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Bay Street Substation

637 Bay Street, Victoria, British Columbia, V8T, Canada

Formally Recognized: 2008/07/10

Historic rendering of the Bay Street Substation, 1928; BC Hydro
View from Government Street
Exterior view of the Bay Street Substation, 2006; City of Victoria, 2006
View from the southeast
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Other Name(s)


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Construction Date(s)


Listed on the Canadian Register: 2008/10/14

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Bay Street Substation is a monolithic reinforced concrete structure located on a prominent sloped corner lot at the intersection of Bay and Government Streets, on the outskirts of Victoria's central core. Designed in the Art Deco style with unusual Egyptian motifs, it is distinguished by a banded base and battered upper walls.

Heritage Value

Constructed for the British Columbia Electric Power and Gas Company, the Bay Street Substation is valued as Victoria's earliest and most striking example of Art Deco architecture, and as one of the first Art Deco structures to be built in the province. The Egyptian-inspired detailing is a rarity in British Columbia and recalls the interest generated with the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb six years earlier. These exotic elements coexist with an overall Art Deco styling expressed by the smooth exterior finish and geometric detailing. This is a significant example of the architectural work of Theodor Frederick Körner (1885-1946), who designed this structure while he was employed with the Construction Department of the BC Electric Company. Recognized for his exceptional design talents, Körner was also responsible for the design of other large-scale projects, such as BC Electric's concrete power plant at Ruskin (1930). This striking building reflects the work of Frank Lloyd Wright from the first quarter of the twentieth century, when he experimented with the integration of exotic, and sometimes overtly archaeological ornamentation with contemporary forms.

The Bay Street Substation is additionally valued for the key role it served in the BC Electric Company's infrastructure. Formed in 1897, BC Electric was a driving force in the economy of the city and province through both the provision of power and the operation of transit systems, and remains in business today as BC Hydro. After its construction in 1928, this substation was the control centre for power distribution for the southern end of Vancouver Island. It was also the origin of the power lines that serviced the city's streetcar system, and later, the electric bus system. Its once remote location on the outskirts of the downtown core was due to its industrial function and the significant humming noise that emanated from the substation’s machinery.

Furthermore, the Bay Street Substation is significant as an early and rare example of the preservation of Victoria's industrial heritage. Due to its unique architecture, developer Jim Mace recognized the potential for adaptive reuse and purchased the vacant building for conversion purposes in 1966. When the rehabilitation work was finally carried out in 1975, the exterior was largely preserved, while the cavernous interior was infilled with three stories of office space.

Source: City of Victoria Planning and Development Department

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that define the heritage character of the Bay Street Substation include its:
- north and west sloping site, at a prominent corner on the outskirts of the downtown core
- industrial form, scale and massing, as expressed by its rectangular plan, cubic form and flat roof
- monolithic board-formed, reinforced concrete construction with cast-in-place ornamentation
- Egyptian Revival detailing, including battered upper walls, cavetto cornices, stylized pilaster capitals and stylized British Columbia Electric Power and Gas Company crests
- additional Art Deco styling, including smooth walls with recessed and expressed banding and applied geometric ornamentation
- regular fenestration, including massive recessed window openings on all four elevations, deeply recessed foundation window openings, and slit windows
- landscaping, including banked ground planes, unpainted board-formed concrete retaining walls and concrete steps at the northwest corner



British Columbia

Recognition Authority

Local Governments (BC)

Recognition Statute

Local Government Act, s.954

Recognition Type

Community Heritage Register

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1975/01/01 to 1975/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Developing Economies
Technology and Engineering

Function - Category and Type


Commerce / Commercial Services
Office or Office Building


Power Generation Facility

Architect / Designer

Theodor Frederick Körner


Parfitt Brothers

Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

City of Victoria Planning and Development Department

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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