Victoria at War

Victoria in 1913

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The year 1913 started with great optimism, thanks to a strong economy, progress on the Panama Canal and plans for a wonderful summertime carnival. By the end of the year, many of the hopes had been dashed — but 1913 had become a pivotal year. “In all Victoria’s history, there never was such a year as 1913,” historian James K. Nesbitt wrote more than half a century ago. His assessment still stands. Thanks to two new Canadian Pacific ships, we were connected to Asia as never before. The Interurban line was completed, offering a new connection to the Saanich Peninsula. Major developments that year included the Royal Victoria Theatre as well as the east and west wings of the Parliament Buildings, the first major expansion of the legislature block since it opened in 1898. Work started on the new provincial jail on Wilkinson Road in Saanich. It was to replace the Topaz Avenue jail, which had been partially destroyed by fire in late 1911. Architect W. Ridgeway Wilson was asked to design the jail as well as a new drill hall on Bay Street. In July, the contract was awarded for an observatory to be built on Gonzales Hill. The city’s first 10-storey building, the B.C. Permanent edifice at Douglas and Johnson streets, went up in 1913. Plans for other tall structures, including a 14-storey tower at Wharf and Government, were scrapped when a recession hit in the spring. The original Church of St. John the Divine — the famed iron church — on Douglas Street was demolished, and the Hudson’s Bay Company announced plans for a store on the site. The Union Club moved into its new quarters on Gordon Street, and the YWCA took over the old club building on Douglas Street. Saloon owners were scrambling to meet changes to the liquor laws. Pubs would only be allowed if they offered at least 30 hotel rooms as well. Many famous names disappeared as a result, including the Retreat Saloon, the Jubilee Saloon, Murphy’s Saloon, the Princess Saloon, Everett’s Exchange Saloon, the Bank Exchange, the Brown Jug, Blue Post, Fountain, Elk, Garrick’s Head, Bismarck, Boomerang and King’s Head. In July, the new home of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club was opened by D.M. Eberts, the speaker of the house. There were big plans to develop the former Songhees reserve, just across the water from downtown Victoria, into a major rail hub, with a bridge to connect it to Laurel Point. The new cement plant at Bamberton opened, complete with a model village for its workers and their families. The Canadian Explosives Co. proposed a powder plant on James Island, although Saanich residents expressed fear of the potential for a massive explosion. After the death of soap-factory owner William Pendray in an industrial accident, the English company Lever Brothers bought the Pendray soap works and A.F. Yarrows bought the B.C. Marine Railway shipbuilding facility in Esquimalt.

Members of the local militia were pressed into service in the summer. In May, coal miners in Nanaimo and Ladysmith went on strike for higher pay. Three months later, the strike turned violent, with injuries suffered in a bomb blast and in a shooting. The militia was asked to calm things. Special trains from Victoria took the peacekeeping force to Ladysmith. Most returned to Victoria after a couple of weeks, but some remained into the fall.  In October, Col. Arthur Currie was named head of the new 50th Gordon Highlanders. He went on to great fame as the leader of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the Great War.


The year 1913 was a golden one for railways on Vancouver Island. Lines were being expanded and service was better than ever before. The Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway was opening up new regions, the Canadian Northern Pacific was building, and the new Interurban street railway line between Victoria and Deep Bay — Deep Cove, as it’s known today — was opened.

In Victoria, much of the enthusiasm was because of the potential seen in the former Songhees property just across the water from downtown Victoria. The Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway built a roundhouse there, with stalls for 10 locomotives. The roundhouse, along with a storehouse and a car-repair shop, was seen as the first step in the development of the former reserve as a rail terminal and industrial centre. The railway’s repair shops were to be moved from Wellington to Victoria. The railway had also converted to oil burners, primarily to meet forest-fire regulations.

The E&N line between Duncan and Cowichan Lake opened on the same day as the Interurban extension. Thirty-two kilometres long, it was primarily to be used to get logs out of the valley, but also opened up the area for tourism and fishing. It had previously been accessible only by a long and tedious stage route. The E&N was also pushing into the Comox Valley, and that was expected to be open in 1914. The Canadian Pacific Railway brought a barge loaded with rail freight cars from Vancouver to Esquimalt rather than to Ladysmith, the previous loading point. The thinking was to relieve congestion on the E&N, and save time as well.  Canadian Northern Pacific had crews at work on the Saanich Peninsula, between Shawnigan Lake and Sooke Lake, between Cowichan Lake and the headwaters of the Nitinat River, and south of Alberni.  The railway proposed a line to the Saanich Peninsula, including a bridge over the Selkirk water at the mouth of the Gorge. The bascule bridge would connect the former Songhees reserve to the gully under the bridge on Gorge Road. Today, that crossing is part of the Galloping Goose Trail, which was built on the old rail line.

