Unknown Victoria

Victoria: The Unknown City is a guidebook to an eccentric town on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. This is the author's blog. Look here for Victoria lore, updates and additions to the book, and hate mail.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Make Way For The Freeway

You won’t find the Rose-Blanshard district on any 21st-century map of Victoria – but that doesn’t mean that it should be forgotten. Fifty years ago, the area north of the Memorial Arena, between Bay and Hillside, was a neighbourhood of small wooden houses built between 1890 and 1910, and carved into cheap apartments. But in the 1950s the City of Victoria, like many municipalities in North America, became interested in “urban renewal” programs, which maintained that crime and delinquency could be eradicated if “slums” were torn down and replaced with modern subsidized housing – and Rose-Blanshard became the city’s target.

(At left is a map of how the area's laid out today, and how it appeared in the 1960s, when Rose and McBride streets still existed. Thanks to John Bryant and Western Geographical Press for letting me use these images.)

Was Rose-Blanshard really a slum? Its houses were certainly old, but many who remember it say the district was mainly occupied by pensioners and working-class Chinese, Polish, and Italian families. “It was one of the most cohesive neighbourhoods we had,” says Niels Knudsen, who worked for the city’s engineering department at the time. Rose-Blanshard, he says, was a place of weddings, street parties, boulevard trees, and backyard vegetable gardens. “Considering the rest of Victoria, it wasn’t substandard. It was where you started in Canada. It was affordable housing.”

The city had different ideas. In 1961, the Capital Region Planning Board named Rose-Blanshard as the blighted area in the city most in need of urgent renewal, and listed nine reasons for the decision. Number One: “It contains a high concentration of the worst quality houses which are beyond rehabilitation.” Number Nine: “There is a need for low-rental housing.” Most telling were Numbers Three and Eight: “A major road, Blanshard extension, is required through the area,” and “When Blanshard links with the Trans-Canada and Patricia Bay highways, a new demand for motor-hotel use will be created in this area. Small lot ownership would hamper private land assembly.”

The city applied for federal and provincial funding for the renewal scheme, and in 1967 it got underway. The city contracted a retired navy commander, Harold V.W. Groos, to be its “information and relocation officer,” and his men went house-to-house, clearing out the neighbourhood. They offered owners a paltry $5,000 for their properties – and if tenants refused to leave, officials took crowbars to the doors (photo right) and evicted them. Over the next two years, the city bought and bulldozed more than 100 homes.

The city did build some new social housing: in 1970, it opened the Blanshard Court project, and the 184 units quickly filled up with grateful people who’d been living on social assistance. But that benefit had come at a considerable price. According to a 1973 UVic study, the pensioners and families who’d been forced out of Rose-Blanshard had to pay an average of 40% more for rent in their new residences. And much of the vanished neighbourhood, of course, is now occupied by a six-lane thoroughfare lined with strip malls.

PS A fascinating 1964 film about a similar urban renewal program in Vancouver is posted on Gordon Price's blog here.


At 8:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone know where I can find more info about the public housing that was built (who designed, etc...)?

At 11:30 AM, Blogger ross said...

Most of the info and photos in this piece came from "Anatomy of a Renewal Scheme", in Residential and Neighbourhood Studies in Victoria (edited by C.N. Forward, 1973), a book available at the Greater Victoria Public Library.

Unfortunately, I just looked through the book, and it mainly talks about the relocation of the previous residents, not about the buildings there today. So try the City of Victoria archives: start with their newspaper clipping file on "Development & Planning - Rose/Blanshard Street", or the Town Planning Commission Records, 1951-1965 (CRS 31). Good luck!

At 2:37 PM, Blogger Jebby said...

I wish I was taught more local history in school. It wasn't until college that I was able to take a course in BC history. There is a place for the Egyptians, Aztecs, and Mayans but it seems silly to overlook places and people that can actually be visited within walking distance or a short bus ride. I think if more people learned about their local history they might actually care more about where they live.

At 2:46 PM, Blogger ross said...

Jebby, I agree completely! Thanks for reading the blog.

At 5:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked with a community advocate at the Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS) here in Victoria who grew up in the Mayfair Mall area. She described it as a working class area, with a lot of what I would call "light industry" - small manufacturing - in the area. Mayfair Lanes bowling alley was a vestige of that community. Interesting post.

At 11:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is also of interest to me, as I stayed with friends on Rose Street just south of Hillside Ave. for several months c. 1952, which is now known as Blanshard St. The homes were well maintained and it was a decent neighbourhood. It was only after they built Blanshard Court that it became a slum.

Not far from there was an ice company, who delivered ice to private homes for the ice boxes to keep food fresh. The ice boxes were generally kept on people's back porches. I remember the big ice picks and how the "ice man" hoisted the huge blocks of ice onto his burlap covered shoulder.

In the 1940s the brickyards were located where the Mayfair Mall is now situated and included the lower part of Topaz Park along Finlayson and what is now Blanshard Street. The latter was a wonderful place for us kids to play in all that wonderful clay!

As well, the ruins of the old gaol were once where S.J.Willis is now situated. What fabulous memories of playing there. We also had the run of all the open fields surrounding the area and later attended S.J.Willis School c. 1953-55.

(a 4th generation Victorian)

At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For some reason I remember a campsite around the mayfair mall area in the early 1960s does anyone recollect?

At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Carew said...

What freeway? Blanshard has never been a freeway.

At 3:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blanshard sure sounds like a freeway when your house faces onto it! :-)
I lived in evergreen terrace in the mid 2000s

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Rick Mercer said...

The Victoria Ice Company mentioned and the Baker Brick And Tile Company located where Mayfair Mall is now we're both owned by Stanley Baker

At 11:26 PM, Blogger bcbolt said...

Thanks Marilyn for the memories, the old houses along Hillside, the brick works where I played as a child and SJ Willis Jr High (1962-65).

At 6:52 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I lived in the blanchard courts for 10 years and it is one of the city's main roads. It was quite loud but not as busy as a freeway.


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