies. People in Victoria were different - easy going, seemingly never in a hurry, always ready with a smile (as they are today). The streets were different and a refreshing change from the checkerboard style of American cities.
A New York Sun reporter wrote in 1 894 that Victoria was the quaintest English town in North America with no more hustle than a summer resort, the residents being more idle than the visitors. Visitors also remarked on the good fellowship which seemed to exist between all classes. The rich greeted employees on the streets as their equals and there was a friendly nod for everyone they knew. But Victoria's way of life also had its critics. An A.D.C. to Lord Minto, Governor-General of Canada who came here in 1900, thought Victorians lethargic and impolite. He ascribed their laziness to the "wet winter months and the hot 'Italian' sun in summer which drained their energy." He complained that it took him 20 minutes to get from the Oak Bay Hotel to a downtown theatre by a "noisy streetcar which clanged its bell incessantly."
The Savoy Theatre show, object of his journey, was, he said, "third rate" and he found residents concerned with class distinctions and the importance of precedence. It was an insult to seat a "lady" next to a small tradesman's wife, and names of guests invited to social functions were eagerly scanned for any who might have been left off. Lord Minta's A.D.C. also noted the "ill-treatment of horses," which seems curious in view of the large numbers of English - natural animal lovers - in the city and is in great contrast with the position today where the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals initiated by Dr. R. Hamilton, veterinary surgeon, in 1888, is one of the most active in Canada. The critical visitor had, however, a word of praise. He wrote that he had seldom seen such handsome schoolchildren as in Victoria. Other Victoria contrasts were top-hatted, frock-coated merchants, lawyers, businessmen and politicians sharing the sidewalks with semi-naked Indians peddling salmon, jog-trotting Chinese with laundry baskets an their heads, roistering red-jacketed sealers, lumbermen and adventurers of many nations.
The visitor could gamble after dinner in posh saloons or go to No. 5 Fan Tan Alley where the Man Hop Cafe served boneless chicken and squashed duck to the silent entry and exit of lottery runners and the click of ivory gambling chips. Sam, proprietor of the Man Hop, used to shuffle about in thin slippers, a limp cigarette dangling from his lips, demonstrating on request ju-jitsu holds with his large bony hands and with guttural orders to his assistants add to the furtiveness of dimly lit alleys, stairways and dining room. Victoria's Chinatown in those days rivaled that of San Francisco. Its joss house or temple at 556 Fisgard was reputed to be bigger than San Francisco's. This temple, the oldest in Canada, was removed in 1965 to the Chinese Benevolent Association Building opposite the City police headquarters on Fisgard Street.
The Chinese have had difficult times in Victoria. When the first large shipment of coolies (355 of them) arrived in the barque Quickstar in 1878 they were driven like cattle to smaller transshipment vessels at the Inner Wharf and pelted and jeered at. The Colonist commented: "As their presence in our midst is not desired the welcome they received was not of the most flattering nature." By 1884 Chinese in Victoria totaled 15,000, equal to that of the white population.
Many of them were brought to Canada to build the trans-Canada railroad and were unceremoniously abandoned when construction was completed. But it was a rather pitiless age and people were more concerned with getting and maintaining their own livelihood than with the fate of others. Heeding the outcries of voters, the government first imposed a head tax of $50 in 1885 and doubled it to $100 in 1908. But the Chinese are a patient and persevering race. They built their own school here on Fisgard Street in 1885. It was succeeded by a new school in 1908 and this school is still on its original Fisgard Street site. The Chinese have made their own unique contribution to Victoria life. Many of the tall and narrow Chinese buildings on Government and Fisgard Streets are a credit to the city architecturally.
