By Danda Humphreys
“City of Gardens,” you say? Why not “City of Fountains”?
The fountain in front of the "Leg"
If I asked you, “Name me 25 public fountains in downtown Victoria,” could you do it? How about 20 fountains? Ten?
Ten is easy. By the time you’ve counted one front and one back of the Legislature, one at Menzies Street just above Belleville, one in Centennial Square, and the fountains outside many of the major hotels, you’re already over the limit. But how about a few fountains that have been splashing merrily away since long before most of us were born?
In the Victoria of yesteryear, fountains ranged from simple to ornate, and their structure varied according to where they were put and their intended use.
First, there are the tiled wall fountains. You can see the remains of one in the rear wall of a Blanshard Street building, where Jameson Motors once stood, almost opposite the Broughton Street entrance to the Public Library. There’s another in a courtyard behind the Law Chambers building in Bastion Square. A third, festooned with flowerpots, is a cool oasis in an alleyway off Johnson Street, behind Il Terrazzo restaurant.
Then there’s the cast-iron fountain that once stood at the intersection of Hillside Avenue, Gorge Road, Douglas and Government streets. Today, that intersection features stoplights, cars, buses, trucks and bikes. But decades ago, hay-rigs, carts, and pony-and-traps meandered around the traffic circle, or roundabout as it would be called in England.
Farmers from all over the Saanich Peninsula regularly brought fruit, vegetables and other produce into town. They were bound for the Public Market that occupied what is now Centennial Square.
Once, railways had carried the farmers’ loads. Between 1890 and 1948, no fewer than three rail companies served the Saanich Peninsula. One, the Victoria & Sidney Railway, had its downtown terminus right next door to the Public Market, where the Fisgard Street parkade is today. The journey from downtown Victoria to the Sidney waterfront terminus took 55 minutes. But by the 1940s, all three train lines had stopped operating, and the peninsula’s farmers were left to their own devices.
The journey into town was long, dusty and dry. The country roads from various parts of Saanich and the Western Communities converged, like the spokes of a wheel, on the hub formed by a huge traffic circle with a large cast iron fountain at its centre. The fountain was a welcome sight, its large and small bowls at varying heights providing water for all who came within drinking distance—horses, dogs and people.
Today, more than 40 years after the traffic circle was dismantled, that same fountain, its water bowls filled with flowers, graces the Johnson Street entrance to Market Square.
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 July 2005 edition of Focus Magazine.