Description of Historic Place
Victoria City Hall is a two-and-one-half storey masonry building situated at the northwest corner of Douglas Street and Pandora Avenue in the Old Town District in Downtown Victoria. This landmark structure was built in stages between 1878 and 1891, and is notable for its Second Empire style architecture, characterized by a tall central bell tower, mansard roof with dormers, brick walls, and round-arched window openings. Victoria City Hall is now part of a larger civic complex, Centennial Square, constructed in the 1960s and consisting of a large public plaza surrounded by both modern and historic structures, including a two-storey City Hall annex. Victoria City Hall was recognized as a National Historic Site in 1977, and was designated as a municipal heritage site in 1979.
Victoria City Hall has served continuously since 1878 as the centre of municipal administration and the symbol of civic authority in Victoria. It is significant as the oldest surviving municipal hall in western Canada, and is among the oldest in western North America. The City of Victoria was incorporated in 1862, which necessitated the establishment of administrative and civic services. During the late Victorian era, the city expanded rapidly, spurred by gold rushes and Victoria's strategic position on the West Coast, and civic services grew in response. This building's continuous use as City Hall represents a long history of public association with this prominent site, and is symbolic of Victoria's pride in the city's rich historic legacy. Victoria City Hall was the most significant project by prominent local architect John Teague (1835-1902). Teague won a design competition held in 1875 for a new city hall, but his original design never materialized due to financial difficulties. Instead, his design was simplified and built in stages, starting with the construction of the south wing in 1878. The growth of the structure over time, orchestrated by Teague and completed by 1891, illustrates the rapid growth of both Victoria and British Columbia.
Furthermore, Victoria City Hall is of significant architectural value as a rare extant example in both Victoria and western Canada of the Second Empire style. During the late nineteenth century, this style represented the architectural vocabulary of government authority in Canada. After British Columbia joined Confederation in 1871, the federal government demonstrated its administrative and physical presence through the construction of imposing new structures such as the Victoria Custom House on Wharf Street, 1873-75. The style of Victoria City Hall, built just a few years later, reflected British Columbia's entry into Confederation and the beginning of a new relationship with eastern Canada.
The historic fabric of the exterior of Victoria City Hall, built between 1878 and 1891, is substantially intact. The masonry walls, metal work, carpentry and finishes that characterize the building are an exceptional record of Victorian era construction. A four-sided clock, housed in the central tower, is a landmark in the Downtown; the original bell still chimes the half-hour and is an important contribution to the soundscape of Old Town.
As the city continued to grow and evolve, Victoria City Hall was enlarged once again in the 1960s as part of the Centennial Square project, Victoria's first major urban redevelopment project. A new public square was created through the closure of Cormorant Street, and this historic building was retained as a key component of the project. A new annex was attached to the west of Victoria City Hall to house additional offices and a new council chamber. This enhanced setting for City Hall highlights its importance as an ongoing symbol of civic authority and administration.
Source: City of Victoria Planning and Development Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of Victoria City Hall include its:
- location at the northwest corner of Douglas Street and Pandora Avenue in Victoria's Old Town, now a prominent part of the civic complex of Centennial Square
- continuous use over time as Victoria City Hall
- institutional form, scale and massing as expressed by its: two and one-half storey height; irregular square shape with generally symmetrical massing; mansard roof; and central tower
- masonry construction with massive brick walls, and parged window hoods, stringcourses, and plinth
- consistent use of the Second Empire style, including: a mansard roof with pedimented dormers; rusticated exterior brickwork; round-arched window openings with keystones; ornate wooden sandwich brackets; central arched entry; projecting central balcony with elaborate scrolled brackets and lathe-turned balusters; and central tower ornamented with pilasters, urns and wrought iron roof cresting
- fenestration, such as: ground floor two-over-two double-hung wooden sash windows with transoms; wooden sash casement windows in double-assembly on the second floor with central wooden pilasters and circular and semi-circular transoms; and large door openings on the 1881 and 1888 additions related to the original fire hall function
- four-sided Gillet and Johnson clock, including: the original works and housing, and translucent glass clockfaces; and original bell attached to the clock that chimes the half-hour, housed in an open rooftop structure
- original interior features including: attic rooms such as: the 'laboratory' (old staff tea room); the base of the fire tower, the ground floor vault; remnants of early wooden trim and lath-and-plaster walls; and exposed original sections of the 1878 building in the attic including original wooden shingle roofing and gutters