The B.C. Electric street railway carried 1.2 million passengers in August, the highest number ever recorded. The increasing business helped motivate some new rules, including a pay-as-you-enter system that required the installation of gates and doors. There was also a ban on smoking, which was blamed for overcrowding on the rear platform. Also, parcels would not be allowed unless they were held by someone. It had been common for people to put parcels on the cars to be delivered by the motormen. The Uplands and Mount Tolmie lines were opened in 1913, and North Douglas was double-tracked. The biggest development was the Interurban line that opened between Victoria and Deep Bay. It took one hour and 15 minutes to make each one-way trip. There were six round trips a day, as well as a freight service that brought fruit and other market produce to the city. The line was opened by Sir Richard McBride, the premier, on Wednesday, June 18. Sir Richard spoke of the beauty of the countryside between Victoria and Deep Bay, and declared that “every foot showed new wonders.” The new rail service, he said, would bring vast development to the peninsula. Victoria Mayor Alfred J. Morley said the rails would open up a grand territory, and make it a tributary to Victoria. The completion of the line had been a factor in the awarding of a contract by the Royal Jubilee Hospital, which would obtain thousands of gallons of fresh milk from the peninsula. Morley said he felt the opening of the line would help solve the problem of Victoria’s high cost of living, adding that he looked forward to the day when every acre of the Saanich Peninsula could be productive.

Four years after the Interurban opened, the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway opened a line to Patricia Bay, meaning there were three railways linking Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula. The V&S stopped service in April 1919, the Interurban closed in October 1924, and traffic on the Canadian Northern line, by then owned by Canadian National, ended in 1935.

Social Aid

At a time when government assistance was scarce, a group called the Friendly Help Society was trying to deal with some of the city’s social problems, including a lack of proper housing and men who deserted their wives and children.  The society had rooms in the public market building across Cormorant Street from city hall, where members handed out clothing and other goods every morning to those who needed them. An average of 37 families were helped each month with groceries, fuel, milk, furniture and clothing. At Christmas, 85 boxes were sent out containing staple and fancy groceries, one or two new garments, toys, ingredients for a pudding and a roast of beef. Public school children collected money to assist the group in its work.

In May, concerns were raised about open ditches in the Oaklands and Fernwood districts. Sewage from septic tanks was getting into the ditches, and there was no regular flow of water to carry away the offensive matter. There were similar concerns in several other areas, including Rock Bay and Victoria West. Overflow from septic tanks and dishwater was getting into ditches where children played. Many people were living in shanties with no sanitary facilities, causing concern about the spread of disease.

To help mothers who had to go to work to support their families, Rev. W. Leslie Clay opened a day nursery at 739 Kings Rd. Mothers paid 10 cents a day to leave their children at the nursery, which was “all fitted up for the little folks,” according to the Daily Times.


On Feb. 14, 72 women met with premier Richard McBride to ask for the vote for women, presenting him a petition with 10,000 signatures. A few days later, the premier announced that it was not in the public interest to grant women the vote. Later that month, John T.W. Place, the Socialist member of the legislative assembly for Nanaimo, proposed a bill that would grant the vote to women, saying it was inevitable. Place’s bill was defeated 24-9.  A.E. McPhillips, the member for The Islands, argued suffragettes had failed to offer any policy ideas or to make the case that they should have the vote, saying there was no evidence that allowing women to vote would change anything.  He argued that in the French revolution, women had taken the lead, and as a result, any idea of morality and propriety had been lost. McPhillips said women were responsible for atheism, infidelity and lawlessness in France, and would be unsafe as a controlling body.  Provincial Secretary and Education Minister Henry Esson Young, the Conservative member for Atlin, said he hoped to see women in the legislature one day, and to be able to say “madam speaker.” Fifteen years later, Mary Ellen Smith attained that position.

