The Janion Building
By Danda Humphreys
A market miscalculation.
The Janion Building in 2005
At the downtown end of the Blue (Johnson Street) Bridge, a century-old building stands sombre and forlorn. “What is it?” people ask. And, more importantly, “Why is it empty and uncared-for?”
First things first. It is—or should I say was—the Janion Hotel. Strangely, Richard Janion, who ran a successful import business nearby, had nothing to do with the building. Indeed, in the 1860s he owned a nearby wharf, but he had long since left Victoria by the time the hotel that carried his name opened in 1891.
A year earlier, in 1890, the first E&N train rumbled slowly across the Johnson Street bridge to its new downtown terminus. Local businessman John Turner rubbed his hands in glee. The railway connecting Victoria and Nanaimo had been operating for some three years. It was a favourable alternative to the long trails through Goldstream, Sooke and Shawnigan. Water-based travel was efficient, but expensive, and Malahat Drive was still a far-off twinkle in its designer’s eye. The direct-route train was a boon to up-Island businesses.
The E&N had previously terminated in Esquimalt. Now, it would bring money-carrying passengers right across the bridge to John Turner’s doorstep. He determined to make sure that those erstwhile travellers had a suitable place to stay.
The hotel he had built on his land was the latest of several such establishments in this part of town, and undoubtedly the finest. The 200-feet deep, three-storied brick structure with imposing bay windows was impressive by anyone’s standards. High above its Store Street entrance were the words “The Janion, 1891.”
The Daily Colonist noted that despite reports of “general dullness and stagnation from the mainland and all parts of Puget Sound…one look around this city can see no abatement in the constant building operations that are being carried on on so large a scale in nearly every business thoroughfare.” The newspaper declared Victoria’s newest hostelry to be “one of the best built and prettiest buildings in the city.”
The 50-room Janion Hotel incorporated a novel concept: sleeping apartments running along its whole length in parallel lines, with a wide corridor between them. Thus every suite had a view. “Several handsome bathrooms and lavatories” complimented the accommodations on each floor.
Proprietors Leopold Rheinhart and William Walker were certain that, in the relatively uncertain business environment of the 1890s, their establishment would turn a profit. Apparently, they were wrong. In the 1894 edition of the Victoria City Directory, there was no mention of the Janion Hotel in the listing of commercial establishments.
Meanwhile, the railway that stopped nearby was doing well, and its owners saw a fitting use for the failed hostelry. The E&N bought the Janion building in 1895, and used it as a business office until 1948. Then it was used as a warehouse. It’s been empty now for many, many years.
The Janion is just one of four downtown structures owned by a Victoria resident who isn’t currently inclined to either sell or improve them. And the railway it was built to serve faces an equally uncertain future.
At the northeast corner of Store & Pandora, Swan’s, formerly Buckerfields Grain, is a busy hotel and restaurant. But on the opposite side of the street, the poor old Janion stands empty and forgotten, a mute and miserable reminder of days gone by.
(In 2014 reconstruction of the Janion Building began and as of late 2017 it has been expanded and modernized with much of the original exterior structure conserved.)
Danda Humphreys is a Victoria 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 February 2005 edition of Focus Magazine.