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The Victorians

Mrs. Martha Hayward wrapped a light shawl around her shoulders as she left her home on Vancouver Street and headed toward downtown Victoria.  Now on the eve of the twentieth century the city, British Columbia's capital since 1871, had become a modern and vibrant metropolis.  Queen Victoria, the sovereign who also lends her name to the capital, would soon be celebrating her birthday. The Queen, who had been the ruling British monarch since 1837, would be turning 80, a milestone Mrs. Hayward felt was indeed worth celebrating!  As the wife of a successful entrepreneur aspiring to great political achievements, Martha Hayward was no stranger to being in the company of members of Victoria's influential upper-class. 

Mrs. Hayward was in need of some supplies for an upcoming soiree she was Roslyn, BC Archives C-07542 / Roslyn, Archives de la C-B C-07542hosting in honour of Her Majesty.  Strolling down the street, she reminisced of the lavish parties given by Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Gray, a prominent socialite married to successful industrialist Andrew Gray.  In 1890, they commissioned Roslyn, a magnificently ornate house overlooking the Gorge waterway, Victoria's splendid playground for the wealthy.   The residence was the jewel of the entire neighbourhood.  Even Mrs. Hayward had to admit she was secretly envious of the house whose silhouette and surfaces were unmistakable with conical caped turrets, irregular roofline, balconies and verandahs, as well as textured shingles covering the exterior.

Extravagant parties were a welcome pastime for Mrs. Hayward who, because of her marriage into a wealthy family, had servants at her service and therefore few chores to do by way of looking after her household.  These social gatherings were a stark contrast to her earlier years spent at St. Ann's Academy, where she was educated.  She arrived there shortly after the completion of the first section of the monumental St Ann's Academy c. 1890, BC Archives A-07746 / L'Académie-St. Ann c. 1890, Archives de la C-B A-07746building in 1871, the largest edifice in the province at that time.  Mrs. Hayward reflected with fondness on some of her former educators of the Sisters of St. Ann from the Montréal area, with their soft-spoken French-Canadian accent yet stringent rules.  What she loved most about that Quebec convent styled school was the way it stood out from the English-influenced architecture around it.

Those were simpler times, she contemplated.  Now the world was developing at such a fast pace.  The march of modernism seemed unstoppable, transforming all aspects of life.  Electricity began replacing traditional lighting methods such as gas, factories mass-produced common household goods, and the telephone revolutionized communication.  New technology was changing daily life. Mrs. Hayward boarded the electric streetcar to continue her journey downtown, the hum National Electric Tramway and Light Company Powerhouse, City of Victoria, 2004 / Centrale électrique de la National Electric Tramway and Light Company, ville de Victoria, 2004of electricity buzzing through the overhead wires a constant reminder of modern life.  Mrs. Hayward was ignorant of where the power came from, but in truth, it was no mystery.  The power was being generated from the National Electric Tramway and Light Company Powerhouse, a sturdy-build brick industrial building in the town's Upper Harbour area.  This new transportation technology, introduced to Victoria in 1890, suddenly changed how Mrs. Martha Hayward moved about the city.  Distances and time began to collapse as she could now reach her destination much faster.  "That's progress!" she thought.

After disembarking from the tram, Victoria City Hall, LAC PA-029889 / Hôtel de ville de Victoria, BAC PA-029889 Mrs. Hayward continued her travel on foot mindful of the teeming streets crowded with horse-drawn buggies as well as motorized carriages.  "You simply take your life into your hands when walking downtown!" she decided.  Many she knew viewed these bustling streets as evidence of a young nation's progress - it was an optimistic outlook for a new century.  This new attitude was embodied in Victoria's attractive City Hall, built by eminent local architect John Teague in the Second Empire style.  Mrs. Hayward's husband spent much of his time there trying to advance his political ambitions and she shared his pride in this grand edifice.  But most of all, she loved to hear the clock tower chime out the time! Weiler Building, hallmarksociety.ca / Édifice Weiler, hallmarksociety.ca

A few blocks away from City Hall, Mrs. Hayward finally arrived at her destination: the brand new Weiler Building, home to Weiler Brothers Home Furnishing.  The business was Victoria's first department store and this novel luxury delighted Mrs. Hayward a great deal, especially the way household goods were ordered and classified; "a rational way to organize the world," she mused.  As mistress of the house, the department store never let Mrs. Hayward miss the latest home decor fashions, and no new trend escaped her!  Collecting her supplies, she paid for her goods and began her return journey home.  "What will tomorrow bring," she asked herself, "in this ever-expanding city full of optimism for the future?"

The Victorian era was a time of great change in Canada.  Why not use the Canadian Register to discover some intriguing Victorian Era historic places near you.  After all, every historic place tells a story!