Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A History of the Esquimalt Inn, Part I: Halfway House, 1860-1888

A History of the Esquimalt Inn, Part I: Halfway House 



   As one travels along the 800 block of Esquimalt Road you will pass by a pub and privately operated liquor store called the Cambie at the Esquimalt Inn. This modest building that houses both the pub and liquor store, may appear rather plain and ordinary, but underneath its worn exterior masks a lengthy and remarkable history for on this site 156 years ago opened a public house and the first brewery in Esquimalt. The Halfway House, as it was initially named, is the oldest business in Esquimalt still operating from its original location. Esquimalt Road was just a dirt trail back in 1860 and the town of Victoria was two years before incorporation when the Bland Family developed their property at 856 Esquimalt Road.

This article will trace the history of the Esquimalt Inn from its early beginnings when it was known as the Halfway House to its final years as a pub as plans to close the pub and redevelop the large property is in the works. The story of the history of this long established public house is told in four parts with this article as Part One, covering the early period from 1860 to 1888, Part Two, covering the era 1889, through prohibition to 1924, part III when the owners received their beer parlour licenses in 1925 to 1954, then the final part of the story of the Esquimalt Inn covers the years, 1955 until today 2016. Sit back and imagine yourself bellying up to the bar or relaxing at a table inside the Halfway House all those years ago when the pace of the world was slower and your pint of beer costs a nickel. I hope you enjoy your time discovering the history of the Esquimalt Inn.

On February 3, 1859 James William and Elizabeth Bland arrived in Victoria, the following year they purchased land in Esquimalt, built their home and a public house named the Halfway House. The Halfway House became a popular stop on the trail that connected the town of Victoria to the British navy base at Esquimalt Harbour, being halfway between the two. Besides the bar at the Halfway House, the Blands “provided comfortable rooms, clean stables and wholesome food for sailors and settlers.”[1]
The Blands brewed their own beer from water drawn at three wells on their property which provided an abundance of clean, pure water while at the same time saving money from not having to purchase their product from local breweries. “His recipe was used by family members for years. One of his secrets was the use of Muscat raisins.”[2] James Bland registered his brewery in 1861.

On April 14, 1862 the steamer, Hermann arrived at the Esquimalt docks from San Francisco and unloaded a most unusual cargo, twenty-three Bactrian camels, which caused quite a commotion when a number of horses became frightened.[3] The two-humped animals were shedding their winter coats and did not look or smell too appealing. The camels would be kept on two acres of fenced land of the Bland property behind the Halfway House Saloon and Brewery until they were sold as pack animals for the Fraser River Gold Fields It was also reported that the animals were guarded by a “live Turk”.[4]

People were naturally very curious to view these strange and exotic beasts of burden and James Bland quickly recognized the advantage to his business that advertising them would bring. On lookers were not disappointed and were especially delighted to witness the birth of a baby camel some days later.[5]

Clockwise from top left: Elizabeth & James Bland, 1859, BCA G-01333; 
Camels for the Cariboo, 1862, BCA A-00347; 
The Halfway House - Trentham Hotel, 1888, BCA D-01890


Over the next seventeen years Elizabeth and James lived at their Esquimalt home. They had five children, two of which were born on their property on Esquimalt Road. James put his business up for sale a number of times beginning in November 1875 then again in July 1877.

“That splendid property known as the Half-Way House, situated on the Esquimalt Road, comprising two acres of arable land well-fenced, with three wells of the finest water on the premises. The Building is substantially built of Brick, with all necessary Outbuildings, etc. A first-class Brewery is attached with every article for Brewing; the Boiler has a capacity of 200 gallons at a Brewing. There is also a capital Skittle or Bowling Alley on the premises.”[6]

The Blands eventually sold their property and business and by 1888 they went into retirement but not before one dramatic moment which could have resulted in disaster.
In January 1888 a fire broke out in the Half-way House and threatened to consume the business and the house. Quick action by the local fire brigade saved both structures. Fire was the single major cause of destruction in Greater Victoria and remained so for many years.

Joseph Bayley purchased the Half-Way House and property on May 9, 1888 and had a grand re-opening of the hotel on May 17, 1888 under the new name, the Trentham Hotel, Half-Way House.[7] 

Joseph Bayley was no stranger to operating hotels as he owned the Occidental Hotel at the corner of Wharf and Johnson Streets in Victoria with his partner Edward Legg. Bayley decided to sell his interest in the hotel when he purchased the Halfway House in Esquimalt. But Bayley's troubles were just beginning...

Part II covering the period from 1889 to 1924 coming soon. 

[1] See Duffus, Maureen’s  website

Also see, Robinson, Sherri, The Halfway House an article written in Beyond the Blue Bridge: Stories From Esquimalt, Esquimalt Silver Threads Writers Group, 1990, p. 143, edited by Maureen Duffus. Sherri Robinson is the great-great granddaughter of James & Elizabeth Bland.

[2]  Robinson, Sherri To be found
[3] The British Colonist, April 15, 1862, page 3.

[4] Ibid, page 3.

[5] The British Colonist, April 23, 1862, page 3.
[6] The British Colonist, July 11, 1877, page 3.

[7] The British Colonist, June 14, 1891, page 2.