The City

For the City of Victoria — or at least, the people who ran it — 1913 was a year best forgotten. A controversy over the municipal election resulted in a court challenge and a second vote, amid much bitterness. The eventual winner was Alfred James Morley, for his fifth term in the mayor’s chair. Before the end of 1913, Morley declared that he had had enough, and would never again seek election.  But that wasn’t the worst of the year; the financial grief faced by the city would take that dubious honour.  In January, the city was forced to borrow $14,000 from the British Columbia Lands and Investment Agency so it could pay its employees. The money was repaid within a few days, and the mayor dismissed it as being “a misunderstanding in the bank somewhere.” The city was selling debentures, so it just had to wait until that money came in.

That was just one sign, however, of the financial problems the city faced. It had a substantial budget deficit. It had to lay off many of its employees until the crisis passed, which meant that sewer and sidewalk work was not being done. They called it “financial stringency,” and retrenchment was the order of the day. No work would be done unless it was deemed absolutely essential. In April, former lieutenant-governor James Dunsmuir lent the city $150,000 to help it weather the storm. Dunsmuir charged six per cent interest. The financial work delayed the acquisition of land along some downtown streets — deals that would have allowed the roads to be widened. One of these was Pandora, just east of Douglas, after plans were unveiled for a new railway terminal. With the new building to go up, the land the city needed was available. It couldn’t pay for it.

The city’s works crews were expanded with the hiring of several men who were not experienced in physical work. The thinking was that it was better to have them using shovels than receiving straight charity. They worked on Mount Douglas Park as well as the new Stadacona Park, the former estate of Major C.F. Dupont on Pandora Avenue at Belmont.  Before the end of the year, however, Morley was arguing that single men should be laid off, with married men given their jobs. He also argued that men who lived outside Victoria should not be on the city’s payroll.

In Oak Bay, architect Francis Rattenbury was elected reeve, defeating William Henderson in the January municipal election. Esquimalt had been incorporated in 1912, and its first council had passed several bylaws. In March 1913, however, Esquimalt residents discovered that the previous year had been, as far as the township was concerned, a dream. All of the bylaws passed since the township was created had not been signed by the reeve or the clerk. They had to be redone.


Communication with the outside world became easier. The British Columbia Telephone installed a marine cable from the Saanich Peninsula to Cobble Hill, improving service between Victoria and Nanaimo. The old line through the Sooke Hills was disrupted by snow and falling trees. That submarine cable would help give Victoria a better connection to Vancouver. In May, about 60 kilometres of cable arrived on the Crown of Galicia. It was installed across the Strait of Georgia between Newcastle Island and Point Grey, making it the longest telephone cable in the world.  That cable provided a second link. The telephone cable already in use had crossed from Victoria using a chain of islands in Canadian and American territory.

Telephone and electrical poles were being removed from downtown streets, with wires placed underground or attached to buildings. The poles were considered to be an eyesore, but were on the streets because the city had not been laid out with lanes in mind. To reach the police, residents had to call 167. The detective department was at 1791. Calls to police or fire department were free from public booths. It cost 15 cents to call Saanichton for two minutes or less, 25 cents to call Goldstream and 70 cents to call Alberni.

How did people get the latest news in those days before the Internet, television and radio? Why, they used the latest technology. For the municipal election on Jan. 16, British Columbia Telephone set up an election bureau that was open from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Anyone who wanted information just had to call the operator and ask for “election.” They were asked to keep their requests as brief as possible, because considerable demand was expected.

The Ocean

In 1913, Victoria was poised to become a world-class destination, thanks in large part to Canadian Pacific and the soon-to-be completed Panama Canal. Canadian Pacific introduced two new vessels, the Empress of Russia and the Empress of Asia, on its route between Yokohama, Japan, and Victoria. The two vessels could carry about 1,180 passengers each. The Empress of Russia was the first to arrive, in June. On the maiden voyage, the ship set a trans-Pacific record: From Yokohama to Race Rocks in just nine days, five hours and 29 minutes, for an average speed of just under 19 knots. Built in Scotland, the liner had taken the long way to Victoria, stopping in Liverpool, Gibraltar, Monaco, Port Said, Suez, Colombo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Nagasaki, Kobe and Yokohama. After Victoria, it continued on to Vancouver. The CP ships carried mail between Asia and England, using the CP railway to connect the Pacific with the Atlantic. Other companies offered mail runs between England and Victoria through the Suez Canal.

