By Danda Humphreys
Trounced by a T-junction
Trounce Alley in May 2007.
If you’ve ever been shopping downtown, odds are you skipped the busy main streets from Government to Broad by cutting through Trounce Alley. But how many times have you wondered why it has such a strange name? Who got trounced there? When did it happen? And why?
Fear not. Although Webster’s Dictionary tells us that “trounce” means “beat severely, or thrash,” the only person who ever took a trouncing in connection with Trounce Alley was the man who created it—a fellow called Thomas Trounce.
Trounce is another of those early arrivals who left their mark on our city’s streets. Born in Cornwall, England, in 1813, he and his wife Jane set forth in the 1840s, sailing first to Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania), then to California in search of gold.
The Trounces sailed to Victoria from San Francisco in 1858 in a steamer stuffed with gold-seekers—men hoping to find their fortune on BC’s Fraser River. Dropping anchor at Esquimalt after a crowded and uncomfortable 11-day journey, the Trounces arrived to find the small Hudson’s Bay Company settlement called Fort Victoria blinking its eyes in disbelief. All had been peaceful until news of the gold find spread south, and thousands of eager prospectors came to Fort Victoria to buy a license to dig for gold.
There was nowhere for the new arrivals to stay, and at first, like everyone else, the Trounces stayed in the “tent town” that grew, like topsy, just north of the fort. Before long, they moved to more comfortable premises—first, a frame cottage downtown, then a lovely home across the harbour. It didn’t take Trounce long to establish himself as an architect and contractor, and he soon was ready to build a permanent residence. The more he looked at the area called James Bay, the more he liked it. In 1861 he bought an acreage not far from the Legislative Buildings—five wooden structures known as The Bird Cages—and built himself a fine home.
Trounce’s property was bounded by Menzies, Superior and Michigan streets. Over toward Beacon Hill Park, wholesale merchant Richard Carr was looking at a similar piece of land for his own home. Trounce’s was finished first. He gave it a Cornish name: “Tregew.”
Trounce’s home fronted onto Superior Street, so that it could face the harbour. Later, when the land was subdivided, access to the house was from Michigan Street, across from Captain John Irving’s place (now Irving Park). “Tregew’s” two-foot-thick fieldstone walls, supported at the corners by dressed stone blocks, set it apart from the wooden struc- tures of the day. The shallow roof was decorated with elaborate eaves.
Trounce concentrated on building up his business. He bought prime land at the south end of the block between Broad and Government streets, rubbing his hands with glee in anticipation of rental income from store-owners on all sides. Then came a nasty shock. View Street, he had been told, was to be extended from Douglas Street to Wharf. It made sense. After all, what was a View street without a view? But suddenly, in one of those unexpected property deals our city has since become famous for, the land in between was sold to someone else who promptly fenced it off, causing View Street to come to an abrupt halt at Broad.
Trounce solved the problem by cutting a lane through the middle of his property from Broad to Government. And so Trounce Alley was born, and store-owners had frontages on the alley. Eventually, after a major fire in the area in 1910, City council decided to extend View Street through to Government after all, allowing Trounce’s tenants entry from not one, but two sides.
Trounce was a member of City Council and the architect responsible for several commercial downtown structures including the Green Building on Broad Street, and John Weiler’s furniture factory (now the Counting House) at Broughton and Broad. He was also an upstanding pillar of the community, and a solid supporter of the Methodist (now United) Church in James Bay.
Trounce became Grand Master of the Masonic Temple (at Fisgard and Douglas) in 1885. His wife Jane died at the age of 72, and a few years later Trounce married Emma Richards in San Francisco, bringing her to his lovely home in James Bay. Trounce died at “Tregew” in June 1900, aged 87. Emma was laid to rest beside him at Ross Bay Cemetery in 1902.
“Tregew” is long gone, its place taken by an apartment building, and in 1896 the Bank of Montreal was built on Government Street, so View Street still doesn’t have a view. But Trounce Alley is there to this today—a reminder of the man who refused to let a T-junction take the edge off his business success.
Danda Humphreys is a Victoria author, historian, and story-teller who, like Thomas T., has never let a little trouncing get her down. www.dandahumphreys.com.
This story was published in the June 2007 edition of Focus Magazine.