Vancouver Island is Canada’s most populated island, first settled by the British with a Hudson’s Bay Company post in 1843. It was called Fort Camosack but quickly changed to Fort Victoria. For its first 15 years Victoria was a settlement of only a few hundred frontierspeople dealing in the fur trade. Discovery of gold in the Fraser Canyon in 1858 caused the population to swell into the thousands as Victoria was a convenient port and supply base for prospectors.

Vancouver Island was its own colony in those days and when it was joined with the mainland Colony of British Columbia in 1866 Victoria was made the capital. The mainlanders grumbled about the selection but Victoria has remained the British Columbia capital ever since. The city may have maintained political power but its role as commercial centre of the Canadian Pacific Coast disappeared forever with the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in Vancouver in 1886.

The CPR purchased the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company in 1901 and operated ships out of Victoria so the city still attracted its share of ship traffic. In 1919 William Boeing and Eddie Hubbard touched down with a seaplane that kickstarted International Air Mail service and the harbour as a floatplane airport. Victoria Harbour was a busy place during World War II with 25 ships launching from the Victoria Machinery Depot.

By mid-century Western Canada’s oldest city began to show its age. Things started to turn around in the later years of the 1900s when its large stock of Edwardian style buildings came to be considered “charming” and no longer “dilapidating.” Tourism joined government as a major economic engine and in recent years the “Garden City” has become a treasured retirement spot as well.

Those years in the economic doldrums meant there was little pressure to replace those crumbling buildings. So the streets are lined with 19th century souvenirs, including North America’s second oldest Chinatown district. We will see many on our walking tour but we will begin at Victoria Inner Harbour at a landmark of more recent vintage... 

Visitor Centre/Causeway Tower
812 Wharf Street

When a consortium of sixteen independent Ontario refiners banded together to form the Imperial Oil Company Limited in 1880 their main products were axle grease and kerosene. By 1907 there were enough horseless carriages in British Columbia that the first gas station in Canada opened in Vancouver. Imperial Oil emerged as the nation’s major petroleum refiner with a vast retailer network. This service station was Imperial’s flagship in the Victoria area with repair bays for 120 cars. British Columbia architects Frederick Laughton Townley and Robert Michael Matheson provided the Art Deco design for the now landmark tower in 1931. Townley and Matheson used some of the elements introduced here in the Vancouver City Hall a few years later. The 24-metre Causeway Tower is topped by a ten million candlepower beacon modeled after the Palmolive Building in Chicago; it was intended to guide increased seaplane traffic in the harbour that never came. 


Malahat Building / Old Victoria Custom House
1002 Wharf Street

This splash of French Second Empire architecture was one of the first federal buildings erected in Victoria after British Columbia joined the Canada Confederation in 1871. It was constructed of red brick and performed administrative duty from its completion in 1875 until 1899. English-born Thomas Seaton Scott, the Chief Dominion Architect who was busy providing young Canada with new government buildings outfitted the Victoria Custom House modestly with just corner quoins, window caps on the street elevation only and fancy window treatments around the mansard roof. 

Fort Victoria National Historic Site
waterfront at Wharf Street and foot of Broughton Street

The Hudson’s Bay Company built its first Pacific Coast headquarters on the lower Columbia River at Fort Vancouver in 1824, the townsite of today’s Vancouver, Washington. But the location proved inaccessible to ocean-going ships and was increasing removed from the rich fur fields. Eeen more problematic if was difficult to defend. In 1843 the company sent its Chief Factor George Douglas to Vancouver Island to set up another trading post, a plan that proved fortuitous in 1846 when the Oregon Treaty put the Columbia River property into American hands. Douglas first called the post Fort Camosun but the fort was quickly re-named for Queen Victoria, then nine years into her 64-year reign. As the settlement grew Douglas served as governor of the Vancouver Island colony from 1851 until 1864 and added leadership duties of the colony of British Columbia as well. By the time Douglas left office the original fort, which extended east two blocks to Government Street, had been torn to down so there was more room to sell goods to stampeders flocking into the harbour on the way to the goldfields. As you tour look down on Bastion Square and the 1000 and 1100 blocks of Government Street for light coloured bricks inscribed with pioneer names that roughly mark the outlines of the original fort pickets.