The year’s big news, however, was the opening of the Panama Canal, which would end the need to go around the southern tip of South America.  To prepare for the opening — and the influx of vessels that was expected — ports along the coast of North America were spending an estimated $50 million on improvements.  In Victoria, work started on the $1.8-million Ogden Point breakwater, and plans were being completed for the new outer wharves, between the breakwater and the old Rithet wharf.  At Ogden Point, four buildings were erected, and a derrick was set up to move materials. By May, 175 men were at work on the breakwater, and miniature trains were being used to move materials around. Gravel came from pits at Albert Head. The breakwater was built from the bottom up, so no results of the labour were seen until the summer of 1914.

In July, the Princess Maquinna entered the CP coastal service, replacing the Tees. For almost 40 years, it travelled twice a month between Victoria and Port Alice, serving the west coast of Vancouver Island. The supply vessel, built by B.C. Marine Railway in Esquimalt, was named for a daughter of Chief Maquinna. Shipping along the coast became much safer through the year because new wireless stations were opened. Coastal steamers between Victoria and Prince Rupert could always be in contact with a station. The federal government ordered that by the end of 1913, all coastal vessels had to have wireless capabilities.

In March, the Canadian Pacific ship Monteagle arrived from Japan with a victim of smallpox on board. As required by federal law, the 650 passengers were detained at the William Head quarantine station for two weeks. Some of the passengers played golf or cricket to pass the time, but others complained about conditions — and their complaints were heard in high places. The federal government launched a commission to look into how William Head was operated, hearing testimony from passengers, staff members and the head quarantine officer, Alfred Tennyson Watt.  Soon after the inquiry was completed, Watt was admitted to hospital, suffering from exhaustion and depression. In late July, he threw himself out of a third-storey window, and died on impact.  In its report, the commission exonerated Watt.


In 1913, motorists were told that licence plates had to be fixed on the front and rear of a vehicle. The one on the front had to be as high as possible, and the one at the rear in the centre. There also had to be a red light on the rear of a vehicle. Through the year, many drivers were charged with speeding. In the days before radar, police had to be creative to catch speeders — those driving above 10 miles an hour in the cities and towns, above 15 in wooded areas and above 25 in open areas. In Esquimalt, for example, police set up a trap at Craigflower and Tillicum roads, and timed drivers after they passed a large black stump. Any drivers who did it in less than 31⁄2 minutes were charged. In July, after 20 people were charged with speeding in Sidney, Magistrate George Jay agreed with one of the accused that where speed limits change, signs should be posted to let drivers know. Drivers were reminded that the rules of the road applied to horse-drawn vehicles as well as motorized ones. In December, two drivers in charge of teams were stopped for being drunk. They could not travel in a straight line, and the police said that it was only the instinct of the horses that helped them avoid accidents.  Bicycles weren’t exempt from rules — riders were fined $3 if they did not have bells.

In October, there was talk of a revolutionary new traffic system that had been proposed for New York by William Phelps Eno. With his rotary system, there would be no stopping, and vehicles would proceed with the stream of traffic rather than at right angles. Today, we’d call it a traffic circle.

Early in the year, 15 streets were given new names. They included Oak Bay Avenue from Fort Street to the city limits, which became Pandora; Amethyst Street, between Ryan Street and the city limits, which became Shakespeare Street; and Mount Tolmie Road from Fort Street to the city limits, which became Richmond Avenue. There was even talk of changing some spellings. The streets named Blanchard, Burdette, Fisguard and Fowl Bay were being questioned.  The city paved the Ross Bay seawall, making it part of the drive along the waterfront. The Malahat Drive was still quite new, but in winter, crews had trouble coping with the snow and slippery conditions. The solution was simple: The road was closed for a few days, until things improved. In Saanich, council was talking about extending Shelbourne Street north from the Victoria municipal boundary all the way to Mount Douglas Park, because Shelbourne would be straight and level, unlike Cedar Hill Road. Saanich residents, meanwhile, lobbied council to call Shelbourne by a new name: Mount Douglas Avenue.

