By Ted Ross
Then and Now
In 1913 a house went up at 126 Douglas. For sale by its builder, it was beautifully finished with a decorative board and plaster exterior. The building was a large storey-and-a-half dwelling, set in a treed yard with a view of Beacon Hill Park.
By 1914, the City Directory showed Frederick Powers in residence. The 1915 edition listed Joseph Power at 126 Douglas. He remained until 1920, when Mrs. Hilda E. Sellers was listed. 1921 saw two brothers, Arthur and Frank Frost, reside there. By 1924 the directory listed W.N. Lansfesty; that name stayed until 1955 when W.J. Robinson took its place. Robinson was still in the house in 1956, but its days were numbered. On May 21, 1957, the building was demolished. One can only guess how many children were reared in that house and attended Beacon Hill School next door.
Throughout the entire period from 1914 to 1960 there had been a tea room in place on the NW corner of Niagara and Douglas. Called the 'Palm Tea Room' until 1954, it served park-goers commercial treats that were not allowed to be sold in the park. In 1955 the business became Lands End Tea Room and then Lands End Coffee Shop and Confectionery in 1958.
That same year, 1958, Bill Pistell and Bob McMillan built a new business venture at 126 Douglas where the house had stood. A building was constructed to be a restaurant that would allow customers to eat in their vehicle in the parking lot, or dine inside the new building in one of the booths provided. Car service was available outside. After placing an order at the counter, table service was available inside.
The new restaurant would serve hamburgers, fish and chips, and especially ice cream. The Beacon Drive-In quickly became known for its soft ice cream and milkshakes. Located at Beacon and Douglas, immediately across the road from Beacon Hill Park, people soon patronized the restaurant.
The drive-in feature was soon dropped. Self-service windows took orders for the outdoor customers who wished to eat in their vehicles. A counter provided service for the indoor customers.
Business commenced in the middle of June 1958, and the restaurant proved to be very popular. One earlier customer, Barbara Krasicki, who first visited the restaurant in 1975 remembered, "The Drive-In was part of my son Jamie's voyage of discovery. First ice-cream cone. Of course most of it ended up on his face, hands, clothing, and I even found some in his ears when we got home. Memories of his joy and messy little self rate amongst my best!"
Dorothy Ferguson recalled the big draw being the chance to get an ice cream treat for children and pets during family walks through the park. "The main thing my children and I enjoyed was when we got ice cream cones we were always able to get one for the dog and my kids used to think that was really great."
Gerry Adam, former fire chief in Oak Bay, worked at the Drive-In for three years beginning at 14 under former owner, Harry Douglas. He started picking up garbage and eventually moved behind the counter. Later he dropped by when things needed fixing or renovating. He often stopped at the Drive-In saying, "It's one of those fixtures that if it's a sunny day you go to the Beacon for an ice cream cone. It really has stood the test of time."
Bob Waters worked there for 20 years for his friend Jim Douglas, who took over the Beacon from his dad in 1963 and ran it until 2005. Waters said his memories are of the people who came back day after day or season after season, drawn by the relaxed atmosphere and great service. "The menu never really changed and the quality of the food was the highest," he said. "Jim didn't skimp on anything...it was never about price for him, it was always about the product."
That isn't about to change according to the men who now own the restaurant. The father and son team of Gus and Peter Loubardeas from Calgary bought the establishment from Jim Douglas 13 years ago in 2005. They pledged to leave it as it is, and so they have done over the past 13 years.
They have made changes, primarily for customer comfort. An awning, a natural gas heater, and tempered-glass windows were added to the patio area for protection from the elements. In a renovation five years ago, kitchen facilities were improved and some changes were made to the serving facilities. But following that facelift the most obvious thing was that the restaurant had remained the same, and so had its menu. Specials have been offered from time to time. A lovely salmon burger appeared some years ago and other extras like special ice cream flavours have appeared. But the basic burgers, fish and chips, sandwiches, soup, milkshakes, and ice cream cones have remained. The breakfast menu has been expanded to include new items, but the home-cooked breakfasts are still the best and cheapest in town.
The Beacon Drive-In has been "serving up smiles since 1958." The restaurant is open year-round offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The restaurant opens at 7 a.m. every morning, serving breakfast until 1 p.m. on weekdays and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It's the unchanging familiar atmosphere that draws customers back to the Beacon Drive-In again and again. As one of Victoria's longest standing restaurants, at age 60, the Beacon Drive-In credits its success to good service, good value and good food. And, of course, good ice cream!
Vancouver Public Library, "City Directories 1912-1955," online; Victoria City Archives, "City Directories 1956-1960," on microfilm; "Beacon Drive-In Restaurant," Calgary Web Design, 2012; Wikipedia, "Beacon Drive-In," 2016; Times-Colonist, "A tasty Victoria tradition," 2 August 2012; Times-Colonist, "Beacon Drive-In sold," 12 January 2005; Victoria News, "A Victoria institution," 13 June 2008.