Odd Fellows Building
500 Fort Street at northeast corner of Wharf Street

Many of these buildings on the waterfront along Wharf Street can trace their beginnings to the 1860s after Fort Victoria was torn down. This land was owned by Alexander Grant Dallas who followed James Douglas as Chief Factor of Hudson’s Bay Company and then put in a few years as Governor of Rupert’s Land. For much of its history this 1863 building housed the International Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization which began in England in the 1700s as a place for tradesmen whose jobs did not fit into existing trade guilds. Victoria lodge #1 was started in 1864 by Brother A.H. Guild.   


Temple Building
519-525 Fort Street at southeast corner of Langley Street

This richly ornamented brick and terra cotta commercial building was the first large commission for New Westminster native Samuel Maclure, obtained in 1893 when he was 33 years old. It was acclaimed as one of his finest in a career that stretched some four decades. The client was Robert Ward & Company, agents for the Law Union and Crown Insurance Company. From these elegant quarters Ward also managed his wide-ranging Victoria business interests in real estate, salmon fishing and importing and exporting. Ward’s prosperity afforded Maclure the ability to employ red sandstone, red granite and elaborate high quality relief ornamentation on the corner office building. 


Otto Tiedemann Building
28 Bastion Square

Hermann Otto Tiedemann was born and educated as an architect and civil engineer in Berlin, Germany. He sailed to Vancouver Island in 1858 as a 37-year old and became the new colony’s first professional architect. Teidermann designed the first legislative buildings, a collection of six brick-and-wood structures completed in 1864 and whose eclectic look earned them the nickname “fancy bird cages.” This was Tiedermann’s last important commission, erected in 1888 as the provincial courthouse. The symmetrical Italianate Revival brick structure was completed at a cost of $35,075 and caused the Daily Colonist to gush that it was “a lasting monument to the progress which the province is making in architecture.” Since the courts moved on the main tenant of interest was the Maritime Museum of British Columbia that moved in during 1964 and stayed 49 years until departing to the Canadian Pacific Railway Steamship Terminal on the waterfront. 

Take a left into Bastion Square, walking in front of the Tiedemann Building. 

Bastion Square
between Government and Wharf streets

The provincial courthouse once disgorged prisoners into a jail located in Helmcken Alley on Bastion Square; it was demolished in 1885. The gallows located here 1have caused many visitors to claim otherworldly experiences in the square. One of the town’s most popular brothels was in business here as well. The modern Bastion Square is a 1960s creation that was the brainchild of Roderick Clark, the Victoria city planner. The ceremonial entry arch at View and Government streets came along in 1994. Today each summer Bastion Square hosts a public open air market on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays.     

Rithet Building
1117 Wharf Street at southwest corner of Bastion Square

Anchoring the southwest corner of Bastion Square is a commercial block boasting Victoria’s finest cast iron architecture. Cast iron gained favour in the 1860s as a building material since it could be molded into decorative forms and shipped to site for assembly which made it easier to afford than carved wood. The two-storey commercial building with two bays along Wharf Street was raised in 1861; the three-story neighbour with three bays were added in 1888 by Robert Paterson Rithet, a Scottish-born businessman who had been mayor of Victoria for two years in 1884 and 1885. Rithet was vice-president of Victoria’s Albion Iron Works which crafted the Italianate-styled columns for the southern bays. The buildings were acquired by the Province of British Columbia in 1978. During restoration the remains of the original Fort Victoria water well were discovered and converted into a lobby fountain. 

Turn right on Wharf Street. Turn right on Yates Street. 