Although it was in Saanich, Mount Douglas Park was owned by the City of Victoria. The city’s parks committee visited the park to consider whether it could be used by motor vehicles. The quick conclusion: It would be absolutely impossible to build a road to the top. The grade could not have been an issue, since a Carter car was driven up the steps of the Parliament Buildings to show the potential of the motor vehicle.


The grandest event of 1913 was Carnival Week, a celebration in August that was designed as a showcase for everything wonderful about the city and the future. An organizing committee worked for months to ensure the event went off without a hitch. But despite the group’s best efforts, it was a financial disaster and cost a young American aviator his life. John Bryant went into the history books as Canada’s first air fatality.  Bryant and his new wife, Alys McKey, were on a tour of the Pacific Northwest when they agreed in July to come for the carnival. The deal called for McKey to make three demonstration flights from land, and Bryant to make five flights in a hydroplane.  The carnival would also feature balloon ascents by Edward Unger, whose crew placed his yellow balloon behind the Empress Hotel.

The idea for the carnival came from W.L. Hathaway, an insurance agent from San Francisco who had visited the city in 1912. His proposal for a water carnival was embraced, although as the planning progressed, more attention was paid to the skies than to the water.  Lt.-Gov. Thomas Wilson Paterson opened the carnival on Monday, Aug. 4, at Beacon Hill Park.  The next day, McKey flew above the city for about 10 minutes, taking off and landing at the Willows racetrack. She reached about 200 feet, well below the 3,400 feet she had attained at events in the United States, but vowed that she would set a new elevation record while in Victoria. On Wednesday, Aug. 6, a strong wind was blowing, yet Unger and Bryant both decided to take to the sky. Unger’s balloon lifted off from the lawn behind the Empress, but quickly became caught on the roof of the Reformed Episcopal Church. Unger and another man had to be rescued from the basket. In his first flight of the day, Bryant took off from Cadboro Bay, but could not make any progress against the wind. After five minutes, he landed and tried again. This time, after 20 minutes in the air, he made it to the Inner Harbour, where he landed the craft with a splash. He took off for his second flight after 5 p.m. After he’d passed over city hall, the fire hall and the public market building, it appeared that he was struggling with his plane.  At 5:55 p.m., Bryant’s plane dropped to the roof of the Lee Dye Building at Cormorant Street (now Pandora Avenue) and Theatre Alley. He was killed on impact.

The carnival had agreed to pay Bryant $1,000 for his demonstration flights, but $400 was forfeited because not all of the promised flights had taken place. Of the $600 remaining, half the money was used to repair the roof, leaving $300 for Bryant’s widow.  Despite Bryant’s death, the celebrations continued. About 100 booths had been set up downtown, providing entertainment and refreshments for the thousands of people who were still keen to have fun.  They gathered along the streets on Friday, Aug. 8 — which had been declared a civic holiday — to watch the carnival parade go past. The parade started at Vancouver and Yates streets and ended at the reviewing stand at Beacon Hill Park. “It is estimated that fully 10,000 people crowded the downtown thoroughfares along which the parade passed, and the opinion was unanimous that the event from every standpoint was an unqualified success,” the Daily Colonist reported the following day.  It took more than an hour for the parade to pass a spot. The first vehicles were in Beacon Hill Park before the last ones had left Yates Street. “The pretty automobiles which took part were a special feature, while the magnificent animals which paraded with the vehicles of the trades and city garbage department were exceptionally fine,” the Victoria Daily Times said.

Dr. J.S. Helmcken’s car was decorated with ivy, and several others looked like flower baskets. There were two battleships. The Cadillac entered by Begg Motors was made to look like a steam locomotive. The Colonist reported that one of the most impressive fraternal entries was that of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.  “Eighteen motor cars were required to carry the members of the order, all of whom wore light shirts and boater hats, the vehicles being decorated with blue and white bunting.  “The Elk float was one of the best in the parade. Two immense stuffed elks, drawing a floral carriage in which were seated two pretty children, occupied the whole float. In a raised background more children were stationed. “At the feet of the elk played two live bear cubs, the antics of which proved a constant source of amusement to the youthful population.”

