William J. Pendray William (1846 – 1913) was born in Cornwall, England. He came to California in 1868 via the Isthmus of Panama prior to the completion of the canal. After eight months in California’s mines he left for the Cariboo, after visiting his uncle W. J. Jeffree, a prominent clothier in Victoria. In the Cariboo he became an owner of the Willow Mine. The Willow developed into one of the richest in the country and William returned to England, a young man of means.
In Cornwall, he met his wife-to-be, Amelia Jane Carthew, and also invested in South African gold mines; but within three years his previous mining fortune had been exhausted. Leaving Amelia to wait for him, he set off once again for the goldfields of America. He soon struck it rich at the Comstock Lode.
In 1875, he returned to Victoria where he approached Jeffree for local investment advice. W. J. proposed helping him acquire an out-of-business soap factory on Humboldt Street. At the time, all of Victoria’s soap was imported. By manufacturing soap locally and selling it at a lower price, they knew they could displace the imports. Pendray began manufacturing a complete line of cleaning bars and powders. His products were soon selling well in Victoria and other towns accessible to Victoria by water, including New Westminster, Fort Langley, Chilliwack, and Yale, all on the Fraser River.
Business boomed and in 1876 Pendray built a much larger plant on Humboldt St. adjacent to the James Bay mudflats. In 1877 he sent for Amelia who sailed from Liverpool to New York, crossed the continent by train to San Francisco and sailed to Esquimalt. The day after she arrived, in May 1877, Amelia and William were wedded and made their first home in a cottage on Douglas Street, later the site of Crystal Garden. As the family grew they moved into a house on the southwest corner of Gordon and Courtney where they dwelt for several years, raising four boys.
In 1890 William purchased property for a new home on Belleville Street, overlooking the Inner Harbour. In 1894 a fire destroyed the residential and industrial structures that had stood on Laurel Point, close to his Belleville Street site. He also purchased the now-derelict Laurel Point property.
The house on Belleville was finished in 1897. It was a mansion designed by architect Alexander Charles Ewart in the Queen Anne style. William commissioned German artists to paint frescoes on the ceilings of the parlour, the dining room and in two of the bedrooms. Panes of stained glass imported from Italy were shipped in barrels of molasses, so they wouldn’t break, and were used throughout the house.
In 1899 Pendray bought the British Columbia branch of Canada Paint Company and renamed it the British American Paint Company, from which evolved its household name, Bapco. In 1901 Pendray added a print shop, a box plant and a metal can shop to his soap and paint enterprises to provide the containers needed to get his products to his customers.
In 1906 he commissioned Moore & Whittington of Fernwood to build a new factory on his Laurel Point property. He sold the Humboldt factories and land adjacent to the newly filled James Bay mudflat to the CPR. Their Empress Hotel would soon rise across the street.
William’s eldest son, Ernest C., born 1878, worked at the Laurel Point location, involved in management. On November 24, 1908, going for lunch, he climbed up to sit beside the driver of a 2,700 pound loaded horse-drawn freight wagon that would pass his home two blocks away on Belleville. There he would climb off. As they arrived at the house an approaching automobile startled the horse, causing it to shy and rear straight up at the same time, breaking one of the wagon’s shafts. Ernest jumped from the wagon to avoid the horse’s hooves, the driver imploring him to stay on. Then the other shaft broke. Ernest fell under the wagon, and one of its wheels crushed his head, killing him instantly. The load weighed about 2700 pounds.” It was a huge blow to William and Amelia and the three surviving brothers.
On September 18, 1913 a collapsing factory pipe killed Pendray. He was 68 years old.
Management of the company fell to his second son, J. Carl (1879-1961). Under his stewardship the soap company was sold to Royal Crown Soaps in 1913. The new owners made soap in Victoria until moving to the mainland in 1926. Carl managed Bapco until his retirement in 1948 and served as mayor of Victoria from 1924-28. Upon his retirement, his son Allan became president of the company. In 1966 Canadian Industries Limited purchased Bapco and, in 1973, the company moved operations to the mainland.
Laurel Point was sold to Paul Arsens who built a luxury hotel and condominiums on the site, redeeming this beautiful seaside location from the scars of industry.
Amelia lived out her years in the house at 309 Belleville. She passed away, a great-grandmother, at age 87 in May of 1937.
In 1939 the Pendray mansion was purchased by the Sisters Notre Dame des Anges, a Roman Catholic Missionary Sisterhood founded in Montreal in 1658 by Sainte Marguerite Bourgeois. The order had been working in China for many years and in 1940 opened the building as a hostel for Chinese women, calling it Loretto Hall.
In 1970 the house was purchased by Florence and Bill Prior who transformed it into The Captain’s Palace, an inn and restaurant. In 1980 the Priors hosted a Pendray family reunion at which the topiary garden was replanted and dedicated to William, 57 years after his death. Under their ownership the Priors extensively restored the house, uncovering all the coloured glass, and painstakingly exposing the painted-over ceiling frescoes. Much to their credit, they returned the dwelling to its original condition.
Today the residence is the Gatsby Mansion, the main house of the Huntington Hotel’s Bellville Park Resort.
The History of Victoria’s Harbour Project owes a debt to Ted Ross for his fine reporting on the life of W.J. Pendray in the James Bay Beacon.
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