Leiser Building
524 Yates Street at northeast corner of Waddington Alley

In 1868 Simon Leiser, then 17-years old, left his native Germany for the United States to work with his uncle in the Wisconsin Distilling Company. Within three years Leiser was heading up the Chicago office for the business but he was soon overcome with wanderlust. He wound up in Victoria running a coffee and spice shop in 1873. When gold was reported in the faraway Cassiar District of northern British Columbia, Leiser accepted a contract to build a trail to the head of navigation on the Stikine River to get the gold out. He ran a string of supply posts along the trail until the Cassiar gold played out and Leiser returned to Victoria where he built up the province’s largest wholesale grocery operation. In 1896 Leiser parted with $35,000 of his profits to construct this stylish warehouse that featured a central electric elevator greeted by tracks on each floor to quickly ferry merchandise. The building, designed by A.C. Ewart, came in handy when gold was discovered in the Yukon shortly after its construction.     

Walk through Waddington Alley at the south side of the Leiser Building. At Johnson Street turn right.  

Willie’s Bakery
537 Johnson Street

Stampeders from the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush would likely still recognize this block of Johnson Street - although most of the businesses back then were saloons. One that was not was Willie’s Bakery that has been at this location since the doors opened in 1887, making it British Columbia’s oldest bakery. 

Market Square
560 Johnson Street

This Victorian red brick structure was known by Klondike gold rushers as the Strand Hotel. Before that it was a swampy stream that marked the natural boundary between the European business district and Chinatown to the north. After the drainage was filled in local real estate speculator John Turner financed the construction of this standout commercial building in 1892. Turner went bankrupt a few years later and the new owners converted the Romanesque Revival structure into a hotel and saloon. Today nearly three dozen shopping experiences huddle around the brick Victorian courtyard and the neighbouring properties that were cobbled into Market Square in the 1970s.

Turn left on Government Street. Turn left on Pandora Street.

Fan Tan Alley
north side of Pandora Street

At less than one metre wide at its most claustrophobic point, this is the narrowest street in Canada. After the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush of 1858 about one-third of the immigrants to British Columbia were Chinese. Most settled in huts built north of the stream that flowed beyond Johnson Street. This initial settlement became the second oldest Chinatown in North America, after San Francisco’s that had accompanied its gold rush a decade earlier. Fan Tan Alley was once a gambling district infested with opium dens; today it is a popular tourist destination. 

Walk through Fan Tan Alley and turn right on Fisgard Avenue.

Gate of Harmonious Interest
Fisgard Street at Government Street

Chinatown, once Victoria’s “Forbidden City,” received its official welcoming gates in 1891. Constructed in China the native name for the gate is Tong Ji Men and it is loaded with ancient symbolism. Bells hanging from the corner are intended to repel evil spirits that may blow into the neighbourhood. Lions, one male and one female to represent the balance of the contrary forces of Yin and Yang, stand guard to protect Chinatown. The Golden Dragon and Red Phoenix inject generous measures of joy and prosperity for all those beyond the 11.5-metre gate.

Chinese Public School
636 Fisgard Avenue

For decades Chinese children were educated in makeshift classrooms in merchant homes and churches and seldom appeared in Victoria public schools. The first Chinese public school, Lequn Yishu (Sociability Free School), opened on the third floor of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association one block to the west in 1899 with 39 students. By 1909 more space was needed and this ornate schoolhouse was built with classes held in Chinese and also English to help students prepare for examinations into Canadian public schools. It was originally known as the Daqing Qiaomin Gongli Xuetang (Great Qing Overseas Chinese Public School) but when the Qing government was deposed three years later it became just known as the Chinese Public School. After Chinese students were integrated into public schools in the 1920s the school shifted to offering general classes in Chinese culture and language.       

