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1910::The Bowling Alley Fire in Victoria, British Columbia

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

The great fire of Fort Street marking the end of an era.

1900::A birds eye view of Fort Street and James Bay in the distance. Victoria, BC.

"The Fort Street Bowling Alley (bottom right of photo) and Auction House (next door towards bottom centre of photo)"

Photo: City of Victoria Archives (M00513)

::January 20, 1910

At 4:15 am, from the Vernon Hotel at the corner of View and Douglas Street, a night clerk spotted flames leaping out of the Fort Street Bowling Alley rooftop and sounded the city's fire alarm. Within minutes, Victoria's fire brigade arrived on the scene to find the bowling alley and the city's auction house engulfed in flames. It was clear to Fire Chief Davis that both structures were doomed. He instructed his men to protect the private dwelling next to the alley and the homes facing View Street behind the burning buildings. Across Fort Street, windows began to crack in the immense heat made worse by several exploding gasoline canisters stored in the alley by the building's owner. The situation had intensified, but the men had come prepared. With a bit of help from local police officers and two engines running nine streams of water on the flames, the brigade extinguished the fire within hours.

1910::The burnt remains of Victoria's bowling alley and auction house on Fort Street.

"The Smoldering Ruins of the Fort Street Bowling Alley (left of photo) and Victoria's Auction House (front entrance at right of photo)"

(spire of St. Andrew's Cathedral in the distance)

Photo Clip: Victoria Daily Times (1910)

With the light of day came evidence of the fire's total destruction. Nothing but charred wooden boards remained of the bowling alley (left of photo). It had been completely levelled to the ground. And though Victoria's Auction House faired better than its neighbour, it too had been reduced to ruin, including a large stock of items stored for private sale and auction. The wooden dwelling west of the bowling alley suffered broken windows and a scorched exterior. The homes facing View Street endured a similar fate. But the residents who had readied themselves to flee from the flames were grateful that the brigade had saved their homes and, in some ways, their livelihood. Damages were estimated at $30,000 (almost a million dollars in today's money), ranking it amongst the city's most costly fires and marking the end of an era for an old building packed with west coast history.

1873::New Philharmonic Hall in Victoria, British Columbia

"The Philharmonic Hall"

Clip: British Colonist (1873)

On the night of October 30, 1873, citizens of Victoria flocked to the new Philharmonic Hall on Fort Street for its Grand Opening. As the music played, the hall and its acoustics were admired. It had been a long time coming for the city's music enthusiasts who had long since outgrown their last Philharmonic Hall built in 1862 at the corner of Government and Broughton Street. Still, here they were with a new building that was sure to attract some of the world's most outstanding performers...and it did.

1866::The Shipwreck of Madam Anna Bishop.

"Madame Anna Bishop"

Clip: The Sun (1884)

New York, New York

In the summer of 1874, just a year after its Grand Opening, Victoria's Philharmonic Hall saw its first outstanding performance when world-renowned cantatrice Anna Bishop came to town. Hers was a voice like no other in her time. Bishop knew several languages and loved to travel. She performed wherever she went and often sang to her audience in their native language. Her visit to Vancouver Island just a few short years after becoming a shipwreck survivor was a big deal. Victorians filled the Philharmonic Hall to capacity at each of her several performances, and when she finally left, she left behind many new fans of her tremendous talent and her charm.

1884::Rafael Joseffy performs in Victoria, British Columbia.

"Rafael Joseffy"

Clip: British Colonist (1884)

On November 12, 1884, Victoria's Philharmonic Hall was once again crowded to capacity for a one-night-only performance of world-renowned pianist Rafael Joseffy.

Joseffy began his piano study at 8 years old and later moved to Germany where he studied under the great Franz Lizst and Carl Tausig. He was an acclaimed master by the time he was 20 and moved to New York where he made his debut on the North American stage with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He soon began to travel and brought his musical talent to the farthest reaches of the continent. After his one-night-only performance in Victoria, he returned to the east coast to play as a solo artist for the inaugural concerts of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. His was one of the last great performances held at the Philharmonic Hall on Fort Street. In the years that followed, theatre companies such as the Imperial, Watson's and Redmond's, leased the hall and spent years entertaining Victorians on the hall's stage. But soon, the theatre began to wear, and the hall was bought out by a garage company that leased, sold and fixed newly invented automobiles before selling out to the city's new bowling alley.

1908::New bowling alleys open in Victoria, British Columbia.

"The Fort Street Bowling Alleys"

Clip: Victoria Daily Times (1908)

On November 7, 1908, Victoria's newest entertainment centre opened on Fort Street. It featured pool tables, candy machines and fortune tellers in-house ready to reveal what the future had in store. But it was the bowling lanes that kept the building hopping. Each night, the six bowling lanes, each with imported wood flooring, were filled with the city's best (and worst) bowlers. It was a serious sport with serious competition. An annual Thanksgiving tournament brought teams from Seattle, Nanaimo and Vancouver to the Fort Street alleys to compete for the Cigar Cup. But when the bowling lanes burned to the ground just over a year later, they were never rebuilt. In 1911, the bowlers reestablished their game (and pool tables) in the basement of the newly built Pemberton Building at the corner of Fort and Broad Street and held tournaments there for many years.

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