Resident Alfred Trueman enjoys a cup of tea in The Glenshiel’s Thistle Lounge as residents behind him enjoy an ice cream, in this file photo from 2006. The former hotel celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2008 and continues to be a fixture in the James Bay community. Photo by Don Denton

Yesterday and today: The Glenshiel embraces its second century

Residents of iconic Victoria seniors building live amid many links to Scottish history

Walk past or into The Glenshiel at 606 Douglas St., a chunk of granite’s throw away from Beacon Hill Park, and you’ll get the first taste of its place in Victoria’s history.

Perched on this hillside for more than 110 years, the iconic heritage building began as a well-appointed hotel in 1908 and now serves as home for nearly 70 individuals.

“We’re caring for the seniors of today, but when it was a hotel, it was housing people who would come to visit,” says executive director Lynn Larsen. “The interesting thing is some of the seniors who visited way back when have gone on to live in the building, or volunteer here.”

Those warm feelings about the place are a big part of what keeps it an inviting place to live and work today, she says.

The name change came early

A Mr. L.E. Gooding named his new 20-room hotel The Criterion in 1908, a time when a city construction boom also saw the Empress Hotel and a final addition to St. Joseph’s Hospital built. In 1912, new owners of the hotel renamed it after the Glenshiel Estate owned by the Earls of Seaforth in the Scottish Highlands.

A little piece of Scotland in Victoria

Over the years, many Scottish expatriates have resided in the building, keeping the links to the old country alive. Many visible connections remain today, including the Thistle Lounge – the residence’s living room, formerly The Thistle Room restaurant – and a 1950s-era mural of a Mackenzie clansman slaying a wounded stag, illustrating a famous piece of Scottish lore.

The Glenshiel still a hub in the area

Residents come and go from this busy point in Victoria’s tourist and legislative precincts, and while there are few horse and carriages rolling past the front door, residents still have easy access to transit buses and HandyDart service for trips around the city.

Many current residents are of European descent or came from Europe, Larsen adds, and they appreciate the building’s style, as do passersby. “We’ve maintained the look to reflect its roots and tried to keep it as traditional as we can,” she says. “Even the interior has that warm, comfortable feeling it had many years ago, with charming features like the original fireplace.”

Ownership helps keep rent affordable

Since 1997, the non-profit Glenshiel Housing Society has operated the residence, with financial assistance from B.C. Housing. To be able to provide affordable accommodation for low- to middle-income seniors, it also relies on generous contributions from individuals. If you’d like to know more about making a tax-deductible donation, call Lynn Larsen at 250-383-4164 or email her at executivedirector@theglenshiel.bc.ca.

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For more information about The Glenshiel as a rental option, visit theglenshiel.bc.ca or contact Larsen to set up an appointment to view the premises.

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