Description of Historic Place
The Macdonald Block is a two-storey commercial building, located on the north side of Bastion Square in the heart of Victoria’s Old Town. It is notable for its Italianate-style details, including an elaborate cornice with paired brackets, regular fenestration, and a round-arched central entrance. To the east the building abuts the Burnes House. The western corner is slightly beveled, and the side and rear façades are of red brick. Commercial Alley, part of an interconnected network of secondary passageways in Old Town, runs along the west side.
The Macdonald Block, built in 1888, is part of an ensemble of historic Late Victorian and Edwardian-era commercial buildings that front onto Bastion Square, an historic urban space that is valued as a link to the earliest physical development of Victoria’s Old Town, and as a public urban space. The finely ornamented front façade of the Macdonald Block makes a significant contribution to the heritage character of Bastion Square.
The Macdonald Block is additionally significant for its association with James Murray Reid (1802-1868), and his son-in-law, partner and trustee, William John Macdonald (died 1916). Macdonald served as Mayor of Victoria, and was appointed to the Canadian Senate in 1871. Reid, a noted pioneer in Victoria, arrived on Vancouver Island in 1842, having been an employee of the Hudson Bay Company’s marine service for twenty years. In 1853, he left the service and set up as an independent importer; he was particularly successful in the boom that followed the gold rush and purchased this land, and the lot to its west, on which he erected a large warehouse in 1861. Although Reid died in 1868, his estate continued to conduct business under Senator Macdonald’s direction, and this building was erected in 1888. It is a fine example of a late Victorian-era, Italianate-style commercial building, and its ornamentation displays hallmarks of the style, such as a cornice with paired brackets, elaborate window heads, and regular fenestration.
Source: City of Victoria Planning Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Macdonald Block include its:
- contribution to the character of Bastion Square, as part of an ensemble of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century historic masonry buildings
- prominent corner location facing Bastion Square and Commercial Alley
- siting on the property lines, with no setbacks
- commercial form, scale and massing, as expressed by its two-storey height, rectangular plan, flat roof and beveled western corner
- masonry construction, including red-brick structural walls, parged on the front façade
- Italianate architectural details, such as paired brackets at the cornice and door surround, elaborated window and door hoods, variety of round and segmental-arched window openings, stringcourses at the first floor level and engaged pilasters
- regular fenestration, such as one-over-one and two-over-two double-hung wooden-sash windows