Curious Victoria BC Street Names
In downtown Victoria many of the streets are predictably named after prominent historic figures – Douglas, Yates, Begbie, Blanshard – or obvious landmarks: Government St., Fort St. But every city also has at least a few curious street names and Greater Victoria is no different.
If there is a “Cedar Hill Road”, where is “Cedar Hill”? Why would anyone name a short cul-de-sac “Long Gun Place”? What other city in the world has a “Foul Bay Road”?
Cedar Hill is easily identified. It is located at the north end of Cedar Hill Road overlooking Cordova Bay with a commanding view, at the top, of the entire Greater Victoria area and the straights from Albert Head to the west, past Mount Baker in Washington State and beyond toward the north-east. The hill was the area where cedars were cut for use as palisades for the original Fort Victoria. Cedar Hill Road itself follows, for the most part, the trail used by visiting First Nations people who landed at Cordova Bay and trekked overland to the Fort.
However, a decision was made to rename the hill in honour of Sir James Douglas, so its status, if not its height, was elevated from a mere Hill to become a Mount – which one supposes is not quite as high as a mountain. Hence Mount Douglas: which now, as evergreens go, has few cedars but mostly Douglas Firs within the park, which has many wonderful walking trails. Even so, presumably because Douglas Street already existed down town, Cedar Hill Road retained its name.
Long Gun Place is slightly trickier to track. John Irvine, a Scottish immigrant, was an employee of the Hudson Bay Company who landed with his family in Victoria in 1871. He eventually bought a large tract of land north of the town to the west of what is now the University of Victoria, which he named Rosebank Farm. His second son, John (Jack) Irvine Jr. worked on the farm and eventually built his own house close to his parents on a mound presumptuously called Mount Thule (pronounced ‘hoo-ly’) in 1912.
The significant point about Jack is that, at a time when modern rifles were the norm (e.g. Winchester repeaters), he was a well known marksman with an old flintlock long gun (shades of Dan’l Boone and his Kentucky Long Rifle!) and was thus nicknamed “Long Gun Jack”. Indeed, he hand-wrote his memoirs entitled Early Victoria by Jack “Long Gun” Irvine. (Visit web.uvic.ca/vv/student/craigflower/irvine/irvine-left.html for more information about the early Irvines.)
Hence Long Gun Place which is about 500 meters west of his home, that still stands as a heritage building though converted to a condominium. Interestingly enough, Jack could have shot a deer for dinner from his front yard, but the deer population has not diminished! Black-tailed deer are the bain of gardeners’ efforts throughout the Blenkinsop Valley area: the locals might envy Jack’s lack of provincial and municipal restrictions about hunting and the discharge of weapons in a built-up area!
In late 1962 or early 1963, a group of loud college students trooped around the intersection of Foul Bay Road and Fort Street carrying signs declaring “Keep Foul Bay Foul!” They even got their 15 seconds of fame on the local TV news, but the peaceful protest petered out when an amused policeman appeared and requested to be “Taken to your Leader”.
Why the protest? With the impending event of granting the venerable Victoria College a charter to promote it to the status of University of Victoria (July 1, 1963), the local politicians thought it would be a “good idea” to elevate what they considered was a stinky Foul Bay Road to University Way – a much more dignified name befitting a university town.
Along with the students’ protest, the newspapers were rife with arguments that all sorts of university towns had a ‘University Way’ or ‘University Drive’, but Foul Bay Road was unique. The counter was that Foul Bay reflected a concept that the bay itself stank or was contaminated, or else it had too many birds. (Isabella Ross [check out Ross Bay cemetery] called her property in the area ‘Fowl Bay Farm’.)
To settle the issue, Commander (Retired) F.E. Grubb, who was Secretary/Treasurer of The Maritime Museum of B.C. (and incidentally my father), wrote to one of the newspapers and pointed out that foul had nothing to do with any stink nor with a plethora of ducks.
The origin of the name rests with Capt. George Vancouver who surveyed much of the waters around Vancouver Island in the 1790s. On his survey chart of this particular bay he marked it ‘Foul Bay’ because an anchor would not hold bottom so it was a foul anchorage for ships. The name persisted and was transferred to the British Admiralty Chart 577 in 1864, and was formally adopted in 1924.*
In 1934 the bay was renamed Gonzales Bay, but Foul Bay it has always been to the locals, and (thanks to an intrepid group of students of which I was one) Foul Bay Road remains unique to Victoria.
(* Source for some of this information: BC Geographical Names Information System [BCGNIS].)