Then and Now: The Glenshiel Hotel
Then and Now
By Ted Ross
By the 20th Century, Victoria had become a busy Pacific Coast seaport. Ships from around the world arrived at the Rithet Wharves in the Outer Harbour, bringing goods and travellers.
Several hotels were established to serve the tourist trade. The Hotel Dallas, located across Dallas Road from the wharves, was convenient for journeyers arriving by ship. In the last decade of the 19th Century streetcar service was established from the wharves to downtown. Several good hotels were available there, including The Empress, which opened in 1908 on the reclaimed mudflats of James Bay.
In 1909 L.E. Gooding, from Oakland, California, built a new hotel named The Criterion at 606 Douglas Street near the corner with Elliot Street*. Across Elliot, and slightly west, was Dr. Helmcken's house. Further west were the Douglas gardens, left from the James Douglas home, which, built by French-speaking Quebecois workers from Fort Victoria in the 1860s, had been demolished in 1906. Beyond that were the Parliament Buildings and grounds. It was a pleasant site Gooding had chosen, with its views from the beginning of the rise to Beacon Hill. It was convenient to the Inner Harbour, where coastal shipping docked.
Builder was Westholm Lumber Co. The original architect was D.C. Frame. It is a three-storey Ewardian Italianate brick and stucco structure. First proprieter was Alex J.C. McDermott, first of many Scottish managers, a tradition maintained for years.
It was added to in 1912. Architect for that addition was J.S.D. Taylor. At this time its name was changed to Glenshiel Inn, a name with roots in Scottish history. Manager now was Fred Cancellor. A member of the Active Militia, he went overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915.
From 1919-1925 Mrs. H.J. Wood managed. In 1925, with Percy Fox architect, the recessed right facade of the building was added. In 1926 Fox planned and supervised the construction of a large addition at the rear of the original building. Following Mrs. Wood as manager was Mrs. G.H. Allen, who held the position until 1931. From 1932 joint managers Capt. Basil Breton and Capt. Oswald Cox were known for their Scottishness, hiring only red-headed maids and waitresses to maintain the Gaelic ambience.
The hotel, compared to The Empress, was reasonably priced. Yet it was a fine place to stay, with a warm home-like atmosphere. It was a good family lodging, where children were welcome.
Acquired by the Society for the Love of Jesus in 1946, the hostelry was renamed St. Mary's Priory Guest House. It carried on operating as a hotel, but also offered permanent residence for "Ladies and retired Professional Gentlemen" with nurses on duty. A number of the residents were veterans of the world wars. The hotel was the epitome of grace and charm in those years.
The Glenshiel Hotel returned as the name in 1953 when new owners took over. A modern coffee bar and catering services were offered. In 1957-58, under architect John DiCastri, renovations took place. It continued as a hotel and seniors residence for several years. In December 1972 the Province of BC acquired the property.
By 1980 neglect, and the desire of the provincial government of the day to demolish the property, led to deterioration of the facility. J.K. Nesbitt wrote in The Islander, April 26, 1980, "One wonders -- and is cross about it -- why the dear old Glenshiel Hotel has to receive the kiss of death, just because it's ancient, and parking space is scarce.
"If it had been properly kept up by its recent owner, the provincial government, it could have lasted for years and years, a good home for senior citizens, an Edwardian ornament in the midst of modern-day Victoria hustle and bustle."
In October,1980, management became serviced by the British Columbia Management Commission. After residents' pressure, with plaster falling from ceilings due to a leaking roof, a major renovation was undertaken in 1982. The newly restored Glenshiel was officially opened as a residence for senior citizens on September 19, 1983. Further restoration work was done in 1996-97.
In 1997, The Glenshiel Housing Society was formed and became responsible for the operation of the residence. The society continues in that role today.
Rents are kept reasonable. Size and location determine the monthly rate. Rents include cablevision, electricity, heat, telephone, housekeeping, three meals and two snacks a day, laundry facilities, entertainment and activities. Some baths are shared, some are private, again reflected in the monthly rate.
BC Transit stops across the street. For the walker, many sites are available nearby on foot, including Beacon Hill Park and New Horizons Senior Centre.
An Edwardian icon, The Glenshiel has 68 rooms of happy residents, and a waiting list for those who would like to move in. You can reach The Glenshiel at 250-383-4164, email <email@example.com>
*Elliot Street, which ran from Douglas Street to Government Street, past the Helmcken House, had its west end become the site of the new British Columbia Provincial Museum in 1966. (Today's Royal British Columbia Museum.) The eastern portion of the street became Elliot Street Square, part of the museum grounds.
Tourism Victoria, "History of Victoria, British Columbia," 2019; James Bay Beacon, "Then and Now - Elliot Street," February-March 2016; Victoria Heritage Foundation, "Heritage Register, James Bay, 606 Douglas Street," 2019; SFU Digitized collections, "The Glenshiel Hotel, Victoria BC," 2019; The Glenshiel Hotel, "Schedule of Rates," from the City of Victoria Archives, 1956; The Islander, "Glenshiel Hotel; An Edwardian Monument In Modern-Day Victoria," James K. Nesbitt, April 20, 1980; Times-Colonist, "Once-threatened Glenshiel has long life ahead," Geoffrey Castle, January 26, 1985; Times-Colonist, "Ambiencen of the Glenshiel still a hit at 100," Pedro Arrais, May 29, 2008; Victoria News, "Celebrating 100 years," Rebecca Aldous, May 30, 2008; The Glenshiel, "The Glenshiel; Affordable Living for Independent Seniors," 2019; Victoria News, "Yesterday and today: The Glenshiel embraces its second century," April 1, 2009.