Best of the City: Victoria Squared – gathering places through the years

Market Square in downtown Victoria, as seen from the southwest corner. (Don Denton/News Staff)Market Square in downtown Victoria, as seen from the southwest corner. (Don Denton/News Staff)
Vendors display their wares in Bastion Square on a summer day in downtown Victoria. (Don Denton/News staff)Vendors display their wares in Bastion Square on a summer day in downtown Victoria. (Don Denton/News staff)
A view of Centennial Square next to City Hall in Victoria. (Don Denton/News staff)A view of Centennial Square next to City Hall in Victoria. (Don Denton/News staff)

Victoria is a city famous for domed copper roofs, hotels with ballrooms, expansive gardens and peeks into ocean life. But behind those highlights are parts of the city more humble, mysterious and charming: its squares.

City squares are the heart of a community; they host events, demonstrations, public discussions, markets and everything in between. Victoria’s many historical squares are must-sees for visitors and residents alike, says Paul Nursey, CEO of Destination Greater Victoria.

“Victoria provides layers of experience. Our squares provide a kind of surprise and delight behind the icons, adding depth and dimension to the city. They’re not something you lead with, but give a great payoff.”

Bastion Square

Rich with history, this space is part of the original Fort Victoria and has housed some of the city’s foundational landmarks, including:

• The Court House (designed by architect H.O. Tiedeman), the first concrete building in Victoria, built in 1889. For decades until relatively recently, it was home to the Maritime Museum of British Columbia.

• The Law Chambers, designed by F.M. Rattenbury, built in the late 1800s.

• Burnes House, originally a hotel in 1882 (then a brothel and later a warehouse), restored in 1967.

• Strousse Warehouse, built in 1885 as a supply centre for gold miners.

• The Board of Trade building, built in 1892 by A.M. Muir.

Bastion Square is said to house the troubled spirits of prisoners who marched down adjoining Helmcken Alley, which linked the nearby prison with the square, where public executions took place. The prison was demolished in 1885.

In more recent years the square has undergone quite the makeover. It’s home to sunny patios, live music, some of the hottest beer and cocktail sites and a vibrant public market.

Centennial Square

Built in 1962 to mark the 100th anniversary of Victoria’s incorporation, this central public square hosts many events, with a permanent stage, public art on display and community gathering spaces among its features.

Situated between city hall, McPherson Playhouse, a seniors activity centre, Capital Regional District headquarters, the Fisgard Street parkade and shops.

It is a central location for Victoria’s voices, acting as the space for demonstrations, festivals and public celebrations. It hosts markets in the summer and recently became the home of Victoria’s Lights of Wonder winter festival.

Fort Common

Tucked behind the walls of local eateries and independent shops between Broughton, Fort and Blanshard streets, this public space offers an exclusive feeling due to its subtle entrances and seasonal availability. The small square offers a quiet outdoor venue to enjoy local food and hosts evening events in summer, all under strings of Edison light bulbs.

Market Square

This large enclosed space has a character of its own, one that continues to evolve. Situated in Victoria’s’ Old Town, it was close to the busy seaport during the gold rush era. The heritage buildings which now surround it in the shape of a U were once commercial spaces, warehouses and hotels.

Today the three-storey square houses an eclectic collection of independent shops and restaurants, and hosts music festivals and special events. Most recently, Market Square has transformed into a space to celebrate beer, whiskey and microbreweries.

Pioneer Square

This tiny square, sits in Pioneer Park next to Christ Church Cathedral and houses Victoria’s second-oldest cemetery. It was the main burial ground for Fort Victoria and Victoria between 1858 and 1873. Approximately 1,300 people were interred there, including many Hudson’s Bay Company families and those who arrived for the gold rushes. Most of the smaller headstones were removed and put into storage when the square and graveyard was converted into a park, but larger monuments are still present.

There are many more squares beyond these, so be sure to get out there and explore the nooks and crannies which cradle the city’s rich history and culture.


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