The Douglas Street Motor Inns, 1957-1966
By Glen A. Mofford
The 1950's and 1960's were prosperous years in Victoria. Upper Douglas street businesses sprung up where there had previously been nothing but grass.
The trans-Canada highway was completed in 1962 with Douglas Street at Beacon Hill Park being Mile zero. A building frenzy that catered to the automobile began in the early 1960’s as the Town & Country Shopping Centre – 225,000 square foot outside shopping mall, opened in August 1961 with plenty of parking and the Mayfair Shopping Centre opened in 1963.
The Victoria Capital Improvement Commission spent the equivalent of 1.7 million dollars on improving and widening the Douglas Corridor provided that both Victoria and Saanich eliminate a number of left hand turns and on-street parking.
Between the years 1956 and 1965 five Motor Inns’ were built on a six mile stretch of Douglas Street, from Discovery to Tolmie: The Colony Motor Inn (1957), The Ingraham Hotel (1960), The Imperial Inn (1961), The Tally-Ho (1961), and The Red Lion Motor Inn (1965).
This article will look at the history of these motor hotels and their drinking establishments.
The Colony Motor Inn, 1957-1993
The Colony Motor Inn, circa. 1971
The Colony Motor Inn was built between 1956 and 1957 in a mock Tudor style with Robert and Viva McClure as Managers. The motel was located at 2852 Douglas Street just north of the round-a-bout where Government, Douglas, Hillside and Gorge Roads met.
The new motel offered one of the best restaurants in town famous for their steaks, seafood and chicken dinners. The actor Bob Hope dined at the Colony Motor Inn when he came to town. The restaurant was opened seven days a week from 5 PM until midnight.
The large Colony beer parlour was added later on the south side of the existing structure. There were two entrances, one for Ladies & Escorts and one for Men with a half-wall that divided the room. By 1964 separate entrances were no longer required by law and with the half-wall gone the room was quite large.
The Colony had ample parking and on a Friday and Saturday night the lot was usually full as thirsty patrons filled the beer parlour.
The beer parlour at the Colony was decorated in a mock-tutor style with red, black and gold coloured carpets. The bar was on the south wall with the two entrances on either side. There was a walk-up on the north side of the room where additional tables and where the washrooms were located. There was a stairway on the west side of the beer parlour which led down to the smaller cocktail lounge – later called Amity’s Lounge.
The beer parlour was a busy and popular place and there was no shortage of arguments and fights. Most fights were short-lived with very little damage to property and the combatants, but some were brutal. Most fights began in the beer parlour and spilled out into the parking lot. There was usually a fight every weekend back in the early 1970’s. The Bounty Hunter’s Motorcycle Club had their clubhouse on Hillside Avenue and the Colony was only blocks away.
The Colony Motor Inn showing the beer parlour in the foreground, circa. 1971
Photograph Source, City of Victoria Archives (CVA) #98205-25-45137
From 1954 onwards the rules for beer parlours were liberalized and were relaxed. The Colony beer parlour became the Brass Rail and for entertainment came the strippers and live bands.
The hotel and its drinking establishments such as the Brass Rail, Amity’s Lounge and the Cavalier Room, continued to do a good business throughout the 1980’s. The Brass Rail Pub purchased a large number of television sets which were lined up along the wall above the bar as sports, and cheap beer continued to attract the blue collar crowd.
The Colony Motor Inn closed in 1993 with the promise of a newer and better Hotel to be rebuilt on the site.
During the early years of the Colony Motor Inn another motor hotel was under construction just up the road. It was to have the largest beer parlour in British Columbia when it opened in 1960 – that was the Ingraham Motor Inn.
The Ingraham Motor Inn, 1960-2003
For a more complete history of the Ingraham beer parlour please view my article, A History of the Ingraham Beer Parlour, 1960 to 2003.
In 1959, Victor Ingraham hired Farmer Construction to build his new motor hotel at 2915 Douglas Street – just a few blocks northeast of the Colony Motor Inn.
Victor Ingraham had a great deal of experience running hotels as he once owned a hotel in Yellowknife, NWT and then ran the Arbutus Hotel in Courtenay before moving to Victoria and building the Ingraham Motor Inn.
The building cost a million dollars at the time and it contained the largest beer parlour ever built in British Columbia at the time – know as a beer barn. It was very popular. Like all beer parlours in BC during the early 1960’s, the Ingraham had separate entrances for Men and Women with Escorts. An ingenious half-wall kept the room divided but the wall was on wheels and two waiters would move the wall to the emptier side of the room as one side, usually the men’s, filled up. This would satisfy the law at that time as well as make money for the owners.
The Ingraham, or as it was later called, the Ingy Sports Pub, was a favourite place for the blue collar crowd. Most occupations from the Police, to firefighters, to milkmen and so on, had their own section in the beer parlour.
