Monday, July 30, 2012

Benefits of the Blaze

At the time of the 1910 fire, the most prestigious hotel in Victoria was the Driard, located between Broad and Douglas streets. Opened in 1872 by Frenchman, Sosthenes Driard, the hotel had changed through a variety of hands. In 1892, the Driard was completely rebuilt and it was famous far beyond Victoria due to the quality of the food, drink and service. Perhaps it was the best on the Pacific coast. Just a few weeks before the fire, a Mr. Weldon became its latest proprietor.

The fire spurted several times across Broad Street and came close enough to the hotel damage it. Fortunately, the building did not actually catch on fire although guests were advised to leave and many carried their belongings into the nearby streets. The rooms did however suffer water damage from the hoses.

There were great losses in this fire. The architect, Samuel Maclure - who was responsible for some of Vancouver's heritage buildings - had an office in the Five Sisters Block and valuable documents were lost from there. Savannah's photo studio had more than 50,000 negatives, which formed a unique record of the city's early days. Those offices were in the same building as Samuel Maclure and those records went up in smoke. Lowe's photographic supply firm was also destroyed as well as six small ships in the nearby harbour that were damaged by falling sparks.

It took until 3:00 am to get the fire under control and by dawn, all flames were extinguished. The next day though revealed a bad sight - the entire area bounded by Government, Fort, Broad and Trounce streets had been destroyed. The estimated loss of property and merchandise was $1,500,000. The streetcar line along Government Street was blocked by debris.

Fortunately, there was only one death as a result of the fire. The wife of the proprietor of the Bismark Hotel, Mrs. Samuel Shore, died of shock.
Some blackened walls still stood but those presented a danger to the public. So, in the next few days the Government Street wall of the Spencer store was taken down using dynamite. Other ruined buildings were dismantled and cleared away.

The sons of the founder of the Spencer store, Christopher and Victor Spencer, were in Vancouver at the time of the fire. Undaunted by the loss, the brothers announced they would rebuild the Victoria store on a larger scale. A few days later, the public was informed that the Spencers had bought the Driard Hotel and the nearby Victoria Theater. This is where they would be carrying out business. It also meant the end of the famous hostelry and began the Empress's undisputed leadership as the premier hotel of Victoria.

There were benefits to this fire though. View Street had previously come to an awkward end at Broad Street. Now it was extended one block west to Government Street, which improved the flow of traffic and allowed the erection of two new office blocks - the Central Building and the Union (now known as the Royal  Trust) Building.

And the unsightly telephone wires, which had snaked overhead? Those were now put underground.
Thanks goes once again to Derek Pethick and his book British Columbia Disasters for supplying the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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1 comment:

  1. A bright spot in my morning, as always...thanks!