Inner Harbour Introduction
or decades, the principal way to travel from Victoria to the mainland was aboard a vessel of the aging fleet of paddle wheelers and steamships.
Recognizing a business opportunity, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) established its B.C. Coast Service based in Victoria in 1901 under the supervision of Captain James William Troup. In 1904 Captain Troup commissioned local architect, Francis Rattenbury to design a terminal in the Inner Harbour to accommodate the service’s passenger and cargo traffic. Rattenbury designed the terminal as a larger version of the half-timbered mansions he was successfully designing for many of Victoria’s wealthy of the day. The terminal opened in 1905.
As the Coast Service’s grew Troup commissioned Rattenbury again In 1920 to design a new and larger building to replace the original terminal. Rattenbury, with assistance from Percy James, designed a neo-classical corporate temple flanked by Ionic colonnades along its north and south sides. The structure was constructed of reinforced concrete covered with “cast stone” made of cement and powdered rock from Newcastle Island. This technique allowed for the economic creation of exterior details like the heads of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, that peer from each corner of the building. The heads were sculpted by George Gibson, a Scots artisan who also carved the speaker’s chair in the BC Legislature, and was responsible for much of Christ Church Cathedral’s cast-stone and wood sculpture.
Within, the terminal’s ornate ceilings soared 17-feet above the floor of the elegant concourse where a baronial fireplace, lounges, and waiting rooms were finished in marble and Haddington Island stone. Under the building’s Welsh slate hipped roof were two stories of offices, the headquarters for the B.C. Coast Service. Troup’s office was in the northwest corner from where he could oversee harbour traffic. The building opened in 1924 and was considered among Rattenbury’s best. He was admitted to the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada that same year. Between 1917 and 1923 CPR’s passenger traffic on the Vancouver –Victoria – Seattle route grew from 11,000 to 147,000.
By the 1960s, significant changes in transportation technologies saw the demise of CPR’s Coast Service. In 1968 The CPR moved its offices to Vancouver and in 1970 leased the terminal building to the Royal London Wax Museum. In 1974, Canadian Pacific Steamships ended passenger service and in 1975 sold the building to the province who managed the property through the Provincial Capital Commission (PCC).
In 2009 the PCC took advantage of a $3.1-million infrastructure grant to undertake the seismic reinforcement of the structure, and the restoration of the building’s neo-classical details. Its floor-to-ceiling windows, which had been blacked out for 40 years, once again let light flood the building.
Following an extensive process to re-tenant the building, Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA) was the successful applicant for head lease. The GVHA went on a wide search for quality tenants, resulting in The Robert Bateman Centre, and Steamship Grill & Taphouse finding a new home in this historic landmark on Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
The Steamship Terminal building is on Victoria’s Registry of Historic Buildings.