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Victoria Harbour Walk

posted on Jul 28

Victoria's Inner Harbour is bustling in the summer months with tourists, festivals and whale-watching tours, but a short walk from the harbour can give you a view of a different side of the city.

Victoria was once a shipping and industrial centre, and James Bay was the centre of this activity. Traces of this history can still be seen along the coast surrounding the oldest residential neighbourhood, but what is perhaps most interesting is what is no longer visible, says local historian John Adams.

Adams runs ghost walks and Chinatown history tours, but also leads neighbourhood walks in the fall and winter, uncovering local history for residents interested in their city's past.

The James Bay area is a favourite because of its age, with buildings dating to the 1850s standing next to ones built decades later.

The path along the waterfront is "a good route for people who just want to go out for a stroll and see some interesting things along the way," Adams says.

The first stop: Gatsby Mansion at Belleville Park. The mansion was built in the Queen Anne style by William J. Pendray, who owned a soap factory, in 1890. This area has been restored and contains inns and shops.

Belleville Street is now home to many hotels, but it was once home to sea captains and other bigwigs of the maritime trade, says Adams.

From there, a boardwalk leads walkers from downtown to Fisherman's Wharf, winding along spectacular views of the harbour and ocean, between hotels new and old.

Nestled between the hotels and water is a monument to mark Laurel Point as a First Nations burial ground. While a grave house once stood in the area now occupied by the Inn at Laurel Point, it has also been a site for Pendray's factories, producing soap and paint.

This picturesque walk reaches the street near the Superior, a restaurant serving a role similar to what it was doing 100 years ago.

The cornerstone was laid by Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught and governor general of Canada, in 1912, when the building was known as the Seaman's Institute: "A home away from home for sailors," says Adams.

With the port facilities nearby, the area was often crawling with merchant sailors, who were prone to less-than-positive pursuits during their time on land. The Institute offered a chance to "lead a slightly more civilized shore life," Adams says, providing a place for card games over coffee.

In those days, Fisherman's Wharf was little more than a swampy bay.

"Fisherman's Wharf is a favourite place today, but up until the end of [the Second World War], this was probably a place that most people in Victoria wouldn't have come to," says Adams.

The area was home to a shipyard, and people set up shop in a sort of shanty town around Erie Street.

The bay was filled in and docks built for a fishing fleet after the war, and now the area has "a new lease on life as a place for float homes and a place for fish and chips," says Adams.

Farther along is the coast guard station, and around the corner is Ogden Point.

Victoria was a popular point of entry for goods shipped from the United States, which is why Robert Rithet built two deep-sea docks at the site of the coast guard station.

"Victoria really is in a strategic location because it is closer to the Pacific than Vancouver is," says Adams.

The Ogden Point breakwater was also constructed to facilitate trade by helping larger vessels dock in Victoria, although it never quite worked, says Adams. It's now just a good place to walk out into the ocean.

A trip down Oswego Street will bring you back to the starting point, while leading you through some of the James Bay neighbourhood where houses were first built away from the ocean chill.

The many phases of this neighbourhood can be seen in the houses themselves. Some heritage homes remain, and others were torn down to make way for the first highrise buildings in the area.

These sit with newer and older houses sandwiched in between, leaving interesting architecture and colours to be found.

"The whole atmosphere of James Bay has changed," says Adams, "from heavy industry and a place of houses that were old and not in very good condition."

Now, however, "James Bay is a lovely mixed neighbourhood — old and new, young and old. It's a very vibrant neighbourhood."

kburnham@timescolonist.com

JAMES BAY

HISTORY WALK

Difficulty: 1/5 — A nice flat walk along boardwalks and sidewalks.

Family friendly

Time to complete: One hour round trip

Facilities: Coffee shops and restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf and Ogden Point for breaks.

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