Updated: Dec 2, 2022
A destructive fire and a bastion that hid the ruins.
"A Replica Bastion of Fort Victoria - Corner of Fort and Government Streets"
(The famous Sky-Walk on the rooftop of the iconic Driard Hotel at the top right in the distance)
Photo (top): BC Archives (G-05988)
"Five Sisters Block"
Clip: Saturday Sunset (1912) Vancouver, British Columbia
On the night of October 26, 1910, a fire broke out in one of the largest department stores in Victoria, BC. For hours, the wind-fueled fire raged out of control burning everything within a city block known as the 'Five Sisters.' Merchant stores and offices within the Five Sisters block were either burned to the ground or water damaged beyond repair. This included everything between Fort Street and Trounce Alley, and Government Street to Broad Street. By the next morning, firefighters and local residents had gained control of the smoldering mess and the block remained in a ruinous state for years to follow.
Two years after the fire, in the fall of 1912, the City of Victoria was to host a special visit from Canada's Governor-General and his wife, the Duchess of Connaught. Plans were in place to decorate the city for their arrival, but nobody knew what to do about the unsightly Five Sisters block that still lay in ruins. At the last minute, a local group called the Devonian Society stepped forward with a great idea. The Devonians thought to pay tribute to Fort Victoria by erecting a bastion reminiscent of the original Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) Fort which could somewhat camouflage the ruinous site. Little did they know that their idea would be a smashing hit.
The city had only two days to build a replica of the old bastion before the Duke and Duchess arrived. Trees were donated and set up along the site and everyone pitched in to make it happen. The finishing touch was a Union Jack flag flying on top of the Fort which was said to be the flag that had flown over the original Fort Victoria a little over sixty years earlier. The replica bastion was considered an impressive sight by the visiting royals and it remained standing at the corner of Government and Fort Street for two more years before being dismantled in 1914.
"The Driard Hotel (1890)
Corner of View and Broad Street."
Spencer's Arcade (a building and department store much like HBC) was one business of many that had burned to the ground in the 5 Sisters Block fire in 1910. Owner David Spencer wasted no time rebuilding, however. The very next day, he bought out whatever space could be salvaged in the fire-damaged Driard Hotel across the street and carried on with business. In 1919, the old portion of the famous hotel, with a history dating back as far as the 1860s, was finally gutted to create a basement for the ever-expanding Spencer's store. The famous Sky-Walk on the rooftop of the iconic Driard Hotel can be seen both in this sketch and in distance at the top right of the photograph above.
"The Five Sisters Block in a Smoldering Mess"
Photo Clip: Victoria Daily Times (1910)
Victoria, British Columbia
Both telephone lines and power lines had to be cut in order for firefighters to access the site. This left the city of Victoria, BC in total darkness for days.