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.