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  • Downtown Victoria’s alleys

    By Danda Humphreys


    Trounce Alley between Broad Street and Government

    My previous story about the wood blocks in Waddington Alley reminded me that in the Victoria of long ago, alleys were much more than simple access routes. Each alley had its own distinct flavour and function.

    Some—like Wilcox Alley, Poodle Dog Alley, Duck Alley and Chinatown’s Theatre and Oriental alleys—are hard to find, inaccessible or long gone. One or two—like Waddington Alley—are still vibrant; others are shadows of their former selves, standing silent and half-forgotten as we hurry by on busy major streets.

    Trounce Alley, which runs west-east between Government and Broad streets, was Thomas Trounce’s answer to an unexpected development in the nearby area. Trounce arrived in Victoria in the spring of 1858. He was a Cornwall, England-born architect and contractor, who made his money building fine homes for wealthy people.

    In the mid-1860s, Trounce bought prime land on the block between Government and Broad streets that would be accessed from View Street. But shortly after he purchased his property, a fellow named Southgate bought land nearby and fenced it, cutting off access to Trounce’s tenants’ stores. Trounce retaliated by cutting a lane through his own block, and so Trounce Alley was formed.

    One block west of Trounce’s property, Boomerang Alley, a short alley off Chancery Lane was home, during the 1850s gold rush, to the Boomerang Saloon. English-born Ben and Adelaide Griffin had run saloons in Australia and California, and they knew how thirsty goldminers could get. No matter that their watering-hole looked onto the north wall of the old Police Barracks on Bastion Square (where the Maritime Museum stands today); the Boomerang Saloon, they reckoned, would still be a rousing success.

    They were right. Even the tragedy of Adelaide’s premature demise didn’t slow those beer-swillers down. When they thought they saw her ghost walking along Langley Street, they just rubbed their eyes, shook their heads, and went back to the Boomerang for another drink!

    Farther down the north side of Bastion Square, Commercial Alley ran past huge brick warehouses and the side of a hotel into Yates Street.

    On the opposite side of the square, Helmcken Alley snuck along the back of commercial buildings on Wharf Street, headed for Fort Street and the small office belonging to Dr. J.S. Helmcken, once doctor at the Hudson’s Bay fort.

    A couple of blocks east on Fort Street, running north-south from Fort to Broughton, was James Wilcox’s Alley. Wilcox was proprietor of the Royal Hotel that once stood at the corner of Wharf and Johnson streets, and also owned property on Broughton Street near Blanshard (now a parking lot opposite the main entrance to the Public Library).

    Oriental Alley runs between Yates and Johnson streets, in Chinatown. Today, it’s blocked off, but as early as 1882, this six-foot wide passageway provided access to the Oriental Hotel and a few small storehouses. Once upon a time, it led to the back door of the Jubilee Saloon, where sea captains and gold seekers could dance the night away with the women bathed in the soft, warm glow of gaslight.

    Next month we’ll explore the history of Fan Tan Alley, the best-known of Victoria’s back streets. In the meantime, next time you’re downtown, duck into an alley, and take a fascinating peek into Victoria’s colourful past!

    Danda Humphreys is an author, speaker and tour guide. Her latest book, Building Victoria, is available in your local bookstore. www.dandahumphreys.com.

    This story was published in the September 2005 edition of Focus Magazine.

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