Capital Iron and the world’s fastest clipper ship

Plaque 08 Rice millPlaque 08

In 1862 the architectural firm of Wright & Sanders designed the current home of Capital Iron. The stone building opened its doors in 1863 to serve as the harbour-side warehouse for Dickson Campbell & Co., importer and commissions agents. The building was one of the first built along Store St. after the first Johnson St. bridge removal permitted ships to enter Victoria’s upper harbour.

Thermopylae taking on a pilot at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Thermopylae taking on a pilot at the mouth of the Columbia River. Photograph by Robert Reford. Vancouver Public Library

In 1885 the property was purchased by Lachine, Quebec’s Mount Royal Milling Company to serve as the Canadian terminus for rice imported from the Orient. The company’s Thermopylae, once the world’s fastest clipper ship, transported rice across the Pacific Ocean to the building then known as Victoria Rice & Roller Milling Co. There the rice was cleaned, packaged and distributed by rail across Canada under the Dainty Rice brand. Mount Royal Milling went out of business in 1901.

After a period of transient tenancies Morris L. Greene took possession of the buildings in 1934, establishing Capital Iron & Metals Ltd., a scrap metal and ship breaking operation. During the Second World War Victoria’s industries were focused on supplying goods for the war effort leaving little to satisfy civilian needs. Capital Iron became a popular spot to pick up salvaged and surplus items.

Following the war, Greene bought fourteen surplus frigates and a minesweeper for breaking. The purchase was a shrewd one and salvage from those vessels provided Victorians with hard to find items for many years. Between 1934 and 1971 Capital Iron dismantled nearly 100 vessels of various sizes including the Princess Victoria, once the proud flagship of Canadian Pacific’s British Columbia Coastal Steamship Company.

Store Street's Rice and Roller mill

Store Street’s Rice and Roller mill, now Capital Iron
BC Archives B-04318

As the post war economy grew so did demand for goods beyond surplus, Capital Iron began carrying more and more regular hardware lines. By 1971, the scrap business was at an end and the company’s retail success began to grow. Morris was succeeded in the business by his son, Ronald Greene.

In 1980, under Greene’s guidance, Architect, Claude H. Maurice, restored the facades of the original buildings to their 1890’s Roller and Rice Mill appearance. The restoration was recognized both with the 1981 “Award of Merit” of the Hallmark Society and the 1982 Regional Award of Heritage Canada.

Today, guided by a third generation and still housed in some of Victoria’s oldest buildings, Capital Iron is a vibrant, home-grown department store offering one of the largest selections of housewares, camping, fishing, marine, hardware, garden, barbecues, hot tubs, patio furniture, home decor, fireplaces, fabrics and Christmas products anywhere on Vancouver Island.