It is only in recent years that the Victoria Chinese have lost their own newspaper, which went to Vancouver to serve the large community there. This, however, did not herald necessarily a decline in residents of Chinese extraction, but rather of the older-type unassimilated Chinese. There were for instance in 1967 still 900 members of the Lee family and 400 Wongs in Victoria. Of course, many old practices have necessarily been abandoned. One very much regretted by the Indians was that of putting a feast for the Gods on the graves of newly interred Chinese. The Indians used to watch for these burials, slink up to Ross Bay cemetery in their canoes and rob the Gods of their meal. But sometimes local youths used to get the whiskey first.
Chinese, at one time associated only with domestic services, gardening and laundries, are now found in many branches of commerce as importers and in professions such as insurance, investments, and real estate. A comparatively recent trend has been their invasion of the corner-store business of which they are tending to get a monopoly. In addition to railroad construction in earlier years Chinese labor was employed in many industries, notably salmon canning and agriculture. Todd's cannery at Sooke, the huge structure of which still dominates the waterfront, employed many Chinese; so did the West Coast canneries.
In Oak Bay in 1879, Lee Dye was farming 193 acres beneath the Lansdowne Slope on what is now Carnarvon Park. He also had a large general store on View Street just above Douglas Street. In downtown Victoria Ames Holden employed 40 Chinese as shoemakers at the turn of the century in a plant at the corner of Langley and Broughton Streets. The first Chinese settlement here in 1 860 was in the Yates, Fort, Quadra, Cook rectangle. It was from a residential point of view a most undesirable area. There was a two-acre lake between Yates and Cook Streets, the outlet from which flowed along View Street, across Douglas Street and through the Johnson Street ravine into the harbor.
They lived there probably not out of choice but of necessity. In the gold rush days all dry land was at a premium and the Chinese were not in a position to pay a premium. Gradually they consolidated their settlement around Government, Fisgard and Herald Streets, so much so that at the turn of the century the city directory published separate listings of "Chinese and Hindoo" residents. In this neighborhood the nervous visitor could see Chinamen, apparently stacked in tiers, smoking their opium pipes. It was one of the sights of Victoria. Opium manufacture and the smuggling of opium to America was a good source of income for many Victorians in these years. Victoria at one time had 14 opium factories and when the Americans put a tariff on opium in 1894 it caused an estimated annual loss of $200,000 to Victoria.
Many opium factories closed down, but the Tai Yung plant behind the City Hall still had 30 or more employees. The intrigued visitor could peer through dirty plate-glass windows at Chinese putting basketball size portions of gum-like opium into huge copper vats for processing. It was said that 50 tons of opium were smuggled into the United States annually from wide-open Victoria and that one leading citizen owned three opium schooners. Victorians saw nothing wrong in the trade. If the Chinese wanted opium they were going to get it, if not from Victoria then from somewhere else. In 1907 newspapers were still advertising "For sale ... olives, onions, opium" and "Opium direct from China." Federal laws closed all factories a year later.
Another profitable source of income for certain Victorians was the smuggling of Chinese into America. Nearly all smuggling went on from Kingston's Wharf on Wharf Street, which is now a large parking lot. A notorious smuggler was "Pig-iron Kelly," so named because allegedly he weighted his Chinese emigrants with pig-iron so that all evidence could be drowned in an emergency. Pelting Chinese and pulling their pigtails was a popular pastime with local rowdies. The police seldom intervened because they too resented the fact that Chinese worked for half the wages of whites. On the other hand the Orientals were popular with those who needed servants, the extensive establishments of the times calling for expert gardeners, cooks and other domestics.
To their patient skill. anything to be found this side of the Rockies. Hatley Park alone employed about I oo Chinese who had their kitchens and dormitories in a separate enclosure in the grounds. A score or so of the old-time Chinese domestics are still to be seen around as retainers or gardener's, but their's is a dying race. The unfamiliar language, squalid surroundings and racial exclusiveness contributed not a little to Chinese difficulties in Victoria. For example Chinese domestics could be hired only through a downtown Chinese agency. The Chinese tended to deal with their own kind for shopping, clothing and all their needs and seemed to stand in more fear of their own secret societies than they did of the white man's law.
