The eyes of the Prospect Lake community are on Steven Haley-Browning and Graham Little. The owners of the Heritage Bistro on West Saanich Road are getting a lot of attention in rural Saanich for melding old with new in a building rich with history.
The restaurant, at the corner of West Saanich and Prospect Lake roads, is the latest tenant to occupy a 101-year-old building that started life as the Prospect Lake General Store in 1913.
“What’s it like being in such an old building? High hydro bills,” Haley-Browning says with a laugh. “I swear it’s haunted. There are days we left at night where the lights were off, and we came back the next morning and the lights were on. We checked the alarms and no one’s come in or out. It’s got its own little quirks, its own little stories.”
Despite Heritage Bistro being new to the community – it opened on Feb. 17 – once you step inside you’re treated to a walk down memory lane, with walls covered in historical photos of the building’s storied past.
“A lot of community members have come in and given us their pictures from when this was a postal outlet and a general store. There’s photos with the trolley cars in front of it, and people hitching their horses in front to come in,” says Haley-Browning, operations manager. “These things should be in a museum; it’s memorabilia since the time this place has been around and the different areas of business it has done. … You don’t get that (community connection) in a new building.”
For most of the 20th century, the building operated as a general store. That’s changed in the last decade, as ownership switched hands five times. Until 2008, it operated as Prospect Lake Market. For less than a year, in 2008, it was SOL (Sam Otter Links) Farms. From 2008-2010 it was Ken’s Café at Prospect Lake, then Tia’s Heritage Café Co. from 2010 to late 2013.
The second floor of the two-storey building contains a living area, but it’s being used as office space right now.
Haley-Browning, former owner of Haley’s Hideaway in Sidney, says operating a restaurant in rural Saanich is a very different experience from being located on a busy, walkable street.
“There’s a learning curve. We’re on the way to The Butchart Gardens, at the entrance to Prospect Lake. Something like 10,000 cars go by here every day. As far as being out in the middle of nowhere, we are but we’re not,” he said. “This place, the building, is a destination.”
Heritage Bistro is at 5303 West Saanich Rd. For more info on the restaurant, visit islandculinaryservice.ca.
On March 15, 1911, Saanich pioneer John Durrance signed a land transaction with Saanich to take ownership of the property at what became 5303 West Saanich Rd. He paid $200 for the land.
Rancher Samuel McCullough, who moved from Ireland with his wife Susanna in the early 1890s, built the Prospect Lake General Store around 1913.
Their daughter Sarah and her husband, John (Jock) Nisbet Findlay, a roofer, ran the store, which included the local post office.
Between 1946 and 1963, Jack and Evelyn Durrance owned and operated the store. Jack was the son of John Durrance.
The building was added to the Saanich Heritage Register around 1991.
– Courtesy of Saanich Heritage Register