The Hudson
1701 Douglas Street at northeast corner of Fisgard Avenue

In 1909, after more than six decades on the Victoria waterfront on Wharf Street, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) decided to break their retail operation away from their fur and land business. Six grand stores would be built in important Western Canadian cities. This retail palace was completed on plans drawn by Edmund Burke, John Charles Batstone Horwood and Murray Alexander White. Economic hard times and the First World War pushed the opening day to September 19, 1921 and the final price tag to $1.5 million. The arrival of Hudson’s Bay, with 50 separate departments, transformed a former residential slice of the city into a destination shopping hub. Patrons could enjoy a well-stocked lending library and a live orchestra. After 80 years Victoria’s emergence as a tourist mecca moved the town’s retail centre back towards the waterfront and HBC followed; the landmark department store has since be re-adapted for residential living.      

Turn right on Douglas Street. 

Victoria City Hall
1 Centennial Square at northwest corner of Douglas Street and Pandora Avenue

Thirteen years after incorporation in 1862 the city staged a design competition for a permanent government home. Forty-year old local architectJohn Teague won the commission but financial problems forced a scaling back of his ambitious Second French Empire vision. Even so the building lurched to completion in stages all the way until 1891 by which time mansard roofs were out of style and heavy masonry walls were beginning to give way to modern building methods. Nonetheless City Hall has provided continuous service ever since, with the help of a two-storey annex raised in the 1960s as Victoria’s first stab at modernist architecture. The original bell in the central clock tower still rings out the time every half hour.  

Prince George Hotel/Hotel Rialto
653 Pandora Avenue at southwest corner of Douglas Street

Lim Bang was born to merchant parents in Victoria in 1884 and was one of the first Chinese students to take classes in the city’s public schools. A precocious businessman, Lim Bang found success early and motored to and from the family Gim Fook Yuen store in one of Victoria’s first automobiles; Lim Bang owned drivers license #4. He had business interests in lumber, greenhouses and a brickyard. He constructed this five-storey hotel in 1911 for tourists and seasonal workers. At first it was called the Prince George Hotel but a century later it carries the name Hotel Rialto.


Centennial Square
along Pandora Avenue between Douglas and Government streets

This ceremonial civic plaza was created for the 100the anniversary of Victoria as a city in 1962. The historic City Hall was given a date with the wrecking ball but instead it was spared and incorporated into the project with the new annex and the police station. The hardscaped public square boasts curved steps, planters and a central fountain.

McPherson Playhouse
3 Centennial Square at northeast corner of Government Street

Born on the Greek island of Andros, Alexander Pantages spent his twenties digging the Panama Canal, boxing in San Francisco and prospecting for gold in the Yukon Territory. He began his career as a show business exhibitor in Dawson City, Yukon as a partner to saloon and brothel-keeper “Klondike Kate” Rockwell, operating a small, but highly successful vaudeville and burlesque theatre, the Orpheum. In 1902, at the age of 27, he was in Seattle opening the Crystal Theater and launching a chain of theaters across the West in Canada and the United States. Pantages came to Victoria in 1914 and converted this brick building with a Neo-Colonial facade originally intended to house offices into a state-of-the-art vaudeville theatre. Its days as a profitable stage long gone, the McPherson family gave the building to the City of Victoria for rehab during the 1960s development of Centennial Square. Today it is the home of the Royal and McPherson Theatres Society.


Westholme Hotel/Century Inn
1415 Government Street

This is another building that saw new life thanks to Victoria’s 100th birthday. For the fifty years prior this block housed the Westholme Hotel mid-block and its neighbour to the north was the Prince Saloon. The hotel was bankrolled by the Westhome Lumber Company and was designed by English-born and trained Henry Sandham Griffith. In the 1960s the saloon was leveled and the hotel expanded. It reopened in 1965 as the Century Inn and while its name referenced Victoria’s heritage the Arabian decor did not trigger many memories of the historic port city save perhaps for a miniature replica of the Centennial Fountain in the lobby. The Century Inn was a popular local drinking hole until it shuttered in March of 1986.   

