First paving wasn’t asphalt, history buff clarifies

Historical story relates one of first decisions by Victoria council

REe: A show of hands (News, March 2)

In an interesting Victoria history article, Laura Lavin stated the 1862 city council “decided to pave” part of Government Street. That “paving” was definitely not asphalt.

Unsecured wooden planks were laid in Waddington Alley in 1858, but by 1866, the alley was back to mud, with “iron plates” covering some of the worst potholes. Planks deteriorated quickly, were slippery in wet weather and even floated in heavy rain. They were also flammable: miles of plank streets in San Francisco burned in six major fires.

Two pre-asphalt pavements – wood block and vitrified brick – were laid in Victoria’s downtown core in the early 1900’s, but covered less than one per cent of the city’s street surfaces. Most Victoria streets were dirt, gravel or rock until asphalt transformed the city after the Second World War.

Compared to every other surfacing, asphalt is a spectacular pavement. It wears uniformly and will carry heavy traffic; repairs are simple and inexpensive, and it isn’t slippery when wet. Asphalt is durable, waterproof, smooth, noiseless, dustless and recyclable.

Today, asphalt covers more than 95 per cent of the paved roads in North America as well as parking lots, driveways and airports. It is difficult to imagine the City of Victoria or the world without it now.

Janis Ringuette

Victoria