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1966::The Three Towers of Victoria, British Columbia

Updated: Jun 5

The capital city's towers that were never built.

1946::X Marks the Spot - View From Fisherman's Wharf Towards Laurel Point

"1946::X Marks the Spot - View From Fisherman's Wharf Towards Laurel Point"

Photo Clip: Victoria Daily Times (1946)

Victoria, British Columbia

In 1946, a family of Victoria's fish industry pioneers purchased a waterfront lot adjacent to Laurel Point, which, until 1973, was the site of the British and American Paint Company (BAPCO). This lot, marked with an X in the photo above, was where they envisioned building their fish-dealing empire. They erected a two-storey warehouse with a separate smokehouse and ice house and began selling and shipping their high-quality fish from their modernized wharf. However, after just one year of operation, their dreams took an unexpected turn, and the company permanently closed its doors on the site. They never could have imagined that an Eifel Tower-like structure might someday take its place.

1966::The First Proposed Skydeck Tower Site in Victoria's Harbour

"1966::The First Proposed Skydeck Tower Site in Victoria's Harbour"

Clip: Papertown Station Story Map Google MyMaps (2024)

With Canada's 100th birthday celebration upon them, the City of Victoria hoped to formulate some ideas for restoring life to its core. Even though British Columbia did not become the sixth province of Canada until 1871, they planned on celebrating the Centennial with the rest of the country. As the provincial capital, all eyes would be on Victoria to lead the way. In March 1966, a small group of local businessmen approached the city council with an idea to revitalize Victoria's Inner Harbour, once the bustling heart of the province. The harbour had fallen silent in recent years since the tourists had disappeared with the advent of the government ferry system, and they needed something to bring them back.

1966::An All-Aluminum Skydeck Tower For Victoria's Inner Harbour

"1966::An All-Aluminum Skydeck Tower For Victoria's Inner Harbour"

Clip: Victoria Daily Times (1966)

Victoria, British Columbia

The company was called Skydeck Victoria, and spokesman Anthony Bristowe was at the helm. Bristowe proposed building the world's first all-aluminum observation tower on Victoria's Inner Harbour. Standing 300 feet high, it would soar from its proposed location on Belleville Street to twice the height of the gold-plated statue of Captain Vancouver, sitting on the dome of the world-famous parliament buildings. A pond featuring seals and other marine life would greet tourists as they entered the tower's base. At the centre of the structure, an enclosed elevator would transport them to two circular decks at the top of the tower. The lower deck would house souvenir shops and a small cafe for sipping hot tea or coffee while enjoying the view. The upper deck would be an open-air observation deck offering a 360° view across the city, the surrounding islands, Mount Baker, the Olympic Mountain Range and the Straits of Juan de Fuca. The new Skydeck Tower promised a unique tourist attraction and a panoramic view that stretched into infinity.

"The tower would create a lot of free advertising for the city. Think of the photos the tourists would take from the top of the tower and later show their friends." - A. Bristowe, Skydeck Victoria

1966::A Skydeck Tower On the Grounds of Craigdarroch Castle

"1966::A Skydeck Tower On the Grounds of Craigdarroch Castle"

Photo: BC Archives (I-67641)

The tower's proponents made a good case for boosting local tourism, comparing its potential to that of Paris with its Eiffel Tower and Seattle with its new Space Needle. But while the city pondered the idea, a local citizen offered an idea of his own. He believed that the success of any observation tower depends on its location, and, as a neighbour of Craigdarroch Castle, he felt there was no better spot for a tower than right beside the castle. His idea was thought to be hair-brained, outrageous, tasteless, and nuts, just like Eiffel's idea for his tower. But with the School Board's announcement that they would vacate the castle premises by the end of the year, it was a thought worth considering... at least for a moment.

"First we restore the castle to its 19th century splendor, then attach a symbol of the 21st century to it." - Victoria Citizen, and Neighbour of Craigdarroch Castle

1966::A New Tower and a New Proposal for Victoria's Inner Harbour

"1966::A New Tower and a New Proposal for Victoria's Inner Harbour"

Photo Clip: Victoria Daily Times (1966)

Victoria, British Columbia

While the city struggled to devise a revitalization plan, one thing was certain: they liked the idea of a tower, but not an all-aluminum one, and certainly not on Belleville Street's prime waterfront property between Pendray and Oswego Streets. While Skydeck Victoria went about making some necessary changes, a new proposal came forward from local businessman Charlie White. White had just recently opened his Undersea Gardens in Oak Bay and was now looking to expand his horizons while helping to restore year-round life to the Inner Harbour. He would first bring tourists back by attracting more passenger ferries with a new unloading dock at the West end of the property close to Laurel Point. He would then tear down the old buildings lining the waterside of Belleville Street to make way for adequate parking and transform the entire area into a little bit of old England. On the existing wharf, he would build a 90-room Tudor-style hotel featuring a high-class restaurant, gift shops on the main level, and rooms above with views of the Johnson Street bridge. Anchoring the East end of the property, where the old Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) terminal stands, would be a 100-foot clock tower that he would name Parliament Tower. Here, tourists could enjoy a cocktail in its small lounge while taking in the view through the clear glass face of the clock itself. It was a 2.5 million dollar project that instantly received an informal blessing from Victoria's mayor and council. However, it would ultimately require approval from the property's owners, the CPR and its Board of Directors.

