The Gordon Head Memorial Air Park was set to exist on the current grounds of the University of Victoria.

Unbuilt Saanich, what could have been

Saanich would look a lot different in 2016 if it wasn’t for some key decisions by the people in power over the last 70 years.

Imagine an airport bordering Saanich and Oak Bay instead of the University of Victoria. Or an 18-metre viewing platform jutting out from the top of Mount Tolmie. How about a canal that connected Portage Inlet with Esquimalt Harbour?

Saanich would look a lot different in 2016 if it wasn’t for some key decisions by the people in power over the last 70 years.

Local architectural historian and author of Unbuilt Victoria, Dorothy Mindenhall, recently led a presentation at the Centennial Library that included blueprints for the aforementioned Saanich developments, and more.

“The idea behind the canal in the Gorge [Waterway] was part of a grand plan to clean it,” Mindenhall said.

By the 1930s, the Gorge was starting to smell. It’s grandiose as the favoured swimming hole and daytime destination continued but the many mansions and nearby residences were pumping raw sewage into it. Pre-regulated industry was also taking its toll. And, as the stories go, if you couldn’t afford the time or money for a trip to the dump, you could always toss it into the Gorge come nightfall.

By the end of the Second World War ‘no swimming’ signs were posted.

However, connecting the Gorge by canal to Esquimalt waters would bring a tidal flow the protected waters of the Gorge previously didn’t have.

As one story goes, that is why the rocks were blown out from below the previously shallow area under the Gorge Bridge (Tillicum Road). Sketches show a canal would have been dug and dredged from the southernmost point of Portage Inlet, with a lock, and then into Esquimalt Harbour.

“There was a grand scheme to create a roundabout boat trip from the Inner Harbour that take tourists up the Gorge and then back, by using the canal,” Mindenhall said.

The idea fell flat, as did so many others in Saanich, such as the Gordon Head Memorial Air Park.

Aviation was still in its infancy when Second World War veterans returned from service. There was some support for the war veterans to fly, and from growers “who were prepared to buy their own planes” and ship bulbs and flowers with this new technology.

To many, it made a lot of sense at the time. Nearby, the Lansdowne airstrip was the birthplace of Canadian aeronautical success where William Wallace Gibson designed and flew Canada’s first plane in 1910.

But, despite Saanich purchasing the land, and “the flying club laboriously grading the runways” in preparation, Saanich ratepayers voted against the airport.

Ten years later, the land was the right fit for the expanding Victoria College, or University of Victoria, Mindenhall said.

UVic has its own story of unbuilt designs. In the 1960s, it was unhappy with its designer Don Emmons of WBE and hired Arthur Erickson and Geoffrey Massey, who were  lauded for designing the concrete pleasure of the Simon Fraser University campus. Over three years, Erickson and Massey proposed several ideas but only one building was developed, the “incongruent” Cunningham Building.

Among the most entertaining developments that came close were the medieval Sherwood Park English village on the Gorge Waterway (adjacent to Tillicum Road) and the Globe Theatre and Elizabethan Village in Royal Oak.

The 1962 Sherwood Park proposal would’ve used 4.5 acres of Gorge park. Viking ships would bring visitors from the Inner Harbour, who would be greeted by Robin Hood and in-character friends.

A Globe Theatre proposal in 1980 would’ve used the original building and grounds of the Fireside Grill (built in 1936 as a tea room). Blacksmithing, weaving and other craftsmen and characters would take you back to the medieval times of Shakespeare.

Based on the research in Dorothy Mindenhall’s book Unbuilt Victoria, available online at Dundurn.com, Amazon.ca and in the Greater Victoria Public Library system.

 

Just Posted

Saanich police first in B.C. to offer mental health resiliency training

Departments from Oak Bay, Saanich, Central Saanich complete trauma training class

Province launches lawsuit over Esquimalt sailing incident that killed teen with disabilities

Gabriel Pollard, 16, died from injuries after being dropped from marine lift in 2018

Colwood tops Grumpy Taxpayer$ 2019 Candy Cane Awards

Yearly awards for improved governance go to Colwood, Oak Bay, Victoria

North Saanich Fire Department wins national Movember challenge

Team raises more than urban Edmonton, Toronto firefighters

Crash backs up northbound lanes of Pat Bay Highway

Drive BC warns of heavy congestion along busy route

VIDEO: Kenney lays out key demands for meeting with Trudeau

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney aims for clear signs of federal action on two-day Ottawa trip

First Nations want Big Bar landslide cleared ASAP to allow fish passage

Leadership calling for urgent action and resources to remove obstruction on the Fraser

Assessed value of Lower Mainland homes expected to decrease in 2020

Other areas of province may see modest increases over last year’s values

Chilliwack family’s therapy dog injured in hit and run

Miniature pit bull Fifty’s owner is a single mother facing close to $10,000 in vet bills

Cougar destroyed in Penticton area after mauling dog, killing cat

This is the first reported incident with a cougar this year in the Penticton area

Feds not enforcing standards on Hungarian duck imports, B.C. farmer says

‘You have no way of knowing what’s in the bag’

No reports yet of Canadians affected by New Zealand volcano eruption, feds say

Missing and injured included tourists from the U.S., China, Australia, Britain and Malaysia

Vancouver Island blues musician’s mother’s home burglarized and ransacked

David Gogo’s 71-year-old mother has jewelry and artwork stolen in break-in

Dance cancelled after Alberta teacher’s climate lesson prompts online threats

School district near Red Deer cancelled annual family dance due to Facebook comments

Most Read