Magistrates used to find court cases involving Chinese most trying. In the 1880's a San Franciscan residing here was charged with procuring a Chinese girl for his own use and when he got tired of her, selling her to a Chinese coolie, disguising the transaction as a marriage between the girl and the coolie. The magistrate heard numerous Chinese witnesses in his efforts to find out whether the marriage was genuine, whether the Chinese husband understood the ceremony, whether the girl's relatives were consulted and so on. The broken English of some witnesses, the consultations in Chinese between witnesses and other ramifications so perplexed the magistrate that when a Canadian doctor came forward to give evidence he involuntarily exclaimed:
"Thank God, here is someone who speaks English." But the Chinese had their difficulties too. Sing Lee, a caterer who went bankrupt, was asked for a list of the people who owed him money. His list included: red shirt man, man come late, cap man, lean man, fat Frenchman, whiskey man, lame leg man, red whiskers, get tight man," which, one may assume, was a fairly representative group of downtown citizens at that time. Victoria's Chinese now have their own hospital on Herald Street and their own Presbyterian Church. Whatever the merits and demerits of the Chinese way of life it is noteworthy that Chinese youth in Victoria does not seem to have been affected by drug-taking, pot smoking and other excesses so common among white youth in the sixties and police testify that they are the most law-abiding of citizens. Right up to the present day local hosts considered a visit to Chinatown a "must" for out-of-town visitors, but even more appreciated by visitors was the hospitality of private homes where at the tum of the century they could find the best-dressed and most educated women to be found in the pacific Northwest.
A few of these ladies, now advanced in years, still survive today and one must say that they have a gentleness of disposition and graciousness foreign to our more hectic days. The visitor looking for "fun" could find many dance halls and in Burne's House on Bastion Square and neighboring establishments fair and dark companions of many races. That these companions had a wide clientele is shown by the report of a prostitute pursuing and shouting at a young gentleman of Victoria, which cost her a $ 10.00 fine. The lightness of the punishment seems to indicate that "money talked" because at the same period, Mrs. Paine, described as "an unfortunate woman," was given six months with hard labor for begging on the street. Presumably she was unable to pay a fine. Victoria's prostitutes came mostly from San Francisco. The $1 bawdy houses were on Chatham Street. Their chief patrons were dockyard workers and seamen. The better class "$3 houses" were on Herald Street.* Hacks on Government Street, between the Causeway and Fort Street did a considerable traffic with the higher class prostitutes.
The centre of Government Street was a hack stand and a rendezvous for women and their patrons. One of the most popular of houses was "Stella's" on the Gorge waterfront just past the Gorge Hotel. Stella took over the old Loewen home and men used to visit it by canoe. The City's attitude to prostitution was that Victoria as a seaport had to provide some amenities. Provided licence did not become too pronounced the police did not interfere. In spite of prostitution, or perhaps because of it, Victoria was a much safer place for women then than it is today. Police had regular contacts with the underworld through their women informants and no crime went unsolved for long. The women knew every suspect character around town. Burne's House, it may be noted still stands on Bastion Square. Renovated inside and out it is an outstanding example of enlightened restoration and now houses lawyers and other offices and the noted "Coq au Vin" restaurant.
It was built by old-time hotelman Tommy Burnes around 1893. Victoria had also much to offer besides the more strenuous activities like dancing, riding, tennis, cricket and garden parties. There was the Victoria Theatre opened with Robert Dunsmuir and Mayor Rithet on the stage in 1885 with everybody who mattered in the audience. The venture was unfortunately to go broke later in spite of the management efforts of John Austin, its moving spirit, who quit a well paid government job to go into real estate before promoting the Theatre (sometimes referred to as the Victoria Opera House) . Another attraction was movies. Victoria was in 1897 the only place within a thousand miles where the visitor could see the marvellous new invention - animated pictures. They were first shown at the Searchlight Theatre on Fort Street, although some people aver that the Trilby in the Duck Building on Broad and Johnson had the first movie projector.