Prior Building
1401 Government Street

Edward Gawler Prior took a job as assistant manager of the Vancouver Coal Mining & Land Company and sailed to British Columbia from England in 1873 when he was 20 years old. He was appointed by the British Columbia government as Inspector of Mines but left that position to become an iron and hardware merchant. This three-storey commercial building was constructed in 1888 to house the E.G. Prior and Co. Hardware Store. Prior never lost his taste for politics, however, holding numerous posts until becoming the 15th Premier of British Columbia in 1902. 

New England Hotel
1312-1314 Government Street

John Teague was born in Cornwall, England in 1833 and sailed to Victoria when he was 25 years old after a stint in San Francisco. He emerged as one of the young town’s busiest architects. He designed this Romanesque-inspired hotel, featuring 40 guest rooms, in 1892. Two years later Teague was elected mayor of Victoria.      

Adelphi Building
1300-1304 Government Street at northwest corner of Yates Street

This Victorian commercial building dates to 1891. The money men were the Canadian Pacific Land & Mortgage Company that was formed in England three years earlier to assume the British Columbia investments of Thomas Dixon Galpin. Galpin was business manager for the venerable English book publisher Cassell & Co.      

Main Post Office and Federal Building/P.L. James Place
1230 Government Street at southwest corner of Yates Street

Percy Leonard James was a contemporary and eventual partner for four years of esteemed architect Francis Rattenbury. For much of his career James worked on high end residences. By the 1930s James was on his own and picked up the biggest commission of his career when he was 70 years old in 1948 - the Main Post Office and Federal Building. He tapped the InternationalStyle with just a trace of the passing Art Moderne influences for the block swallowing five-storey building. When the government moved on the structure was renovated in 1994 and took the architect’s name.

Trounce Alley
east side of Government Street

Thomas Trounce was an active builder in early Victoria before he was twenty years old. He owned this land that carries his name and constructed the alley to provide street access for commercial buildings he owned on both sides of the passageway. W & J Wilson Clothiers at the corner Government Street entrance to Trounce Alley has been here since the beginning in 1862. Today one of the most sought out shopping destinations in Victoria, the gaslights are the same ones that burned in the alley 125 years ago. 

Union Bank
1205 Government Street between View Street and Trounce Alley

Alfred Arthur Cox helped push Victoria towards the sky with this elegant six-storey Edwardian confection in 1912 for the Union Bank. Cox outfitted his building with tan brick and ornate white-glazed terra cotta trim. The Trounce Alley side was left unadorned but Cox provided the Government and View street elevations with upper level balconies.

Bank of Montreal
1200 Government Street

Francis Mawson Rattenbury was a “starchitect” a century before the word was applied to big-time architects. His client roster included the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Bank of Montreal, the bluest of Canadian business blue chips. For the Victoria branch of the bank that started in 1817 Rattenbury tapped the French Chateau style that became the unofficial architecture for Canadian civic buildings. Constructed in 1896, the four-storey building retained a heavy rough-faced stone Victorian appearance while using a more modern steel frame construction.

Morris Tobacconists
1116 Government Street

One of Victoria’s oldest businesses has been operating at this location since 1892. By 1910 E.A. Morris was able to afford a gleaming new emporium dominated by an Alabaster archway. The interior is awash in mahogany, marble and onyx designed to amplify “High Victorian” society. In the center of the store Morris placed an Electrolier crafted of rare Mexican Onyx that is the last functioning model of its kind in the world.

The Bay Centre
east side of Government Street from View Street to Fort Street

This was the site of David Spencer’s second store in Victoria which the retailer built into an iconic chain of nine stores in British Columbia beginning in 1873. Spencer’s was consumed by the Toronto-based Eaton’s in 1948. The historic store was demolished in the 1980s for a new project dreamed up between Eaton’s and property management investor Cadillac Fairview that featured four floors and 93 stores. After Eaton’s went bankrupt in the 1990s and after Hudson’s Bay moved in during 2002 the complex was renamed the Bay Centre. 

