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I scrambled over Moss rocks to locate this vista, and was instantly surprised by all of the trees in the cemetery and how much the view has changed from this hand tinted postcard dated 1907. Sometimes it is hard to imagine all of the deforestation that took place in Victoria to create farmsteads. The HBC knew that being south of the 49th parallel meant that more British inhabitants would protect it from its American neighbour and so they encouraged farmers to buy vast amounts of land to work and produce food on. The 1907 photograph is a stark contrast to the leafy Fairfield neighbourhood that we know and love today.
Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria, BC Canada, opened in 1873 with over 27 acres of cleared land and 28,000 interments. The eastern part of the property was bought from Isabella Ross, BC's first woman to be a registered land owner under colonial law. Her plight was even more incredible considering she was of Anishinaage and French Metis descent. If you would like to know more about Ross's life, check out this fantastic website, "Studies in Death- Isabella Mainville Ross".
The cemetery remained bare until the 1930's when the city planted a large collection of diverse trees and shrubs to contend with the erosion from winter storms in the bay. This includes the widest range of pine trees in Victoria, as well as, Spanish Fir, Rocky Mountain White Fir, Cork-Bark Elm, Holly, Boxwood and Lilac.
Today, Ross Bay Cemetery is a beautiful location for a walk and historical tour. Those with spidey senses may bump into the many ghosts that inhabit the property. Some may include Victoria's earliest pioneers who had their remains moved to the property in the 1870's from the Pioneer Square Cemetery (next to Christ Church Cathedral). That was sure to create some confusion in the spirit world. You could also do a Ghost Tour during Halloween to make you a believer.
Famous residents include; Sir James Douglas (considered "the Father of BC"), and his wife Lady Amelia Connolly Douglas, Robert Dunsmuir (the coal baron who built Craigdarroch Castle), Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie (the Hanging Judge), Emily Carr (writer, painter), Billy Barker (the gold prospector who lost his fortune), Amor de Cosmos (writer, agitator, BC Premier) and Billy Muir, to name a few. I will get to many of these colourful characters in future articles.
This Sunday, July 30th, 2017 is the annual Gorge Swim Fest at Banfield Park. Many of us see the Gorge as a quite, restful post-industrial waterway. Some might even venture to take a dip in its warm waters. But did you know that the Gorge was once a playground to wealthy Victorians looking to cool off from the city.
Between the late 1800’s and early 1900’s thousands flocked to the shores for picnics, outdoor concerts and to swim from its shores. The BC Electric Railway brought Victorian’s to the ten-acre Gorge Park. There were walkways and gardens with strings of electric lights, a Japanese Tea House, vaudeville stage, a roller coaster and merry-go-round all to the delight of its visitors.
In 1911, the city constructed a free public bathing house next to the reversing falls bridge and on the sunny side of the waterway. “The Free” attracted young people from as far as Oak Bay via streetcar and offered them an alternative to "The Pay" bathhouse on the other side of the bridge. Changing stalls with women on one side and men on the other opened to a ramp, which led to the deep water. Diving boards and slides were attached to floating rafts. It is said that 12,000 swimmers descended on the swimming hole in the summer of 1916. (Minaker p.88).
Only strong swimmers could traverse the tidal falls safely, as many inexperienced boaters and swimmers drowned in the tumultuous currents. The Gorge Bridge was where young swimmers, like nineteen year old William Muir learned to dive. Tourists were said to pay to watch children jump from the bridge for entertainment.
In 1922, to attract crowds, there was a freestanding diving tower erected, measuring 110 feet high. It was considered to be one of the highest diving towers in North America, while further challenging divers with an average of only 15 ft of water depth below. This was a thrilling challenge that friends, William “Billy” Muir and Herbert “Buck “ Calder could not resist.
On August 5, 1922 both Billy and Buck were part of a diving exhibition. Billy was the provincial diving champion in the spring of 1922. They had both made two dives during the afternoon with their final dive planned for dusk, after the last of the swimming races. Billy dove first to raucous applause, but surfaced only being able to move his hands. Something had gone wrong and Billy was in need of help. Local champion swimmer, Audrey Griffin, jumped in and dragged him back to shore. Spectators pulled Billy from the water, most likely further injuring his fractured back.
He was taken by ambulance to St Joseph’s Hospital, across from St. Ann’s Academy. His family and friends learned that his spine had been crushed and that he would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Local organizations, clubs, and artists fund raised for the Billy Muir Fund to help pay for his medical expenses. It was said that he suffered in great pain until he died three years late in his home on Vancouver street at the age of twenty-three.
His obituary read that his funeral at Sands Funeral Chapel was attended by “an unusually large gathering of friends” and that “many beautiful flowers required a motor to convey them to the cemetery testifying to the popularity of the young man with his friends.” He was buried in Ross Bay Cemetery, April 22, 1925.
