Then and Now: Battery Street

Then and Now

By Ted Ross

Battery Street derives its name from the former coastal gun emplacements (batteries) at nearby Finlayson and Victoria Points. Finlayson Point is named after Roderick Finlayson, Chief Factor Hudson's Bay Company at Victoria 1844-1872. Before the arrival of Europeans, this was the site of an ancient fortified village of the indigenous people. A battery of two 64 pound wrought iron rifled* guns stood at the two points from 1878-1892 for protection against an expected Russian invasion. Today a stone marker commemorates the history at Finlayson Point.

Battery Street was first laid out in the late 1880s. Houses were then constructed over the years along this roadway. From 1889 until 1913 a dozen homes went up that are still extant and are designated heritage homes.

In this article we will look at three of these houses.

652 Battery Street - 1914 - photo courtesy of Joan Ryan

652 Battery Street - 1914 - photo courtesy of Joan Ryan

In 1892 Seaview was constructed at 652 Battery. This second house on Battery Street was built for Mary H. & George A. Campbell. Campbell was a commission agent for a variety of drygoods including men's and women's clothing. He was active with the Boy Scout movement and served as the Assistant Commissioner of the Wolf Cubs. The Campbells moved to the Rockland neighbourhood and then to Vancouver in 1905, where they established a knitting mill. Gordon Campbell, former premier of British Columbia, is their great-grandson.

Mary S. Crofton paid the taxes from 1912 to 1916, but she never lived there. Her home was on Saltspring Island. Elizabeth Katy and Sydney Reynolds were part of a string of renters; they resided in the house in 1929-1930. The building was empty during the worst years of the Great Depression. New owners from 1946 were Ernest and Amy Thomas, retirees from Saskatoon who were seeking a warmer climate. Ernest died in 1959 at 81.

At the time of its construction there was a clear vista of the ocean, leading to the name Seaview.

In 1892 the Beacon Hill streetcar began service to Niagara and Douglas, allowing convenient transit to the entire city. This did much to increase the desirability of living south of town. Construction of new houses continued in the neighbourhood, including on Battery Street.

634 Battery Street - 1909                       photo courtesy of John Adams

634 Battery Street - 1909                       photo courtesy of John Adams

An Edwardian Arts & Craft house went up at 634 Battery in 1909. It was built for Clara & James Pottinger. Designer/builder was Robert Hetherington. James Pottinger had sailed around the Horn as a teenager from the Orkney Islands. Only 15 when he arrived in Victoria in 1864, James was soon apprenticed in the printing trade at The Colonist under Amor de Cosmos. From 1868-1870 he worked on The Cariboo Sentinel in Barkerville. In 1871 he joined a survey team seeking a rail link through the BC Interior. In 1875 he worked on the survey of the east coast of Vancouver Island for the proposed last link of the transcontinental railroad. In 1878 he moved to Oregon, where he became a printer with The Portland Oregonian and The Herald. James returned to Victoria in 1884 to work at the Government Printing Bureau. By the time the house was purchased, Pottinger was foreman of the composing room at the King's Printer, where he worked until retirement in 1923.

In 1886 James married Clara Cameron. She and James had seven children by the time they acquired 634 Battery in 1907. Their home was built in 1909.

Clara's father, Daniel Cameron, was a builder in James Bay. His daughter made it her duty to set up a lawn chair at his building sites so she might inspect every stick of lumber that came. If it wasn't top quality, it was rejected. Materials in her father's houses, as a result, were always first class.

Second owners, Donna and John Adams, purchased 634 in 1996, and are still resident. John is a well-known Victoria writer and historian. With his family, he operates a Ghost Walk business, gives lectures and offers heritage tours.

The last heritage house went up at 651 Battery in 1912-13. Ownyara was constructed for Thomas J. and Helen Ryan. The architect for this project was John Charles Malcom Keith. The interior woodwork was crafted by Walton J. Chapman. This is a 2½-storey expanded Edwardian Arts & Crafts house.

Thomas Ryan was a magistrate, Crown Lands agent, treasurer, clerk of the Township of McKim, and mayor of Sudbury. Dr. Helen Elizabeth Ryan was a medical doctor. She was the first female doctor in the Canadian Medical Association. Dr. Ryan spent many years working as a travelling doctor in the bush of Northern Ontario, travelling by handcar on the railroad, canoe, or just hiking. The Ryans had this house built after many years working in the East. They had five children, the youngest of whom would have been eleven when the family moved to Ownyara in 1913. It became their retirement home in the West.

The ownership of Ownyara has remained with the Ryan family for its entire 105 years. Today the last two surviving members of that family are residing at 651 Battery. Sister and brother, Joan and Bill Ryan, are the current occupants, as they have been for many years. They were both raised here.

In an interview Joan passed along some stories on the Battery Street neighbourhood in which she grew up. They loved the beach at the cliff's bottom, although Joan says, "The water was far too cold to swim in." They had trails down the cliff, and there was one long set of stairs they could use. The Pottinger girls from 634 were, 'lovely girls'. The Nairnes at 642 had three children Joan knew, Charlie, Reg and Kari. She had a friend Debbie at 670. A little old Scottish lady lived at 645. Joan also explained that before Ownyara was built the property had been a tennis court for 645.

an old telephone - photo by Ted Ross

an old telephone - photo by Ted Ross

Joan gave a tour of the house. It has never been cut up into apartments. It is original. There are two staircases between the first and second floors. The one staircase goes to the third floor. The main floor has a large kitchen with pantry, a sitting room, a beautiful parlour and a classy dining room. There are built-in cabinets throughout done by Mr. Chapman all those years ago. Warm rich wood panelling covers the walls. The ceilings are decorated with wood. There is an arched brick fireplace in the sitting room. Fireplaces are found in the parlour and dining room. Bedrooms are on the upper floors. As a child, Joan's father had the bedroom at the west end on the top storey with a wonderful view out the window.

old Duplex push button switch plate photo by Ted Ross

old Duplex push button switch plate photo by Ted Ross

Fixtures around the house in many cases are original, including push-button light switches and an ancient water-closet, although Joan proudly points out the new shower which was installed where the old cast-iron tub had been. She said, "It had developed a wobble." Lovely windows with stained-glass lights illuminate the staircase. Beautiful to look at, this is a classic house.


"This Old House;  Victoria's Heritage Neighbourhoods," Volume Two; James Bay, John Adams, Victoria Heritage Foundation, 2005; All-Time List of Canadian Transit Systems, "Victoria, British Columbia," David A. Wyatt, 2017; "The story of the B.C. Electric Railway Company," 1986; Victoria Heritage Foundation, "652 Battery Street Seaview" Interview with Joan Ryan, 11 09 2017; Interview with John Adams, 11 14 2017; Vancouver Public Library, "City Directories," 1889-1955.

*An artillery piece or naval gun with a spirally grooved bore. The Free Dictionary, 2017.

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