At the Searchlight, Maynard F. Macdonald projected the 25- foot-long film strips, which bore no sub-titles, and the meaning of which he shouted to the audience while hand-cranking the film. Admission price was 10 cents, standing only, and the shows lasted 10 minutes. Performances were continuous and patrons could see two or more shows if they liked, but as the only films were of racing fire engines or ditto passenger trains there wasn't much point. Besides there were long intervals between shows while the operator gathered up the strips of film littering the floor and put them in order again. When Macdonald ran out of fire engine and passenger train film he had to quit as new film was hard to get. He returned to Victoria a year or so later with a 15-minute version of Cinderella which he showed on property leased at 637 Yates, where the King Edward Hotel stood in 1932 and which is the location of the Surrey Block today.
In addition to movies, Victoria was the only city on the Pacific Northwest where vaudeville could be seen. The first vaudeville was staged in the Orpheum (formerly the A.O.U.W.* Hall) in 1900. Interested financially in the venture was Alex Pantages, a former Greek immigrant cook at the Maryland Cafe who made a fortune in the Klondike. The staff consisted of only three people, Charlie Johnson, prop man, cashier and janitor; Fred Tracy, singer, and Kate Rockwell, actress, singer, dancer and acrobat. Pantages met Kate Rockwell in Dawson when he was operating the Orpheum Theatre there. He fell in love with her and she later sued him unsuccessfully for $25,000. Kate Rockwell's troupe was followed by that of Madame Sehl and her performing lions. At one performance the report went round that a lion had decided to perform outside his cage. The audience stampeded and the exit being too small they enlarged it by pushing the wall down. That finished the Orpheum and Madame Sehl, but it didn't finish Alex Pantages who went on to become owner of the biggest theatre chain in North America before going broke.
The Orpheum Theatre later became the Princess Playhouse and then the Plaza ( now the Haida) . During World War I, Mr. Reg Hincks, a well-known local actor, played continuously for four years under Red Cross sponsorship at the Princess Playhouse, raising thousands of dollars for troop comforts. Another feature was the 15-piece orchestra. Gertrude Huntly Green, the famed Victoria pianist, was a frequent performer at the Princess, and Reg Hincks ran pantomimes there from 1908 to 1947. The Grand Theatre at 50 Johnson Street was also well patronized. The Grand opened originally as the Savoy in 1 899 at Government and Yates. It was later renamed the Rio, then the Pantages having been acquired by the Pantages chain in 1907. It was demolished in 1957 and the Imperial Bank now stands on the site. Variety shows were also staged at the Delmonico Music Hall, wrncn coma seat ooo people, at 109 Government Street, between Yates and Johnson; at the Royal Savoy next door and at The Trilby in the Duck Block. The picturesque Duck Block building on Broad Street was built by Simeon Duck, M.L.A., in 1892, and now houses the well-known contractors Parker, Johnston and other businesses.
Other popular theatres in their time were The Bijou in a building now the premises of Jeune Bros. on Johnson Street, the Romano on the northeast corner of Government and Johnston and the Totem Theatre now remodelled and used as the McPherson Playhouse. Talkies which inaugurated the decline of live theatre came to Victoria in 1933 with the film The Crimson Paradise (although some say the first talkie was Sonny Boy with Al Jolson) being shown at the Dominion Theatre alongside where the Haida now stands. The Odeon Theatre first appeared in the 1948 city directory. Few people would recognize Victoria from the pictures of the city which appeared in the first years of the century. In front of the Main Legislative Buildings (the two wings had not been built) was a mudflat at low tide. When the tide came in, a local character Bill Nye could be seen in his barrel, weather permitting, using his hands as paddles and scouring the waterfront for junk. Bill Nye was as much a part of the local scene as James Dunsmuir and his yacht Thistle, or the well-appointed Alexandra steamers which operated a regular service between the city and San Francisco. Bill Nye used to delight youngsters by writing his name on submerged clam-shells. Gunny sack on back and wearing one gold earring he was the city's only rag-and-bone man. He lived rough.