Royal Bank Building
1108 Government Street

This mid-block banking temple joined the Victoria streetscape in 1909 courtesy of prominent New York City architects John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings who were associated with the Royal Bank in the early 20th century. Carrère and Hastings were leading cheerleaders for the Beaux Arts style and contributed the classical facade while leading local architect Thomas Hooper designed the banking hall.The granite-clad building was two storeys until the top was shed in a 1950s renovation. Jim Munro started selling books on Yates Street in 1963 and moved here in 1984, building a landmark business renowned as one of Canada’s finest bookstores. 

Southgate & Lascelles Building
1102 Government Stree

The moneymen behind this corner block were James Johnson Southgate, a retired ship-master, and Horace Douglas Lacelles, a man of means who ascended to commander in the Royal Navy. Both were retired in England by the time this investment was completed in 1869. Richard Lewis was responsible for designing the original building and busy local architect John Teague orchestrated additions in 1901. The English-born Teague caught gold fever and headed for California and then chased riches in the Fraser Valley. He settled in Victoria in 1860 and was credited with designing 350 buildings in town. 

Bank of British Columbia
1020-1022 Government Street

This Victorian jewel is the handiwork of Warren Heywood Williams, an American architect who spent most his career in Oregon. Williams was a master of cast iron architecture and he teamed with the local Albion Iron Works to create the decorative flourishes seen here. Poet and writer Robert W. Service, called “the Bard of the Yukon,” worked as a bank clerk in his day job and he once worked here at the Canadian headquarters of the Bank of British Columbia and lived in an apartment upstairs. This branch opened in 1885; Williams died three years later of pneumonia at the age of 44.  

Vernon Block
1000-1002 Government Street

Charles Albert Vernon went through a military college education in England and was an officer in the Lancaster Fusiliers. He resigned his commission at the age of 23 in 1863 to come seek fortune in British Columbia with his brother Forbes. After a couple years of silver mining the brothers started a cattle ranch in the Okanagan Valley. The Vernons prospered enough to get the emerging town named for them. One of Charles Vernon’s business interests was in the British Columbia Pottery Company and the company’s tile and terra cotta products were put to fine use on this investment property raised in 1899. Architect Thomas Hooper provided the transiitonsal design which employed broad arches from the waning Romanesque style and the classical detailing of the approaching Edwardian era.  

Weiler Building
921 Government Street

The Weiler Brothers Home Furnishings business was considered Victoria’s first department store after it was erected in 1899. Architect Thomas Sorby oversaw construction of what was then the largest timber-framed building in British Columbia. The Romanesque-styled windows dominate the facade in a variety of sizes. 

Rogers Chocolates
913 Government Street

Charles Rogers was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1854. He came out west looking for gold but found his treasure in chocolates. Rogers opened a small greengrocery on Government Street with his wife, Leah, in 1885. His bestseller turned out to be candy but supplies from San Francisco were erratic so Rogers began fiddling with his own candy recipes and conjured up a line of chocolate-coated caramels, mint wafers, almond brittle and his trademark Victoria Creams that soon won devoted customers. This Queen Anne-flavoured building with upstairs bay window was constructed in 1903 and Rogers’ Chocolates moved in during 1917. The company has continued as a Victoria institution ever since.

Victoria Hotel/Windsor Hotel
901-905 Government Street

The original building on this corner was standing at the same time as Fort Victoria. It was the Victoria Hotel then but the frontier structure was given an English makeover in tune with the city’s ethos in the 1930s. The old brick building was slathered in stucco and Tudor-style half-timbering applied

Victoria Public Building
816 Government Street at northwest corner of Wharf Street

Victoria began picking up its mail at this location in 1874. A grand Victorian stone pile designed by Thomas Fuller rose here in 1898. In 1914 a series of extensions was begun that were orchestrated by David Ewart, architect of the Federal Department of Public Works. A fire in the late hours of January 18, 1937 swept through the two upper floors and led to the construction of the more modern current building in 1952. A few years later the remains of Fuller’s 1898 ornate building were pulled down completely

Belmont Building
801-807 Government Street at northeast corner of Humboldt Street

Architects Samuel Hoult Horton and Paul Phipps helped usher Victoria into the skyscraper age with the town’s first large-scale building formed of reinforced concrete. They dressed their Edwardian-style 8-storey structure in white terra cotta which was more appropriate for a hotel than an office building which was the plan right up to the completion date. The Belmont Building takes its name from a 19th century saloon that once stood here.

