Description of Historic Place
The Finlayson Building consists of a front façade and remnants of the side walls of a two-storey Late Victorian-era brick warehouse. It stands on the north side of Pandora Street on the southern edge of Victoria’s Chinatown National Historic Site. It is also located across the street from Market Square, a rehabilitated complex of late nineteenth century buildings with continuous historic street fronts in Victoria's Old Town National Historic Site.
The Finlayson Building, which currently survives as a façade, is valued as a significant contributing resource to a grouping of historic structures that marks the southern edge of Victoria's Chinatown National Historic Site. This block of Pandora Avenue originally faced the Johnson Street Ravine, a swamp that marked the boundary between the European settled business area to the south and Chinatown to the north, that illustrated a physical and cultural divide in the early city. During the early 1880s, the wooden shacks on the north side of the ravine were replaced with brick commercial blocks to house Chinese businesses, prompted by a dramatic increase in the Chinese population. These merchants set up much-needed smaller shops such as laundries, grocery stores, medicinal shops and restaurants in buildings that were often developed and owned by European pioneers.
Victoria’s Chinatown is expressive of a duality in architecture and cultural landscape. On each block, street façades link together, forming a wall that shields interior spaces and narrow alleyways between and through buildings are linked to central courtyards, which were the hidden location of tenements, opium dens, theatres and gambling houses. This configuration is a traditional south Chinese urban pattern.
The Finlayson building is consistent with such a duality. Its commercial façade exhibits Italianate elements, such as segmental-arched window openings, stringcourses, pilasters and a decorative cornice. However, a passageway existed on the west that was later known as Theatre Alley, providing access to a large Chinese theatre. As the Chinese population continued to grow, the wooden buildings on Fisgard Street were replaced with brick buildings, and the interior network of alleys grew more complicated as tenements and businesses were added behind façades visible from the street.
There is also value in the building’s original ownership. Roderick Finlayson (1818-1892), who was influential in the development of future province and the City of Victoria, was the building’s original owner. He first came to Vancouver Island in 1843 to oversee the construction of the new Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) trading post, Fort Victoria. Finlayson was made Chief Factor of HBC in 1859, after James Douglas resigned from that position to be appointed Governor of the new Crown Colony of British Columbia. Finlayson served on the Council of Vancouver Island and later as Mayor of Victoria. He became wealthy from land dealings and, in 1872, retired to attend to his real estate and business interests. In 1912, he sold this building to Chong Hooie for $40,000, but it was later lost to the City for tax arrears. It returned to Chinese ownership in 1942 until 1990.
The Finlayson Building is further valued as an example of the work of prominent architect Hermann Otto Tiedemann (1821-1981). Tiedemann was educated in Berlin and immigrated to Victoria in 1858, where he found employment in the office of the colonial surveyor, Joseph Despard Pemberton. His architectural practice was based in Victoria, where he designed the first colonial government buildings, popularly known as 'the Birdcages'. One of Tiedemann's last commissions was the Victoria Law Courts (1889).
Source: City of Victoria Planning Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Finlayson Building include its:
- mid-block location on Pandora Avenue, part of a grouping of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century historic masonry buildings in Victoria's Chinatown
- siting on the front and side property lines
- commercial form, scale and massing as expressed by its two-storey height, symmetrical rectangular plan and flat roof
- evidence of original system of narrow, mid-block passageways, including Theatre Alley to the west, and another to the east
- masonry construction as expressed by its red-brick walls and detailing, and partial side walls
- Italianate style details such as segmental-arched windows, stringcourses, corbelled cornice and parged decoration
- two second-floor doorways that once led to a wooden balcony
- regular fenestration and some surviving two-over-two window sash