Then and Now
By Ted Ross
In 1883 a complex of wharves opened at Shoal Point. Rithet's Piers were the nucleus of the Outer Harbour, which would eventually develop between Shoal Point and Ogden Point to the south. The Rithet structure was built for the sugar trade, in which R.P. Rithet was heavily involved, as well as for general import/export. Deep sea ships, which could not enter Victoria's Inner Harbour, were accommodated by the facilities.
The new amenities caught the eye of the Canadian Pacific Railroad which was initiating a steamship service between Canada's west coast and Hong Kong, Japan, China, Manila and Honolulu. From 1887 through 1941 the CPR provided service between Vancouver and Victoria and those ports, using the Rithet Piers for the Victoria base.
With the Empress ships arriving in the Outer Harbour, a hotel was needed nearby. It had to be a substantial hostelry to suit the needs of the first-class CPR service provided by the Empress liners. In 1891 the Dallas Hotel was built at 46 Dallas Road at Ontario, immediately across from the Rithet Piers.
The Colonist, of February 10, 1891, made the first announcement the hotel would be constructed: "The building is to be three stories high, have a frontage of 132 feet by 76 feet, and a basement the full size of the building, with store rooms and wine and ale cellars. The ground floor will consist of a billiard room, bar, card room, offices and all the necessary conveniences. The main staircase will be remarkably well-finished. On the first floor will be family parlours, with suite of bedrooms attached, bridal parlours and chambers. From the smoking room on the second floor will be a geometrical staircase ascending to the observatory or tower with its expansive view on all sides. Most windows will be French casements, opening down to the floor. The roof is to be flat, with the whole building mounted with a cast-iron balustrade."*
The Dallas Hotel went up in a great hurry. It was first talked about in February, the cornerstone was laid in April, and by early September the opening party was held and soon the place was filled with guests.
The building, designed by architect Edward McCoskie, would cater to passengers travelling by ship to and from the Orient, Honolulu and San Francisco. The Dallas Hotel was built of bricks with a high tower directly above the entrance. McCoskie incorporated a ladies dining room with a private staircase so that male scrutiny would be avoided. The woodwork was exceptionally fine and beautifully carved, mainly from native cedar. Every room was a work of art in itself. Steam heat warmed each room. Electric lights were part of the equipment. The proprietor, William Jensen, personally welcomed his guests on arrival. He also saw to their awakening for night departures.
Once an incoming ship had rounded Race Rocks its course could be followed right into the harbour and time of arrival predicted. The Dallas Hotel, right at the ship's berth, proved very popular, especially prior to the coming of streetcars. Until then, the only way into the city was via 'hacks' or other horse-drawn vehicles.
Tom Goldsmith established a favourable restaurant in the house. It was well patronized by passengers and the longshoremen and other ship workers who lived nearby.
About 1900, Mr. Jensen left the Dallas Hotel. It was taken over by Mr. and Mrs. Patterson and renovated throughout under supervision of the noted architect, F.M. Rattenbury. That renovation did away with the flat roof replacing it with one with a pitch. One can imagine the problems a flat roof would have brought in this rainy, windy site. Keeping water out of the building would have been the objective.
The Dallas flourished until the end of the Great War late in 1918. Its glamour had begun to fade when the Empress opened in 1908. Streetcar service provided travel to downtown from the Rithet Piers, making that area much more accessible than had been the case. The Dallas drifted along, a shadow of its former self, until taxes and lack of business brought it down.
In 1927 the hotel was sold in a tax sale. In 1928 it was demolished. The site remained empty for years. When the Rithet Piers were sold to Victoria Machinery Depot for a shipyard in 1941, during World War II, the site became a parking lot for shipyard employees. It remained such until VMD went out of business in 1994.
Today the sites of the Dallas Hotel and of the former Immigration Building to the south are occupied by The Breakwater Townhouse Complex. It has three brick-faced buildings, which contain nineteen strata units of 167.22m2 (1800 sq ft) floor space on three storeys. Constructed in 2007, the units specialize in classic styling and elegance. A beautiful patio in front of each home offers privacy and greenery in this spectacular sea-view location.
A plaque on the front wall of the complex recalls the former presence of the Immigration Building at this site. There is no mention of the neighbouring Dallas Hotel whose site the condominiums also occupy. But it was there, last century!
This Old House; Victoria's Heritage Neighbourhoods, Volume Two; James Bay, John Adams, 2008; The Daily Colonist, February 10, 1891; The Daily Colonist, September 2, 1891; The Daily Colonist, July 17, 1897; The Daily Colonist, December 15, 1948; Victoria Landmarks, Geoffrey Castle, 2007; Times-Colonist, Yesterday and Today, Cecil Clarke, 2007; The Islander, Hotel Dallas, Archie Wills, January 4, 1981; James Bay Beacon, Then and Now - Rithet's Piers, Ted Ross, May 1, 2014; Victoria Luxury Condominium Guide, 50 Dallas Road, Scott Piercy and James LeBlanc, 2018.
*A kind of low wall that is made of a row of short posts topped by a long rail.