Canadian National Institute for the Blind Building
1609 Blanshard Street, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W, Canada
Links and documents
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The two-storey Canadian National Institute for the Blind Building is a striking Modernist structure, recognizable for its curvilinear forms and strong horizontal rooflines. It is located mid-block in a commercial area of Blanshard Street.
Built in 1951, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) Building is one of the outstanding examples of the development of a local stream of the Modern movement in Victoria. Designed to resemble a coastal ferry, the front facade incorporates a rounded window capped by a canopy with curved, upturned edges, that visually anchors the building and provides the composition with a strong focal point. The rear portion of the building exhibits strong references to the International style with its plain walls, angular edges and ribbon windows. The use of horizontal massing, contrasting material and continuity between the interior and exterior demonstrates an affinity for the contemporary work of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
The CNIB Building is a significant and early example of the work of architect John Di Castri (1924-2005), who played a seminal role in establishing modern architecture in Victoria during the early postwar years. Designed during a brief partnership with F.W. Nicholls, the CNIB Building illustrates Di Castri's interest in the development of a personal brand of modernism. His work remains distinctive for its regionalist expression - a rich fusion of materials and complex, eccentric forms that demonstrates Di Castri's interpretation of Wrightian motifs including horizontal planes, manipulated volumes and irregular geometry.
This building is additionally significant for its association with the presence of the CNIB in Victoria. The CNIB was founded after the First World War in 1917 to offer Braille books to veterans who had lost their eyesight. This building was constructed as one of twenty-one buildings commissioned between 1940 and 1955 as part of the CNIB's expansion to provide residences and service centres for veterans in major cities across Canada.
Source: City of Victoria Planning and Development Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Canadian Institute for the Blind Building include its:
- mid-block location, built close to the front property line
- institutional form, scale and massing as expressed by its irregular, multi-storey plan of separate square, rectangular and curved components, capped with flat, floating roof planes
- masonry construction such as: concrete construction; contrasting red combed brick and light-coloured stucco cladding; angled concrete entry pier with circular cut-outs; and stepped red combed brick wall adjacent to the entry
- Modernist style details such as: plain walls with angular edges and curved glazed walls; ribbon and corner windows with horizontal muntins; projecting flat window and door hoods; projecting, multi-angled steel-sash stair window; stucco exterior soffits with recessed pot lights; and upturned curved roof edges at the front
- surviving original interior features such as curved interior soffits in front area and a top floor skylight
- associated landscape features such as a curved brick planter at the front and an angled concrete planter at the entry
Local Governments (BC)
Local Government Act, s.954
Community Heritage Register
Theme - Category and Type
- Building Social and Community Life
- Education and Social Well-Being
Function - Category and Type
- Commerce / Commercial Services
- Eating or Drinking Establishment
- Special or Training School
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
City of Victoria Planning and Development Department
Cross-Reference to Collection