To see video footage of the Gorge Diving Tower: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwUyoUADlTQ
Swimming in the Gorge Waterway at Curtis Point in about 1922- BC History YouTube Channel
Minaker, Dennis, The Gorge of Summers Gone: A History of Victoria’s Inland Waterway (Victoria: Desktop Publishing Ltd, 1998), 103-108.
Minaker, Dennis, Next to the Gorge: A History of the Neighborhood Bound by Tillicum, Burnside, and Harriet Roads and the Gorge Waterway-1852-1996, accessed July 25, 2017, https://www.crd.bc.ca/docs/default-source/initiatives-pdf/gwi-pdf/other-reports/nexttothegorge-dennisminaker.pdf?sfvrsn=2
The Daily Colonist, August 6th, 1922 accessed July 25, 2017, http://archive.org/stream/dailycolonist0722uvic_31#page/n10/mode/1up/search/vancouver+island
The Daily Colonist, April 23, 1925 accessed July 25, 2017, http://archive.org/stream/dailycolonist0325uvic_45#page/n4/mode/1up/search/muir
You can imagine the confusion of the other buyers at the local swap meet when I excitedly picked up a large chunk of wood from one of my favorite vendors. I knew that it wasn’t just an old piece of wood; it was a remnant of Victoria’s oldest surviving wood road. Waddington Alley, sandwiched between Johnson St and Yates St, which has served as a busy market street and later a pedestrian walkway for over 120 years.
Alfred Penderill Waddington was the son of an English wealthy landowner. Of ten children, Waddington was the sixth son. After the death of his father when he was seventeen he moved to Paris and then Germany to finish his studies in business. Word of the gold rush in California called to him and he set sail in 1840 with dreams of making his fortune. Once in San Francisco he partnered with another investor to set up a successful importing business: Dulip & Waddington.
As the California gold rush slowed, news of the BC gold rush spread like wildfire. In the spring of 1858, Waddington decided to make his way to Victoria to set up shop for the first wave. He quickly bought several parcels of land from the HBC, knowing that the influx of thousands of miners was on its way.
Having arrived in Victoria so early he was able to cut an alley between some of his properties between Johnson St and Yates St. This increased the street frontage for his buildings by six hundred feet. He divided the lots into small buildings built of California redwood. Tenants included a fish market, bakery, blacksmith, the Sacramento Restaurant and the Bowling and Refreshment Saloon. It was reported in 1860 that Waddington’s income from his tenants was $1000 per month, a substantial amount in that day.
The Pioneer Wholesale and Retail Variety Store advertised “Glassware, guns and pistols, axes, nails, frying pans, lanterns, stoves, buckets and washboards.” Morley’s Soda Water Manufacturing, one of the most successful and enduring alley businesses, sold “Lemonade, Ginger Ale and Bitters, Medical Lake Water, Essences of Peppermint and Ginger, and all kinds of syrups” (Ringuette).
Waddington, a strong supporter of a transcontinental rail line, travelled to Ottawa in 1867 via. Panama and New York to meet with the Prime Minister in Ottawa. He then travelled to London to seek investors for the project. In 1872, he travelled back to Ottawa where he met a doctor who had been working with patients with small pox. Soon after, Waddington contracted the disease and died alone on February 27, 1872. He had never married and did not have any children to leave his Victoria properties to.
After Waddington died his street become property of the city. Although he had planked his street with wood it continually succumbed to the rain and mud and needed to be repaired. In 1908, the City of Victoria finally had the alley resurfaced with Douglas Fir wood blocks. The rare metal carriage curb also still survives on the southern side of the alley.
In the 1980’s, The Hallmark Society narrowly saved the alley from being asphalted over. The alley was restored in 1992 funded by $30,000 from the city and $45,000 from the BC Heritage Trust Grant.
Today, many people walk through Waddington Alley without noticing that they are walking on Victoria’s oldest surviving wood road. Hopefully, with the continued revitalization of the area we may see more storefronts come back to the alley and remind us of its history as a thriving market street.
Reksten, Terry, More English than the English: A Very Social History of Victoria (Victoria: Orca Book Publishing, 1993), 46-49.
Ringuette, Janis, “Heritage and Art Features on Victoria Streets and Sidewalks (Waddington Alley: A 1908 Street Experience),” entry posted 2007, accessed July 19, 2017, http://www.islandnet.com/~jar/streetscapes/topics/waddington.htm
Humphreys, Danda, On the Street Where You Live: Victoria’s Early Roads and Railways, Vol.2. (Surrey, BC: Heritage House Publishing Company Ltd, 2000), 23-26.