1966::The Second Proposed Skydeck Tower and a New Location On Victoria's Harbour

"1966::The Second Proposed Skydeck Tower and a New Location On Victoria's Harbour"

Clip: Papertown Station Story Map

Google MyMaps (2024)

While White pitched his new proposal, the Empress Hotel announced that renovations would soon change the hotel's interior look and feel and would spruce up its exterior. With White's great idea on the table and the Empress on board with making notable changes, Skydeck Victoria returned with a new plan and tower.

1966::The Second Skydeck Tower

"1966::The Second Skydeck Tower"

Photo Clip: Victoria Daily Times (1966)

Victoria, British Columbia

Skydeck Victoria felt that its new 325-foot tower, constructed with steel and glass, would vastly improve the look of the waterfront. But critics who had been knocking their proposal since it was first introduced still felt that a space needle of any sort would spoil the character of the Inner Harbour by making it look like a fairground. On the other hand, observation towers were becoming a big city trend following the continued success of the Eifel Tower in France. Germany's new Stuttgart Tower, Japan's new Tokyo Tower, and even Seattle's brand new Space Needle were a success, so why shouldn't Victoria join them? It was a good argument, and although the city council liked the tower's new design, they still felt that the location was a bust. Before the decision went to vote, Skydeck Victoria, sensing that the council was reluctant to give up precious harbour property for a tower, withdrew their bid to purchase the Belleville Street lot and promised to return with a better plan and location.

"This tower would give tourists something to do when they come here." - A. Bristowe, Skydeck Victoria

1966::Three Proposals for Three Towers

"1966::Three Proposals for Three Towers"

Photo Clip: Victoria Daily Times (1959) Victoria, British Columbia

Skydeck Victoria searched the city for an alternative location. They soon discovered the perfect lot on Montreal Street, adjacent to Laurel Point, and already occupied by the successful Net Loft Restaurant serving Victoria's best seafood. Its owners from Edmonton had purchased the waterfront lot in 1956 after it had been lying vacant for years since the fish dealers moved on. But now that change was in the air, it was time for something different. Skydeck Victoria and the restaurant owners devised a plan to build their new tower where the restaurant stood and move the Net Loft restaurant into the tower itself. It was a plan that the council could get on board with.

1966::Victoria's New Skydeck Tower on Montreal Street

"1966::Victoria's New Skydeck Tower on Montreal Street"

Photo Clip: Vancouver Sun (1966)

Vancouver, British Columbia

With a new location and Victoria's best seafood restaurant in-house, they now had something to work with. Knowing they were onto something with their latest design, Skydeck polished up their new steel and glass tower and stretched it to 350 feet to soar well above Victoria's Inner Harbour. And even though they didn't need the council's approval thanks to the site's light industrial zoning, they sought their blessing anyway. On June 24, Victoria's City Council applauded Skydeck's new plan and approved their 5.5 million dollar project without further delay. Skydeck went to work, hoping to have the project put out to tender by the fall and their new tower ready by the spring of 1967. Their plan was finally in full motion, and Victoria was set to have their very own space needle. But nobody could have predicted the tragedies that would soon unfold and forever change the course of the project.

1966::The Disappearing Towers

"1966::The Disappearing Towers"

Photo Clip: Vancouver Sun (1966) Vancouver, British Columbia

They had plans, approvals, and blessings, so where are the towers? There could be several reasons why Skydeck's and White's towers were never built, but a significant explanation was never officially released, at least not in the newspapers. However, the year's biggest news headlines give us clues about what may have brought the tower projects to a screeching halt. On August 1, just weeks after Skydeck Victoria won the council's blessing to proceed with their project, a young man laid down a deadly hail of rifle bullets from the Observation Tower at the University of Texas. From the tower's observation deck, he fired at random people, killing 15 and injuring 31. His 96-minute killing spree ended when law enforcement officers took him out in a gunfight. His wife and mother were found later that day. It was known as the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in U.S. history. Just weeks after the Texas Tower massacre, Skydeck Victoria's spokesman Anthony Bristowe suffered a heart attack while fishing on Cowichan River and drowned in shallow water. Weeks after Bristowe's death, Victoria's beloved Mayor Toone, who had held his elected seat for only several months and had approved the Skydeck project without delay, died of a heart attack in his home. By the end of the year, all three tower projects had quietly disappeared.


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