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Sayward Building

1201-1213 Douglas Street, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1995/01/19

Sayward Building; City of Victoria, 2009
Oblique view, 2009
Sayward Building, historic image; from British Columbia: Its History, People, Commerce, Industries and Resources. (1912)
Oblique view, ca. 1912
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Other Name(s)


Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1910/01/01 to 1911/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2010/02/08

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Sayward Building is a six-storey plus basement, Edwardian-era commercial building, situated at the corner of Douglas and View Streets at the eastern edge of Victoria’s historic Old Town. One of the city’s most massive buildings of its era, its tan-brick cladding, banks of regular fenestration, and projecting sheet-metal cornice reflect the influence of Chicago School architecture.

Heritage Value

The Sayward Building, built in 1910-11, is symbolic of Victoria’s Edwardian-era prosperity and is linked to the continued commercial development of Victoria’s gateway economy. The local economy was booming in the era prior to the local economic collapse of 1913 and the advent of the First World War in 1914. Constructed with ground floor retail shops and upper floor offices, the massive and dense Sayward Building reflects the demand for commercial space to serve Victoria’s burgeoning downtown.

Sparsely ornamented and overtly functional, the Sayward Building is significant as one of the finest examples of the Chicago School influence on Victoria’s Edwardian-era commercial buildings. Chicago during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was a locus of technical and aesthetic innovation in skyscraper design. Some of the distinguishing features of the Chicago School are the use of steel-frame or concrete structures with masonry cladding, with large areas of plate-glass windows and limited amounts of exterior ornament. Many Chicago School skyscrapers contain the three parts of a classical column. The first floor functions as the base, the middle stories, usually with little ornamental detail, act as the shaft of the column, and the top floor represents the capital, capped with a cornice. This provided a refined and progressive appearance that met modern commercial needs with maximum efficiency.

Massive in its cubic density, the rigidly symmetrical exterior of the Sayward Building features a grid of large window banks separated by interwoven horizontal and vertical bands of masonry, crowned by an overhanging sheet-metal cornice. It was designed and built by English-born George Charles Mesher (1860-1938), who developed an outstanding reputation as a contractor in Victoria. In 1886, Mesher and his widowed father, George Mesher Sr., came to the city. Mesher Sr. had earned his living in England as a builder and contractor, and his son had worked with him learning the trade. The Meshers were fortunate to arrive in Victoria when the resource-based economic boom was underway. When they set up shop in Victoria in 1887, they continued as partners in their contracting work. Although not formally trained in architecture, G.C. Mesher designed a number of prominent buildings in Victoria, including the even more massive Pemberton Building in 1911.

The Sayward Building is additionally valued for its association with prominent Victoria businessman Joseph Austin Sayward (1862-1934), the son of pioneer William Parsons Sayward (1818-1905). W.P. Sayward arrived in Victoria in June 1858, and became the most important local lumberman in the 1860s. He invested his profits in downtown lots, and established a large mill on the Inner Harbour, which at its peak in 1891 was the largest on Vancouver Island. His son, Joseph, took over management of the mill in 1891, and assumed control of the Sayward business empire in 1896 upon William’s retirement. The construction of the Sayward Building as a flagship investment property reflected confidence in the booming real estate market and Victoria’s position as a centre of trade and commerce.

Source: City of Victoria Planning Department

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that define the heritage character of the Sayward Building include its:
- prominent corner location at Douglas and View Streets, at the eastern edge of Victoria’s historic Old Town
- commercial form, scale and massing, as expressed by its six-storey height with full basement, built to the property lines; symmetrical, U-shaped plan with a central entry on Douglas Street; flat roof; and inset corner entry with exposed corner column
- masonry construction, including: reinforced concrete structure; exposed concrete walls in airshaft and at rear; tan-brick cladding on two façades; and granite plinth blocks
- Chicago School architectural features, including: tripartite façade articulation accentuated by horizontal and vertical bands; clearly articulated base and capital; and regular tripartite fenestration with original window mullions; and projecting sheet metal cornice
- original interior features including: the central lobby with marble floor and panelling, and Cutler brass mailbox; and internal staircase with metal balustrades and newel posts and marble wall panelling
- areaways that extend under the sidewalk, with purple glass prism lights



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)


Theme - Category and Type

Developing Economies
Trade and Commerce

Function - Category and Type



Commerce / Commercial Services
Shop or Wholesale Establishment
Commerce / Commercial Services
Office or Office Building

Architect / Designer

G.C. Mesher


G.C. Mesher and Company

Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

City of Victoria Planning Department

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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