Description of Historic Place
Burnes House is an L-shaped, three-storey Victorian-era, Italianate-style masonry building located in Bastion Square, in the heart of Victoria’s Old Town. The building’s narrow front façade faces onto Bastion Square, and features a pair of double-height projecting bay windows on the upper floors, a central main entrance and a massive decorative cornice.
Burnes House, constructed in 1887, 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 ceremonial and public urban space. The finely detailed front façade is a commanding presence that contributes to the historic ambience of Bastion Square.
Additionally, Burnes House is significant for its association with its first owner, Thomas John Burnes (1832-1915). Irish-born, Burnes arrived in Victoria during the gold rush of 1858 with the intent of striking it rich. Instead, he went into the hotel business and opened the American Hotel on Yates Street, on a lot situated behind Burnes House. His second venture was this hotel, considered among the finest in the city. Burnes was well known in the community as a member of the fire department and the Benevolent Society.
Burnes House is further valued as a superior example of a Victorian-era Italianate-style commercial building, designed by architect John Teague (1835-1902). Like Burnes, Teague arrived in Victoria during the gold rush with the hopes of making a fortune. During the second half of the nineteenth century, Teague was Victoria’s most prolific architect. His surviving projects include Victoria City Hall (1878-1891), the Masonic Lodge (1878), and the Admiral’s Lodge, Royal Naval Dockyard, Esquimalt (1885). Teague also played a role in Victoria’s politics, serving as city councillor and mayor. The flamboyant detailing of the Burnes House demonstrates how popular architectural styles were used by the hotel business to market a progressive image. Its heavy bracketted cornice, segmental-arched window heads, symmetrical façades, and Classical references are examples of hallmarks of the Italianate style. The contractors for the project were the prominent firm of Smith & Clark, who were responsible for many of the city’s finest Victorian-era buildings.
Source: City of Victoria Planning Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Burnes House include its:
- contribution to the character of Bastion Square, as part of an ensemble of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century historic masonry buildings
- siting on the property lines, with no setbacks
- commercial form, scale and massing, as expressed by its three-storey height, L-shaped plan, cubic massing, flat roof and double-height bay windows on the front facade
- construction materials, such as red-brick structural walls and cladding, parged window sills, wooden bays, wood-frame interior structure, and sheet metal cornice
- Italianate-style details, such as the massive bracketted sheet metal cornice, segmental-arched window heads and entryways, fluted pilasters and door head keystone
- regular fenestration including double-hung two-over-two and one-over-one double-hung wooden-sash windows
- interior elements, such as newel posts and balustrades