Not to be outdone by a couple of live bears, the Dramatic Order of Knights of Khorassan enlisted a live camel and tiger for its entry. The Colonist reported that the camel headed the display, followed by a float that looked like an oasis. The knights were resting beneath the palms, while the tiger roamed a jungle.  “The knights, 40 in number, marched on foot, all members of Tel El Mantua Temple of Victoria. In their eastern garb and with their faces dyed, the marching knights presented a striking appearance,” the newspaper said. Judges decided the Elks had produced the best fraternal society float. The Knights of Khorassan were third, after the Ancient Order of Foresters.

A few days after the carnival, it was announced the event was $3,500 in debt. That number was soon revised upward; in the end, it appeared that the carnival was $11,000 in the red.  Several events were organized over the next few months to help retire the debt, including a masquerade ball and a vaudeville concert.  The organizers had expected the 1913 carnival to be the first of many. In the end, the debt burden was enough to discourage them from trying again.


The year 1913 was a star-studded one in Victoria, even before it ended with the opening of the $400,000 Royal Victoria Theatre, with popular American stage actor Otis Skinner performing in the play Kismet.  The Royal Victoria Theatre, royal in the sumptuousness of its decorations and royal in its sovereign suzerainty over the playhouses of the west, was opened last night amid a scene of splendor that has seldom been equalled in the social annals of Victoria,” the Daily Colonist reported. The theatre had been known as the McBride Theatre until just days before its opening on Dec. 29. The opening even prompted a change in traffic rules. All vehicles, either horse or motor-powered, had to approach the Broughton Street theatre from Quadra Street.

Before the Royal Victoria opened, the top venue was the Victoria Theatre, on the southwest corner of Douglas and View streets.  Sarah Bernhardt, the “grand old woman of the stage,” as the Colonist described her, was at the Victoria Theatre in January. She appeared in the second act of Victor Hugo’s stage play Lucrece Borgia, and the audience gave her a standing ovation. Ernestine Schumann-Heink also played the Victoria, dazzling the writer from the Colonist:  “It seemed incredible that she had passed the half-century mark, and if there was a lessening timbre in some of her notes, the matchless charm of her personality, the dignified grace of her carriage and the delicate nuances of expression compensated for the loss. The difficulty is to analyze the joyous charm of her singing.”

Motion pictures were getting plenty of attention, with several theatres in downtown Victoria offering a wide range of titles. The potential of the movies attracted the attention of the provincial government as well; it enacted legislation to allow for the censorship of motion pictures. In May, the Dominion Theatre opened on Yates Street, just east of Blanshard, with seats for 960 people. Organist Julian J. Haywood was hired to accompany motion pictures, which would be shown continuously from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. each day. The theatre’s lighting met a new law that said it must be possible for people to find their way in and out without difficulty.  In June, the Dominion had a special presentation of a Sherlock Holmes two-reel feature, with all scenes shot in England. Also on the bill was the Pathe Gazette, with recent events, a feature on the city of Rouen in France, and the comedy A Jockey for Love, starring Max Linder.  The Pantages chain announced it would open a theatre in Victoria, along with venues in Edmonton, Calgary, Moose Jaw, Regina, Winnipeg and Vancouver. That Victoria theatre was the start of what we now know as the McPherson.

In October, the Island Arts and Crafts Club annual exhibit opened in the Alexandra Club. The Daily Times made special note of one artist, Emily Carr.  “A screen which attracted a great deal of comment among the collection of oil paintings was that on which a number of Miss Carr’s decorative paintings appeared. The artist, whose work — of quite a different character, however — was well known here some years ago, has made a number of studies of Indian totems and carvings, which are highly decorative. A picture of a canal at Cressy en Brie and of a peasant’s cottage are excellent in composition, while they show also the artist’s post-impressionist style in its least aggressive form.”

Also in 1913, Victoria’s Carnegie Library added a children’s room, which opened July 8. Cases filled with books loved by boys and girls were supplemented by pictures around the walls with scenes from popular stories.