Turn LEFT ON humboldT STREET.

Union Club
805 Gordon Street at northeast corner of Humboldt Street

English gentlemen’s clubs were the inspiration for the Union Club that was formed in 1879 and continues as one of the oldest private clubs in western Canada. San Francisco architect Loring P. Rixford provided the elegant Georgian Revival design for the current four-stroey clubhouse that has served the membership since 1912. The building is fashioned with brown brick and trimmed in white terra cotta. Victoria’s most esteemed architect, Francis Mawson Rattenbury, who had studied club houses from the inside and out on travels around the world, contributed ideas to the plans.

Turn right on Douglas Street and continue to Thunderbird Park.

Thunderbird Park/Mungo Martin House
southwest corner of Belleville and Douglas streets

The collection of totem poles telling First Nations stories in this small park were collected from coastal villages for display here in the early 1900s. In the mid-century when the poles began deteriorating only one carver who still practised the craft could be found, Kwakiutl artist Chief Mungo Martin. Working on site and living in the traditional “big house” known as a Kwakwaka’wakw he built, Martin restored all the poles. In 1992 all the original poles were moved into the adjacent Royal B.C. Museum and replaced with new versions. Historic structures dot Thunderbird Park including the St. Anne’s Schoolhouse that was constructed in 1844 and moved here and a simple woodframe house assembled by Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken, a surgeon for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Completed in 1852 as a three-room log cabin the Helmcken House is the oldest structure in British Columbia standing in its original location.

Walk back to belleville street and turn left, walking towards the harbour. on your left is...

Royal BC Museum
675 Belleville Street at southeast corner of Government Street

The Province of British Columbia began collecting artifacts in 1886 and a small museum opened in the provincial legislative buildings. The museum found ever-expansive space around town until moving to these specially built quarters in 1968. Now with some seven million objects the museum boasts three permanent galleries for modern history, natural history and preserving First Nations’ heritage. In 1987 Queen Elizabeth II approved its elevation to status of “Royal.”

British Columbia Parliament Buildings
501 Belleville Street at southwest corner of Government Street

These are the second legislative buildings to serve the government of British Columbia, completed in 1897 after four years of construction. The grand Neo-baroque buildings replaced a set of five wooden structures known as “The Birdcages.” The historic relics stood until consumed by a fire in 1957. A competition held to design the new Parliament Buildings yielded a winning entry from an unknown “A.B.C. Architect” who turned out to be a recent 25-year old immigrant from England named Francis Mawson Rattenbury. The commission made Rattenbury’s career and he also worked as Western Division Architect for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Lacking formal architectural training Rattenbury’s work was no longer in demand by the 1920s. He suffered financial reversals and a scandalized end to his marriage. In 1923 he took a new wife, three decades his junior, back to England where he was murdered 12 years later by her lover from a series of blows with a carpenter’s mallet.


Empress Hotel
721 Government Street between Humboldt and Belleville streets

After wrapping up work on the Parliament Buildings Francis Rattenbury pursued his vision for developing the Inner Harbour. He gave the Empress Hotel, constructed for the Canadian Pacific Railway, a French Chateau styling in 1905; the first guests were welcomed in 1908. On its way to becoming a Canadian landmark the Empress received additional wings in 1909, 1914 and 1929. In the 1960s the grand terminus hotel had grown shabby and their was talk of tearing it down for a more modern guest house. It dodged the wrecking ball and instead received a $4 million facelift called “Operation Teacup.” The entire 477-room complex was given a $45 million makeover in 1989 known as “The Royal Restoration.”  

You have now returned to the tour starting point.