Author uncovers the Greater Victoria that would have been

Unbuilt Victoria details various urban projects that never came to be

This 1966 photograph shows the proposed Skydeck tower for Victoria’s Inner Harbour. It is one of the unrealized projects that Dorothy Mindenhall describes in her book Unbuilt Victoria. Photo courtesy of City of Victoria Archives (CVA) CoV-CR-0232-M09015

A beach along the Trans-Canada Highway near Helmcken Road. A medieval castle paying homage to the tales of Robin Hood. Student residences on the campus of UVic that could have also stood somewhere in communist eastern Europe. An observation tower that resembles Seattle’s Space Needle.

These were just some of the unrealized building ideas that (perhaps thankfully) did not turn into reality. But they continue to live on in the pages of Unbuilt Victoria by architectural historian Dorothy Mindenhall. Published in 2012 by Dundurn Press, Mindenhall’s book details a region that could have been, but never came to be.

Some of the plans were rough, others quite sophisticated, said Mindenhall, who wrote the book, after she had written a similar book about Toronto. Ultimately, none of the proposals came to fruition because they either ran into money problems or public opposition with residents fearing environmental damage, the loss of heritage buildings, or the perceived loss of viewscapes, as in the case of the proposed Skydeck, which bears an eerie resemblance to Seattle’s Space Needle.

The building would have stood near the Legislative Assembly, said Mindenhall. “This [location] would have been one of the main problems with this one. It would have ruined the arrangement of the Empress [Hotel], the parliament building, and the Old Post Office.”

So what animated these projects? “I think they all wanted to improve Victoria,” said Mindenhall. Victoria, especially in the 1960s, was stagnating as part of a longer decline relative to Vancouver, which had long emerged as B.C.’s primary city. At that time, tourism was the economic driver, and urban leaders, inspired by re-construction efforts in post-war Europe, were looking to restore Victoria’s appeal to outsiders.

RELATED: HERITAGE HOMES: Development pressures led to designation program

RELATED: Heritage homes are worth it

Victoria, in other words, might have been suffering from a case of status anxiety in the post-war period.

“I think so,” said Mindenhall. “It had been so important for the first forty years of its life. On the West Coast, there was nothing like between here and San Francisco.” Things, however, changed with the emergence of Vancouver, which eventually surpassed Victoria.

Three specific Saanich-specific proposals stand out. One would have created a large viewing platform on Mount Tolmie. Opposition from residents and environmentalists fearing the loss of Arbutus trees killed that idea. Another one would have created a fake-Elizabethan village in the Royal Oak neighbourhood around the pre-existing building that now hosts the Fireside Grill. Finally, one proposal from the United States called for a replica castle (inclusive fake torture chamber) and encampment near the Gorge Bridge where visitors could have tried their hands at medieval craft or shake in their shoes at the sight of a fake Viking longboat.

In short, Saanich could have been the site of a tourist theme park that would have drawn on a distorted version of the past for future urban revitalization and private profit. “If you think, this is what Disney is about,” she said.

The emergence of the heritage preservation movement, coupled with financial concerns, eventually stopped these various projects, including plans by star architect Arthur Erickson to re-design UVic’s campus.

Opposition from the university community, as well as neighbouring Oak Bay, eventually forced UVic to reconsider.

Mindenhall, for her, sounds generally glad that most of these project never got off the drawing board.

“I think there are very few I regret that they didn’t get finished,” she said.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

wolfgang.depner@saanichnews.com

Just Posted

B.C. Ferries has a mandatory mask policy on vessels and at terminals. (News Bulletin file photo)
UPDATE: No tickets for anti-maskers on B.C. Ferries

West Van Police say their intention was to ‘keep the peace’ after being called to terminal

Steven Michael Bacon pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder of Nanaimo teen Makayla Chang. (Photos submitted)
Accused pleads not guilty in Nanaimo teen’s 2017 murder

Steven Bacon appeared in Nanaimo court Monday via video link from Thunder Bay

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan releases his election platform, Vancouver, Oct. 6, 2020. (B.C. NDP photo)
Horgan fishes with Cowichan elders at Cowichan Valley campaign stop

B.C. premier talks mental health and addictions, universal income

The City of Victoria asked the organizer behind a mural in Bastion Square to removed the acronym A.C.A.B. from one of the letters. The mural reads, “More Justice, More Peace,” in a call for progress on racism and violence. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Victoria votes to remove ‘ACAB’ from Bastion Square mural

Date of removal is unknown as dialogues continue

Steven Puhallo, Jordan Carr, and Taylor Verrall, members of Rishi Sharma’s campaign team, show their solidarity with Sharma (second from right) after an unidentified man hurled racial slurs at him Saturday. Puhallo and Verrall were also present during the incident Saturday night at the corner of Marigold Road and Interurban Road. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
BC Liberal candidate in Saanich South attacked with racial slurs

Rishi Sharma was putting up election signs when incident happened Saturday night

In this photo provided by Shannon Kiss, smoke from the CalWood Fire billows, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, as seen from Gunbarrel, Colo. (Shannon Kiss via AP)
‘First guys out:’ Western Canadian air tanker fleet busy despite drop in wildfires

CEO believes wildfires have become more dangerous in recent years as people live closer to where they start

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

(File photo)
RCMP: Two men face charges in reported Parksville fatal hit-and-run

Investigation into man’s death began in August of 2019

Passengers seated in rows five to 11 on WestJet flight 195 on Oct. 10 may have been exposed to COVID-19. (Black Press File Photo)
UPDATE: COVID-19 exposure reported on WestJet flights two days in a row

The BCCDC is cautioning people who flew from Calgary to Victoria Oct. 19 and 11

West Shore RCMP officers delivered dumped Amazon packages on Monday. (Black Press Media file photo)
West Shore RCMP deliver Amazon packages dumped outside mailbox

Officers take matters into their own hands ‘before mailbox pirates got to it’

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Most Read