The Lord’s Day

Sunday shopping was a hot topic in Victoria through much of 1913. It all started in February, when city council decided, based on a recommendation from the health and morals committee, that it was time to start enforcing the Lord’s Day Act.  By the time the lawyers were finished, they had dusted off statutes from the 17th century.  In March, two plumbers who worked for Andrew Sheret, Christopher Utz and Frederick Swanson, were found guilty of working on a house on a Sunday. They were the first people charged with a Lord’s Day offence, and were fined $1 each.  The Lord’s Day Act prohibited the sale of goods, chattels, personal property or real estate, the carrying on of transactions of a business or calling, or employing anyone to do any work on Sundays. Some exceptions were made. The retail sale of drugs, medicines and surgical appliances was permitted. Delivery of milk for domestic use and the work of domestic servants and watchmen was allowed. The sale and distribution of foreign newspapers was expressly prohibited, which barred the Sunday papers from Seattle and other American cities. The act also exempted work after 6 p.m. Sunday to prepare the regular Monday-morning edition of a daily newspaper. The sale and distribution of a Sunday newspaper was not exempted, which meant it was illegal to sell the Daily Colonist.

A group of merchants led by Joseph J. Wachter and Samuel Greenhalgh formed a committee to fight back. “The organization canvassed the situation thoroughly and arrived at the conclusion that if Victoria is to remain a tourist point, it is necessary that such places of business as newsstands, cigar stands and confectionery stores remain open on Sunday,” they said.  By the middle of the month, the city had declared it would be illegal to sell cigars, refreshments, bread, milk or newspapers on Sundays. About two-thirds of the city’s ice cream, news and cigar dealers closed on Sunday, March 16. Most of the shops in James Bay were closed, but many in the area of Yates and Government were open. Drug stores that were open did a great business in tobacco and light refreshments. Confectionery shops were open, and restaurants that sold tobacco, newspapers and candies continued to sell them.

Police gathered information against newsstands and cigar stores. Charges included selling a foreign newspaper,  tobacco, the Daily Colonist or Vancouver World, lemonade and fruit. All of the information was submitted to the attorney general, William John Bowser.  No prosecutions were started in the following week, so the shops opened as normal on Sunday, March 23. Bowser referred the matter to the premier, Richard McBride.

In April, McBride ordered that the prosecutions should go ahead. And that’s when things got interesting.  Lawyer Frank Higgins, acting on behalf of the business community, said the Lord’s Day Act did not apply on Vancouver Island because of a law governing Sunday activities dating back to Charles II — who died in 1685 — as well as the provincial Sunday Observance Act of 1871. His argument was that Vancouver Island had its own legislation, so the federal Lord’s Day Act did not apply.  In May, Magistrate George Jay agreed with Higgins. He said that in 1863, the crown colony of Vancouver Island brought into effect the laws of England, and in 1888, the provincial government decided that its laws would only apply on the mainland.  As the Victoria Daily Times put it: “Vancouver Island is in the extraordinary position of being free from the application of any existing regulations, federal, provincial or municipal on this subject.”

The city appealed, despite a petition signed by 7,000 people who did not want more Lord’s Day prosecutions. In July, when someone tried to back out of a land purchase because the papers had been signed on a Sunday, Mr. Justice Aulay Morrison said the Lord’s Day Act applied to the Island after all. Two months later, Chief Justice Gordon Hunter agreed with Morrison, saying the laws enacted by Charles II in 1676 did not give Vancouver Island a free pass. As a result, the city ordered that every place of business had to be closed on Sunday, Sept. 14. It would be impossible, the police chief said, to be able to buy newspapers, ice cream, confectionery, cigars or anything else. The chief also ordered his men to charge under the Lord’s Day Act, not the Charles II laws.  The newspapers reported that thousands of people ignored the law, and about 100 charges were laid. It was noted that the city had hired a band to give concerts in parks on Sundays, and that men had been hired to work on the Sooke waterworks project on Sundays. By the end of the year, however, the fight was just about over. Sunday shopping was severely restricted — and remained that way for the next 70 years.


If the Quebec Bulldogs had not been quite so nervous about their opponents in Victoria, the Stanley Cup might have belonged to us in 1913.  It was a challenge cup back then, and Quebec had claimed the trophy by being the best team in the National Hockey Association. Lester Patrick’s Victoria Senators challenged the Bulldogs, but the Quebec players would only come west if the Senators agreed that the Stanley Cup would not be up for grabs. For Quebec, it was a wise choice, because Victoria won the best-of-three series. The teams used two styles of hockey, with six players a side, as well as seven, with the seventh being a rover. Quebec, more experienced with the six-player system, had the upper hand in the game that used that system. Patrick said he thought there was little chance of six-player hockey catching on. It had more individual rushes, he said, and the best skaters would have more scoring chances, but it was a “mongrel” style compared to the seven-player system. The Senators — the players who beat the Stanley Cup champs — were Bobby Rowe, right wing; Bert Lindsay, goal; Tommy Dunderdale, centre; Goldie Prodger, point; Silent Ilrich, forward; Lester Patrick, manager and cover point; Skinner Poulin, rover; Walter Smaill, left wing; and Bob Genge, forward.

