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Strand Hotel

550-554 Johnson Street, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1990/07/26

Exterior view of the Strand Hotel, 2006; City of Victoria, Donald Luxton and Associates, 2006
Front elevation
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Other Name(s)


Links and documents

Construction Date(s)


Listed on the Canadian Register: 2006/10/25

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Strand Hotel is a three-storey plus lower level, red-brick commercial building, distinguished by exuberant Victorian detailing and Romanesque Revival influences, and a projecting double-height central bay window. It is located mid-block on the north side of lower Johnson Street, within Market Square, a rehabilitated complex of late nineteenth century buildings that comprise the western half of a full block, with continuous historic streetfronts along three major streets and a central courtyard behind, in Victoria's Old Town.

Heritage Value

The Strand Hotel is a significant contributing resource to a key historic grouping of nineteenth-century structures that marks the northern edge of the expansion of Victoria's original Old Town. This block, bounded to the north by Pandora Avenue and to the south by Johnson Street, was once part of the course of the Johnson Street Ravine, a swamp that marked the boundary between the European business area to the south and Chinatown (now a National Historic Site) to the north. During the 1880s, the wooden shacks on the north side of the ravine were replaced with utilitarian commercial blocks housing Chinese businesses, spurred by the dramatic increase in the local Chinese population after the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed. The announcement of a land grant to the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway in 1883, and its completion in 1888, sparked a construction boom in Victoria of stores and hotels around the terminus at the west foot of Pandora Avenue. The south side of the block was filled with more elaborate buildings such as hotels and commercial enterprises run by Europeans, illustrating the physical and cultural divide within the early city. This impressive commercial structure was built in 1892 on a speculative basis by local builder John Turner, who also built the nearby Janion Hotel. An indication of the mid-1890s downturn of the local economy is that Turner went bankrupt in 1896. The building was repossessed by B.C. Land and Investment Company and was converted for hotel use. The large open space in the centre of the block remains as a reminder of the interconnected network of courtyards and alleyways in Old Town. These alleyways provided service areas and access which were important to the commercial functions of these buildings.

The Strand Hotel is also valued for its sophisticated architecture. Round-headed windows unified by rock-faced sandstone voussoirs are typical Romanesque Revival features, while other detailing, such as the elaborate sheet-metal cornice, cast-iron roofline cresting and cast-iron storefront columns, are typical of the late Victorian era. The central bay window is clad in prefabricated sheet metal elements, which were both decorative and fire-proof.

Additionally, this building represents Market Square's role in the modern revitalization of Victoria's historic downtown core. In the 1970s, Sam Bawlf and his brother, architect Nick Bawlf, pioneered private sector revitalization in Victoria by creating Market Square, a half-block of contiguous rehabilitated heritage buildings that framed a partly covered central courtyard, housing a vibrant urban environment with boutiques, restaurants, offices, and performance space. Seeking to reactivate Victoria's depressed downtown core with this massive project, the Bawlfs balanced urban revitalization with heritage conservation. The preservation of the open space in the central courtyard is a key feature that recalls the integral role of these secondary spaces in Victoria's commercial activities.

Source: City of Victoria Planning and Development Depatrment

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that define the heritage character of the Strand Hotel include its:
- location within Market Square and the historic streetscape of lower Johnson Street, set flush to the front and side property lines with other contemporaneous buildings and a contiguous rear courtyard space, on a north-sloping lot that exposes the lower level at the rear
- continuous commercial and retail use
- commercial form, scale and massing as expressed through its three-storey plus lower level height, symmetrical rectangular plan, basement areaways, flat roof and projecting central front two-storey bay
- masonry construction, including: structural front, side and rear brick walls; pressed red brick on front facade; bush-hammered sandstone piers flanking the storefront openings; timber internal frame; granite door thresholds; and rubble-stone foundations
- Romanesque Revival influences including its round-headed windows united by rock-faced sandstone voussoirs; rock-faced sandstone lintels; and deeply-carved foliate sandstone capitals
- additional exterior details include: central double-height bay window clad in decorative sheet-metal with rectangular and round-headed windows; a broad, sheet-metal upper cornice incorporating a mansard roof profile; elaborate cast-iron roof cresting; red-brick roofline chimneys with corbelled caps; and round and square-sided cast-iron storefront columns stamped 'Wilson Brothers, Victoria B.C.'
- symmetrical fenestration, such as: rectangular storefront openings; flat and round-headed openings on the front facade with double-hung 1-over-1 wooden sash windows; and segmental arched window openings on the rear facade, with double-hung wooden sash, 2-over-2 on the ground floor and 1-over-1 on the upper two floors
- elements of the 1970s rehabilitation, such as the rear decks, openings into the rear courtyard from the front street, and stairways to upper floors



British Columbia

Recognition Authority

Local Governments (BC)

Recognition Statute

Local Government Act, s.967

Recognition Type

Heritage Designation

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
Hotel, Motel or Inn

Architect / Designer

Nick Bawlf


John Turner

Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

City of Victoria Planning and Development Depatrment

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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