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Victoria’s built history is all around us

This home at 1731 Albert Ave. in Victoria resembled a small cathedral when it was built in 1898. It was saved from the wrecking ball last year. - Photo contributed
This home at 1731 Albert Ave. in Victoria resembled a small cathedral when it was built in 1898. It was saved from the wrecking ball last year.
— image credit: Photo contributed

Heritage Week is all about satisfying curiosity, learning about your neighbourhood history and discovering just how much painstaking work goes into keeping those character homes and heritage buildings looking tiptop.

The News spoke with the Hallmark Society’s former president Nick Russell about the history of three structures around Victoria, pinning a few facts – and folklore – to the oldest homes in town. For more stories on heritage buildings, pick up a volume of This Old House, co-edited by Russell, or visit hallmarksociety.ca.

1731 Albert Ave., built 1898

Status: Designated heritage

Jack-of-all-trades George Marsden (1841-1929) worked his way up from living in a Yates Street shanty in 1891 to build this dollhouse-like residence known as Rose Dale just seven years later.

“He had some amazing idea about what that house should be,” Russell said. “It looked like a cathedral, it was amazing.”

While the delicate spires withstood only 12 years of the wet coastal weather, the rest of the Jubilee neighbourhood building remains.

It was rescued from demolition last year by developer Thomas Leahy, who successfully applied for heritage designation and is now splitting the home into four strata apartments and a rental unit. Work is well underway on architect Jonathan Yardley’s interior design.

Last week, Victoria’s heritage advisory committee unanimously approved the plans put forward by Yardley and Leahy.

Seaman’s Institute, 106 Superior St., built 1914

Status: Designated heritage

The first stone of this unique property was ceremoniously laid in 1912 by Prince Arthur William Patrick Albert, the Duke of Connaught and first person of royal descent to become Governor General of Canada.

When the building was completed in 1914, it served as an Anglican boarding house for mostly underage sailors who had signed up for work in the booming maritime lumber trade. An inscription on a foundation stone still reads, “Seaman’s Institute. Come unto me all ye that are weary and I will give you rest.”

The one-storey brick building was designed by J.C.M. Keith, the same architect behind Christ Church Cathedral and the original Sir James Douglas elementary.

A second-floor apartment has since been added to the building and the current owners lease the space to The Superior, a supper club open on weekend evenings.

512 Simcoe St., built 1884

Status: Heritage registered

This stalwart residence has seen many rebirths since it was completed in 1885, just 23 years after Victoria was founded.

The original occupants were John Chandler, an accountant for the Hudson’s Bay Company, and his wife Lizzie, a schoolteacher.

The extensive staircase is made of Californian pine, shipped up by steamboat, while the five-metre support beams running across the ceiling were salvaged from ancient West Coast rainforest.

The two-storey home is believed to have served as a brothel, rooming house and several art galleries over the years. It is currently tenanted by its fourth restaurant, The Bent Mast, which opened in 1995.

Management claims bragging rights for one of Victoria’s first flush toilets, but more intriguing are the halls purportedly teeming with supernatural life. At least three ghosts are thought to be keeping the hair raised on the backs of patrons’ heads, with many stories of sightings and voices.

dpalmer@vicnews.com

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