Tuesday, January 28, 2014

George Richardson and the Victoria Hotel, 1858-1878

The Victoria Hotel & Saloon(1858-1878)
George Richardson
(21) Government Street,
 Northeast corner with (Rae) Courtenay Street

1858-1878 George B. Richardson, Owner
1864           John McGowan, Lease
1864           Dan McBride, Lease
1877           L.H. Ouimette, Lease
1878           Becomes the Boomerang Hotel

The Victoria Hotel & Saloon opened in August 1858 not only as the first brick built saloon in Victoria but the first brick building in what would become known as British Columbia.

George Richardson, who arrived in Esquimalt from England in 1850, built the hotel on land purchased from the Hudson’s Bay Company. As owner he ran the hotel from time to time for many years, sometimes leasing his premise out to attend to his other businesses.
The very modest sized hotel had six rooms on the second floor above the saloon and a smaller adjoining parlour. Hotels and saloons were not just places for sleeping and drinking but served as meeting places for Clubs and Organizations. The Independent Order of the Oddfellows (I.O.O.F.) met on Tuesday nights before they leased out their own building. The meetings of the Shipwrights & Caulkers Union took place at the Victoria Hotel. The Pioneer Cricket Club had a reserved room. Even the meeting of Electors took place in one of the rooms at the Victoria Hotel.

Social functions were held at the hotel which included a celebration of Queen Victoria’s Birthday with a “Race Dinner” preceding the annual horse race at Beacon Hill Park.
Richardson held a variety of raffles and almost every kind of animal was raffled off from “fat turkeys and geese” at Christmas, to racing horses, rabbits, pigs, and an assortment of other game. Raffle prizes also included a chance at a Christmas Dinner at the cost of a fifty-cent ticket. While raffles were soon to be commonplace in the saloons and hotels of the 1860’s, Richardson held some of the earliest.

The hotel also served as a makeshift hospital as when a gun accident occurred in 1864 near the hotel and the injured man was taken into the hotel and attended to by the local doctor. And when a stabbing occurred nearby in 1860, the wounded party was patched up in the Victoria hotel.

One Friday evening in autumn of 1876, while hotel patrons were preparing for bed, Richardson was alerted to a foul gas smell coming from the parlour. He went to investigate, to his misfortune using a lite candle, which ignited the gas and caused a terrible explosion heard for a half-mile in all directions. The explosion left Richardson dazed with severe burns to his head, face and one hand. The brick partitions sustained damage as did a portion of the stairs, the explosion shattered windows, burned the window blinds, curtains, and wallpaper. The force of the explosion also caused a lamppost at the corner of Government and Fort to topple over. Frightened hotel guests frantically climbed down the second floor balcony where a Mr Deasy fell, while assisting his family, off the second floor onto the road below fracturing an elbow. It was later discovered that renovations to the parlour had ruptured one of the gas pipes causing a slow leak. [Colonist September 10, 1876, page 3.]

The Victoria Hotel was leased to Benjamin Pitt Griffin in 1878. He changed the name of the hotel to the Boomerang Hotel where he conducted business under that name until 1885 when the name changed to the Windsor Hotel. Richardson owned the hotel until 1903 when he retired to his home in James Bay.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Phoenix Saloon, 1858-1881

Phoenix Saloon (1858-1881)
Thomas H. McCann
(16) Yates Street, Northeast corner with Waddington Alley

1858-1864 Thomas H. McCann
1864-1872 William P. Marsh
1872-1875 Mrs. B. Slowman
1875-1878 George Lafrienne
1878-1880 John Horrell
1880-1881 Mrs. Walter Broughner

The Phoenix Saloon opened in July 1858 as one of numerous new businesses catering to the influx of mostly Americans who came to the tiny colony on there way to make their fortune in the Cariboo Gold Rush. It was built directly across Waddington & Yates Streets from the Albion Saloon. The close proximity of the two saloons helped more than hindered business and both saloons prospered for years. 

The Phoenix Saloon was one of the first to advertise in the local newspaper, the British Colonist, August 29, 1859, “The Saloon is now open under the management of T.H. McCann. The Bar will be supplied with the choicest brands of Wines, Liquors, Ales, Porter and Cigars, with a pleasant Room to sit down and enjoy them.”

Like most of these early hastily built saloons, the Phoenix was built out of wood and as the advertisement boasts, they certainly sold more than just beer to their thirsty patrons.
Drinks of all kinds were offered for 12 and one-half cents and of course beer was always a nickel. The Phoenix Saloon was furnished a long, mahogany bar where one could belly up to, and offered tables “to sit down and be happy.” Fresh oysters from Sooke were always available and to keep competitive the owner offered free hot lunches daily from 10 to 4 for those who purchased drinks.

During Christmas Season of 1862, the Phoenix Saloon offered “fat turkeys and chickens to be served with gallons of eggnog.”

The Phoenix Saloon expanded in the 1870’s to offer a few clean and affordable rooms and attached to the saloon was added a reading room which provided a quiet place away from the noisy bar where patrons could relax and enjoy a Havana Cigar and a good book with their beverage.

The Phoenix Hotel & Saloon survived the boom and bust times under its last proprietor, Mrs. W. Broughner until it was sold then demolished in the summer of 1881 to make way for a large brick Produce Warehouse.