When he broke a leg and was taken to Jubilee Hospital the nurses had to rig up a bed of boards because he wasn't used to a mattress. Fort Street was blacktopped in 1899 and a publicity brochure of the time claimed that all downtown streets were macadamized. If so the contractors scamped the job because a few years later Mr. A. Carmichael told the real estate board that Victoria streets were unpaved, dirty, badly lighted and a sea of mud or dust. Pebbles were still being dumped to fill mud holes at the Bastion Square and Langley Street intersection to give footing to complaining lawyers who had their offices in Chancery Lane and Court Alley.
The dust, shouting, singing, miners' packs, mules, beef on the hoof, horses, trunks, parcels and handcarts, amid which the occasional hotel keeper was to be seen anxiously searching for skeedaddlers (those who had quit without paying their bill) provided scenes of lusty and, for Victoria, profitable chaos. As regards amusement the topers of those days like their brethren today were easily satisfied. In 1861 for instance a man named Knox won $300 on a bet by walking round a local saloon uninterruptedly for 100 hours. Encouraged by this he challenged a character known as the "Butcher Boy" to a Bo-yard heel-and-toe match at Beacon Hill, put $300 on himself and lost it. Rat-killing matches with the use of ferrets were also popular. A favorite location was Eden & Boland's Saloon on Langley Street. By 1900 sports were still not much more sophisticated. The racing of commandeered garbage wagons by top-hatted, frock-coated young bloods was a familiar downtown sight and tossing in a blanket to sober up a drunk was still high on the list of tapers' entertainment.
Drinking kept pace with the city's growth and no class had the monopoly. All people drank heavily as a matter of course, but as they were much more active physically, with walking, riding and dancing being much to the fore, they could absorb more alcohol, and the police had no problems with impaired drivers as a horse could be depended on to find his way home even if his master couldn't. Ladies were not allowed in bars: it was "genteel" to permit them a quiet drink of brandy brought by their escorts to the coach. But when they could drink indoors they did not lag behind the men. Chronicler Pere Grinator wrote in The Victoria Home Journal in 1893: "Drunkenness among women is increasing to an alarming extent.
The habit is not confined to the lower and middle classes of society for the story was common property last week that several ladies moving in good society partook too liberally at a Victoriahotel and had to be literally carried home." A quite appropriate prize for a lady in the I goo's was a glass revolver full of rum. The Driard Hotel at Douglas and View Streets, now part of the Eaton block, although hailed as the finest hotel north of San Francisco was also noted for the heavy drinking of its guests. Mrs. Baillie-Grohman, a visitor in 1897, wrote home that the "Driard is no place for a lady." The Driard was not of very imposing size when it opened in 1862 as the St. George's Hotel. Alongside it was a shack which in 1888 was still renting at $4 a month- this on Victoria's downtown Douglas Street. The St. George fell on bad times after early gold rushes tapered off and was bought in 1872 by Sosthenes Driard, a pioneer immigrant who later become corpulent and asthmatic. He enlarged and improved it over the years, aided no doubt by several fires which were well covered by insurance. When the Victoria Theatre was built in 1885 at View and Douglas its upper floors became part of the Driard Hotel.
