Victoria Building Construction Documents, 1877-1921

Search Victoria Building Construction Documents 1877 - 1921

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This dataset is a record of building construction activities in the City of Victoria from 1877 to 1921. The data is derived from notices placed in the Victoria Daily Colonist (1877; 1882-1905; 1907) and the Victoria Daily Times (29 December 1906). It is also derived from information recorded on building permits issued by the Corporation of the City of Victoria from 1907 to 1921. The information was transcribed by Dr. Nick Russell, a Victoria architectural historian. We are grateful to him for sharing this data. We also appreciate the work of Megan Jabusch, a student research assistant from the University of Victoria, who proofed Dr. Russell's transcript in 2012.

Researchers may be interested in the historical context of these records. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century, Victoria newspapers printed an annual synopsis of the building construction activities in the city. This information was usually accompanied by a preamble about the cityís buoyant economy and optimistic prospects for the future. The Victoria Daily Colonist usually presented its synopsis at the start of a new year.

Typically, a synopsis entry would indicate the name of the building owner, contractor or developer; the location of the building site; and the nature of the work — e.g. whether it involved the construction of a wood frame residence, construction of a brick commercial block, alterations and improvements to an existing structure, etc. Often, the cost of construction was recorded. Construction costs would be aggregated and a civic prosperity barometer could be calibrated on that basis. Hence the headlines for a synopsis published in the Victoria Daily Colonist on 1 January 1891 (p.4):

Nearly Two Millions! Building Operations for 1890 Eclipse all Previous Years in Extent and Quality/Business Blocks of Brick and Stone now Filling the Commercial Thoroughfares/Handsome Private Residences and More Humble Homes/Prospects for 1891

Synopsis entries were usually arranged according to the street or road where building activities occurred. For example, the following entry appears in the Colonist synopsis of January 1891:
Fernwood Road
* Allen, William. Two frame cottages. $2,000.
* Anderson, Mr. Frame residence, 1½ stories. $1,200.
* Lutheran Church, frame, $2,000.
* Willis, F. Frame cottage. $1,000.
In this example, we see a glimpse of building construction activities on Fernwood Road. The buildings identified here were erected sometime in 1890.

In 1907, the Corporation of the City of Victoria instituted a new records system whereby details of building permits were entered in a permanent register. The date of the building permit, the name of the applicant and the location of the proposed structure were recorded in the register. The legal description of the building lot was recorded and sometimes the civic (street) address of the property was noted. The estimated cost of the project was recorded, along with information about the purpose and extent of the project. In the case of residential dwellings, commercial blocks or hotels, the building permit register noted the number of rooms and floors and type of construction material. The register also indicated whether the authorized project involved an addition or alteration to an existing structure.

The original building permit register is preserved in the City of Victoria Archives where it is accessioned as CRS 265. It is a large, unwieldy volume. The hand-written entries are standardized, but they are not indexed. Researchers will, accordingly, appreciate the advantages of a machine-readable database. Stewart Arneil, programmer/consultant and Head of Research and Development in the Humanities Computing and Media Centre at the University of Victoria, formatted the database so it can be searched easily and efficiently.

This database can be searched by street name, name of the applicant and/or the year when a permit was issued. Search-returned items are displayed showing the name of the applicant; the location, date and purpose of the building activity; the number of rooms (where applicable) and the cost of construction. Additional information is displayed under the [+] symbol. The information includes legal descriptors — notably survey section, block, lot and sub-lot numbers. (Dr. Russell identified about forty special permits granted to 'returning soldiers' in 1920-1921 and we have included those annotations in the additional information display.)

A Source note is also displayed. References to the Daily Colonist or Daily Times indicate that information was derived from a newspaper synopsis. Since the majority of the references come from the Colonist, researchers are reminded that these refer to activities from the previous year. That is, an activity reported in, say, 1891, occurred in 1890.

A four digit number in the Source note indicates that information was derived from the Corporation of the City of Victoria building permit register, 1907-1915. In most cases, the source number coincides with the original building permit number. A four digit number preceded by the Roman numeral II in the Source note refers permits issued by the City between 1916 and 1922. (This was a second series of records transcribed by Dr. Russell, hence the Roman numeral II that he assigned to these building permit numbers.)

Street addresses are problematic. In some cases the addresses were indicated in the building permit register, but in many cases they were inferred by Dr. Russell, based on sundry records available to him. His dataset contained many question marks, which are reproduced here. Similarly, the legal descriptions of building lots and properties may be ambiguous. Researchers should consult original records at the City of Victoria Archives to verify the information presented here.

Despite its ambiguities, this building construction dataset offers a useful record of the built environment of Victoria and valuable resource for studying the social and economic development of the city. The information available here can be used in conjunction with other viHistory records, such as property tax assessment rolls, city directory listings and nominal census records.

Researchers who intend to search this database by street should be aware that many Victoria City street names were changed in the early 1900s. An inventory of Victoria street name changes will be found in the Documents section of our website.

Patrick A. Dunae
viHistory editor