Constructing The Causeway

The construction of the Inner Harbour Causeway allowed for the filling in of James Bay to provide the location for the Canadian Pacific Empress Hotel as traffic travels along the James Bay bridge to the right in the image

Victoria’s Inner Harbour Causeway consists of two elements, a granite retaining wall and lower concrete promenade known as the “lower causeway”. The Causeway defines the edge of the Inner Harbour’s waterfront in front of Fairmont Empress Hotel on Government Street in downtown Victoria, British Columbia.

Upper Causeway

The Original Canadian Pacific Empress Hotel

The Original Canadian Pacific Empress Hotel

The Inner Harbour Causeway is a monument to the development of tourism in the Inner Harbour Precinct. Constructed in 1903, the causeway’s granite retaining wall allowed for the development of the James Bay mud flats and the subsequent construction of the Empress Hotel by the Canadian Pacific Railway, establishing Victoria as a significant tourist destination on the west coast of Canada.

Lower Causeway

The heritage value of the lower causeway resides in its strategic role in the development of Victoria’s urban environment, for the way it reflects the changing role of Victoria’s urban environment, for its design, and its use.

Completed in 1974, the lower causeway was the key recommendation, and the most tangible outcome, of Arthur Erickson Architects’ 1973 Inner Harbour Study. The study was commissioned by, and written in collaboration with the City of Victoria to consider enhancing the living and working environment of the Inner Harbour in its role as a commercial port and industrial margin declined. This innovative study, the first to look at the entire shoreline of that area, provided design guidelines that were used by the City to make the shoreline accessible to the public. The guidance is of interest for reflecting the spirit of the age, focusing on people, health and play rather than on machines, commerce and work.

Designed by Vancouver Erickson’s waterfront design specialist, Norm Hotson, the project was one of the last major projects engineered by City of Victoria staff. The lower causeway is of significance as a piece of enduring 1970s urban design. Its popularity as an open-air market, tourist destination, and attractive urban park are testament to its success.

The form of the lower causeway is of value for the way it reflects the principles underlying Erickson’s architecture. Spatially, the provision of a dedicated pedestrian route away from the traffic along Government Street, the creation of areas for events and people watching, and the integration of contemplative spaces, are characteristic of Erickson’s landscape design at that time, as is the sculptural use of “sitting and walking” steps and tiers to define spaces. The trees and low hedges that provide shade and a windbreak, and the “mushroom lights” and contrasting paving material installed at the promenade edge to avoid the use of railings, are of interest for the way they illustrate the architects’ lateral thinking on design issues.

The lower causeway has become a significant public space at the heart of the city, used by workers and visitors, market stall-holders, musicians and artists