26th May, 2010

A long time ago . . .


Imagine you live here. The year is 1858. It’s a lovely Sunday morning in late April. If today is the same as usual, you’ll leave church after the last hymn, speak with some of the other 450 residents of this new and quiet city of Victoria, and with your family will walk back to your house, all the way over in James Bay, not too far from where the new Parliament building will be. Construction is slated to begin next year, and already people are calling it the “Birdcages”. You might walk through the old fort, just to show the children what it was like before they were born, and teach them a bit about the history of the colony. Since it’s been warm and dry for the past few days, the ground is firm, not muddy at all, and Yates Street will be pleasant to walk on. It’s still quite sparse, with only a couple of wooden buildings – there’s the general store, and a bar close to the waterfront, and a livery stable. Fort Street, will still be muddy, especially inside the walls of the fort, since it’s one of the busiest places in town, but that’s okay. It’s only mud, and mud washes off.


Thus occupied with your thoughts, you almost miss the announcement of the last hymn and quickly rise to your feet. Jason, your son, muffles a giggle at your inattention, and you frown down at him, then ruffle his hair. The hymn concludes and with the rest of the congregation, you leave the building, shake the minister’s hand and stop to greet Governor Douglas and his wife. Your children are busy making plans with the Douglas children for play time tomorrow, after the Sabbath. You turn to greet another neighbour when a voice shouts out.

“Look! In the harbour!” Heads turn, and streaming off the newly arrived Commodore are men – rough dressed, loud, boisterous and, it seems, hundreds of them. The Governor bends to speak to his wife and gesturing to some other well-dressed men in the crowd, he hurries away.


A buzz of excited conversation rises as you, and half the population of the city, it seems, hurry down toward the harbour. It doesn’t take long to find out that the population of sleepy little Victoria, founded in 1843 and incorporated as a city just six years ago has just doubled. And, you fear, there are more to come.

Within weeks, the streets are crowded. Yates Street, until recently just a muddy track with one or two buildings on it is now packed with tents that serve as stores, bars and eating places. Every day it seems, more and more men arrive to buy the shovels, picks, tents and other equipment they need to get to the gold rush along the Fraser River. You wish that Victoria would just go back to being the quiet little city in the Colony of Vancouver’s Island, but you have a feeling that those days are over. And you’d be right. Victoria will never be the same again!

That’s what it was like, many years ago, here in Victoria, BC. 

Hotels in Victoria were primitive in those days. You got a room, with a bed. A single bed, usually. The mattress was supported on the frame by ropes strung from one side rail to the other. The mattress was stuffed with feathers for the well off, or straw for the lower classes. If you were looking for really cheap accommodation, you might get corn husks instead of straw. There was no running water. No taps, no kitchens, no bathrooms. If you were fortunate, your room came equipped with a wash basin and a jug. Today, at the Admiral, things have improved. We’re cheap, but our box springs support a firm, comfortable mattress, and the closest we get to feathers is the “feather bed” which tops every mattress, to give you comfort and firm, healthy support.  We’d love to have you come and luxuriate in our comfortable, modern rooms while you tour the city and learn more about “the good old days.”


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