The decline of the Driard began with the opening of the Empress Hotel in 1908. Another hotel noted for its hospitality was the Dallas built in 1882 and named after Alexander Grant Dallas, James Douglas's son-in-law. Situated on the waterfront opposite the later Ogden Point Docks it was a natural for farewell parties as ocean-going steamers berthed at the nearby Rithet's Outer Wharves. Also passengers could be sure of not missing the boat, the porter undertaking to alert them in time. The Dallas Hotel was demolished in 1928 and became a parking lot for workers at the Victoria Machinery Depot ship ways. Indicative of the growing attraction of Victoria was the Dominion Hotel on Yates Street. For years it had been a narrow two-storeyed structure. In 1889 it was enlarged and modernized and this process was repeated three times in the next 20 years. The hotel now occupies the same area as it did at the turn of the century except that the adjacent vacant ground became a gas station and is now the hotel parking lot. Other popular hotels included the St. Francis (formerly called the Oriental) on Yates, now occupied by the Goodwill Enterprises bazaar; the Clarence, where Bank of Nova Scotia now stands, comer Yates and Douglas (it was a favorite with sealing captains) ; the Grand Pacific at the corner of Johnson and Store Streets, and the White Horse at 68 Humboldt (north side of Humboldt and McClure) near the Roccabella Hotel.
A farrious hotel and restaurant which survives as a restaurant only today is the Poodle Dog opened in 1885. There was also a Poodle Dog in San Francisco and the name is an anglicization of the original "Poulet d'Or" restaurant. Poodle Dog alley, south from Yates between Broad and Government Streets was the western boundary of the restaurant. Another new establishment of the period was the Brunswick Hotel, built in 1892. It stood at the southeast corner of Yates and Douglas Streets in the Jewell Block and had 100 bedrooms but only two bathrooms. This must have inconvenienced guests at times. Worth mentioning is the Pacific Telegraph Hotel, largest of its day when it was built in 1871 on Store Street between Herald and Fisgard streets. It had 150 beds and its owner, Italian immigrant Andrew Astrico, was a renowned chef de-cuisine and caterer.
Taught by experience, he used to advertise "Room and board $6 a week, terms cash in advance." Not the least of Victoria's attractions was the excellent food available. To those who had lived mainly on clams, salmon and moose meat along the coast and in the backwoods of British Columbia the menus of Victoria's restaurants must have seemed like a dream from "Arabian Nights." The Poodle Dog as an example featured Soup- Julian or Consomme; Fish - halibut, flounder, fried tommy cod; salad and lobster mayonnaise; eastern oysters or spring chicken a la Maryland; sweetbread patties or welsh rabbit on toast; apple fritters; sherry sauce; Roasts -young turkey, prime ribs of beef, leg of mutton; Vegetables - browned sweet potatoes, cauliflower, stewed tomatoes, mashed potatoes; Dessert - fig pudding, brandy sauce, apple, lemon, cranberry pie; orange jelly. Assorted cakes, oranges, apples, grapes, nuts, raisins; Canadian cheese; black coffee. And the price? Fifty cents ( about $5 today). This was not an exceptional menu.
Competition between hotels was keen and the best had unexcelled cuisine and service, the latter including beautiful paneled dining rooms, white linen, cut glassand excellent waiters. The Driard and Hotel Telegraph were outstanding for their food, as also the New England Cafe built in 1860 and demolished in 1 892. One could expect a lot for 50 cents when the Maryland Chop House was offering "the best meals in Victoria from 25¢ up," while The Grotto on Trounce Alley offered FREE hot lunches with beer at 50 cents a glass. Saloons competed with the hotel restaurants and often it was difficult to distinguish between the two as far as eating was concerned, except that in saloons you weren't allowed to sit. Bars were of gleaming mahogany or black walnut, the spittoons of fine brass, the plate-glass mirrors bevel-edged, the glassware often crystal. Counters were piled high with food of a quality which makes this age of affiuence look like austerity ... slabs of beef and ham, cheeses, sausage, stacks of bread ... and many saloons offered free food with drinks. The hefty white-aproned bartenders doubled as a rule as bouncers, but they were generally good-hearted men and generous with the needy. Victoria was still small enough for everybody to know everybody and a good word, or a bad one, could do much to influence custom.