Capt. Robert Neill Walker’s former home sits in a Garry oak meadow overlooking Portage Inlet. The English mariner designed the home in 1910 above what is now the Galloping Goose Regional Trail, with the Pacific Ocean and Olympic Mountains visible from the front lawn or the second-storey veranda.
This 104-year-old home on a 4,255-square-metre property was expected to come before council Monday night (March 10) as part of a subdivision application. Two more houses are proposed to be built on the property that abuts the View Royal border on Burnside Road West.
In addition to subdivision, the property owners want the historic home to receive official heritage designation from Saanich. It is already on Saanich’s Heritage Register.
Saanich’s manager of community planning says designation comes with greater protection of the home’s past.
“What that means is when a property is designated, any changes to the building that affect the heritage features need to go through a formal approval process involving Saanich,” said Cameron Scott. “A property that is on the registry is identified as having some heritage value. Through a designation, (those heritage features are) given legal protection.”
A description of the home’s architecturally significant features are detailed in Saanich’s Heritage Register: “This two-and-one-half-storey, cross-gabled house … has shingle siding, with decorative half-timbering in the top three-quarters of each gable. The upper storey windows hang from the lower fascia of the half-timbering. A wide open verandah on two sides of the house has square columns and lathe-turned balusters. The gables all have turned finials.”
In a report to council, planners Chuck Bell and Jane Evans note the owners have taken into account the historic home with regards to the two houses proposed for the subdivided lots.
“Elements of the proposed new dwelling designs, including half-timber gable ends and use of shingle siding, reflect the heritage character of the existing dwelling,” they wrote.
The owners have also agreed to a natural state covenant to protect the Garry oak ecosystem at the front of the property. There are 27 protected trees on the property, 23 of which would be retained if council approves the application as it’s currently proposed.
If approved, the two new lots would be 665 and 1,038 square metres, with the heritage home remaining on the southernmost lot overlooking the water (and the Trans-Canada Highway).
On the west side of the property, the View Royal border, the owners also propose widening an existing cement pathway.
View Royal is looking to have that walkway connect Burnside to the Galloping Goose.
As of 2008, when the most recent Saanich Heritage Register was released, there were 296 homes on the register.
For more information on designated heritage homes and properties in Saanich and to read stories on the history of each one, visit saanich.ca/discover/artsheritagearc/heritage/register.html or visit the Saanich Archives at 3100 Tillicum Rd.
Captain of the house
Robert Neill Walker was born in Maryport, England on April 27, 1851.
He left home to become a mariner before the age of 16, and in 1874 he was chief officer on the Horai-Maru. a cargo vessel operated by Japan’s Mitsubishi Mail Steamship Company. Two years later he began captaining the Heian-Maru and eventually took over the Takachiho–Maru.
He and his wife, Sato, had 9 children while living in Nagasaki.
The family returned to England in 1891.
Sato died at age 36 in 1894. Robert returned to Nagasaki, a place that reminded him of his wife, in 1895 and began his own company, R.N. Walker and Co.
In 1908 he relocated to Canada, purchasing the property at 1245 Burnside Rd. and building the home that remains.
In 1915, the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway purchased the Burnside Road property, and Walker moved down the road, building a second home on a 10-acre piece of land that has been converted into the Heritage House Bed and Breakfast. (The B&B is already has heritage designation in Saanich.)
Walker died of pneumonia on April 24, 1941. Walker’s grave can be found at Royal Oak Burial Park in Saanich.