Also in 1913, Bobby Powell and Bernie Schwengers represented Canada in the Davis Cup tennis competition in England. They reached the finals. In June, about 2,000 people went to the Willows exhibition grounds to watch a sport never before seen in Victoria — motorcycle races. Art Creech of Victoria was one of the competitors. In October, golf legends Harry Vardon and Ted Ray played an exhibition match at the Victoria club. They had already played in San Francisco and Seattle, and were planning to go to Tacoma and Vancouver next. Vardon wore a Norfolk suit with breeches, and Ray was in a loose grey tweed suit. Both men smoked pipes all around the course, setting them on the grass when hitting the ball.


Bridges were a big topic throughout 1913. At the top of the list was a new one proposed for the foot of Johnson Street, to replace the rail-only swing bridge.  The new one would include a span for motor vehicles, and would require the realignment of Esquimalt Road, which still connected with the Point Ellice Bridge. The preferred contractor for the new bridge? That was decided by council long before the proposal was approved. The job would go to Strauss Bascule Bridge Co. of Chicago. The new bridge was to be put to the voters in January 1914. The financial downturn and the Great War delayed the bridge work; it finally opened in January 1924.

There was talk of a movable span at Point Ellice to allow marine traffic to get through more easily. There was even more talk of a rail bridge between Laurel Point and the old Songhees reserve across the water. The idea was to move cargo to and from the outer wharf, which was also the scene of major development. But while city council was keen about the idea, the provincial government and the railway companies were not enthused, and the plan died.

The city lost one bridge in 1913. The Rock Bay bridge, at the foot of Bridge Street, was closed because of structural weaknesses that were deemed impossible to repair. Vehicular traffic between Esquimalt and downtown Victoria had to detour all the way over to Government Street.


In June, explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s Karluk expedition set out from Esquimalt, bound for the high Arctic. The 39-metre former fishing vessel had been extensively refurbished at Victoria Machinery Depot, and was well-equipped with supplies and two Victrola record players. The Karluk’s voyage was described by the Daily Colonist as the “greatest scientific expedition that ever sailed under the British flag for the northern seas.” Instead, it became known as the greatest Arctic disaster since the Franklin expedition almost 60 years earlier. The Karluk became trapped in ice in August, and the ship was crushed the following January. In the end, 11 of the 25 members of the expedition died. The survivors were not rescued until September 1914, 15 months after the Karluk left Victoria.


Increasing population because of the strong economy had put pressure on local schools, which were over capacity. Tents were planned to handle the overflow at four schools — Quadra, Hillside, North Ward and Central.  Then someone checked the building code, and decided Hillside could not have a tent, because the tent would need a wooden frame, and that would not be allowed in that area of the city. So the three teachers at Hillside would need to continue teaching their 210 students as best they could inside the crowded building.

There were 4,500 students in local schools, including 25 in the McGill University program at Victoria High School — a program that was the start of Victoria College. Several schools had opened that year, including Oaklands, Burnside, Tolmie, Cedar Hill and Royal Oak. Others such as Lampson were being expanded. The new Victoria High School and the Provincial Normal School, where new teachers would be trained, were being completed.

In October, it was announced that the new school in the Fairfield area would be called Margaret Jenkins, in honour of a long-serving school-board member. Another school was planned for the Beacon Hill area, but the recession meant both schools were delayed. Public night-school classes were held in elementary and advanced English, English for foreigners, commercial and workshop arithmetic, mathematics, drawing, gasoline engines, chemistry, cooking, dressmaking, elocution, manual training, sheet metal working and physical culture for girls. The most popular one was on gasoline engines.  H.B. McLean, principal of George Jay School, promoted the value of school gardening classes. Gardening, he said, taught industry, systematic methods and general knowledge of soils and tillage.

Dave Obee, Copyright 2003. Originally published March 17, 2003, in the Times Colonist. The “City Goes to War” team would like to thank Mr. Obee for his kind contribution of this article.