Victor Ingraham died in 1961 and his son, Len took over the business. This is when the emphasis on the sports bar began. Len Ingraham sponsored a number of local sports teams – from baseball to car racing, Len earned the nicknamed Mr. Hospitality as all sports teams were welcome to the Ingraham Hotel.
The Ingy Sports Pub in 2000.
Unlike many of the local hotel pubs, the Ingy Sports Pub never had strippers in their bar. Sports and excellent service filled the massive pub for years and their parking lot was full on a Friday and Saturday night.
There were fewer fights at the Ingy Sports Pub when compared to places like the Colony or Red Lion. The Ingy had four pool tables and two long shuffleboard tables which received a lot of use.
The Ingy Pub plus the Big I cabaret and the lounge lasted into the early 2000’s – the pub closing in August 2003 when the new owners decided to open the largest private liquor store on the Island. The old customers still talk about and miss the Ingy Sports pub and retell stories of spent there.
The regular patrons of the Ingy found new places to enjoy a beverage and many of them moved their business to the Tally-Ho Motor Hotel just a few blocks to the north of the Ingraham.
The Tally-Ho Motor Hotel, 1961-2011
The 50-room Tally Ho Motor Inn opened at 3020 Douglas Street in 1961. Along with the beer parlour the new Motor Inn also had a cocktail lounge named the Tack Room and a restaurant.
Like all the new beer parlours attached to the Motor Inn’s, the Tally-Ho provided ample parking in the back lot. The Tally-Ho was unique in that the same back lot once served as a marshalling yard for the famed Tally-Ho horses that operated in downtown Victoria.
Inside the beer parlour was large with a half-wall that ran from the west wall entrance to the east wall where the bar was located, divided the room between the sexes as was the law at that time.
Tables were covered with terrycloth to absorb spilled beer and the cost of a glass of beer was ten cents.
The cocktail lounge was called the Tack Room, a name in keeping with the horses theme, and one can still see that name etched in iron on the doorway into the lounge from the downstairs side entrance.
Entrance to the Tack Room Lounge
The Tally-Ho beer parlour was popular with the blue collar crowd as its location was only a few blocks from the massive BCFP sawmill that once dominated the Gorge area. Thirsty mill workers, bus drivers, local small industry workers and others would fill the tables at the Tally-Ho after work and particularly on Friday nights and Saturdays. Like the saws at the mill – the place was humming.
By 1974 the new owners, from Vancouver, introduced strippers to the pub. This move was a mixed blessing as many curious customers enjoyed the addition while some regular patrons grew tired standing in line for a beer and decided to take their business to the Ingraham Hotel which did not have strippers. But in spite of these minor changes the Tally-Ho did well.
In the early 1980's during the 'Disco Craze' the pub was very busy as an addition of a large dance floor attracted crowds of young people dancing away to Saturday Night Fever. Although business was still good, the owners felt that they had better change with the times in order to attract new and younger spending customers so an addition of a large gazebo in the middle of the room was built around 1984-85 by a local carpenter named Jerry. It was an instant hit as young disco dancers strutted their stuff to canned music.
Long time employee Linda, running the bar in the pub -
Linda started part time in May 1974 and worked until
the pub closed in September 2011.
Meanwhile the strippers were gone and the bar was moved to the south side of the room. Pool tables now occupied the east side of the room where the original bar was. The west side of the room had a lovely brick fireplace and brick wall.
The Tally-Ho Pub was eventually leased to Bill Murphy, a long-time bartender of the Crown & I Pub in the Imperial Inn. Bill leased the pub and the lounge and changed the name to Murph’s Place Pub.
Parking lot entrance to Murph’s Place Pub
Murph’s Place, still referred to as the Tally-Ho by most patrons, was arguably the last of the beer parlour style pubs in town. In January 2008 a glass of draught beer was still only $2.00 and Bill Murphy had been leasing the place for almost four years.
Other than the name, the place hadn’t really changed except that prices slowly creped up as the clientele dwindled. Outside influences such as the smoking bylaw and the cost of doing business made the price of beer no longer cheap and plentiful. By 2010 a nine ounce glass of draught beer cost $2.45 and by November 2011, $2.75 per glass - so much for the working man’s beer.
Some of the regulars that called the Tally-Ho Pub their home
In June 2010 the hotel was up for sale. Rumours began to circulate that the pub, a union house, may be closed for good. By the spring of 2011 the hotel did sell for 4.9 million to a Vancouver Company. The new owners had their own plans and one was to rid the pub of the Union.
On September 30, 2011 after 50 years the pub, closed its doors.
Bill Murphy, who had been in the business for 39 years finally retired.
He was a long-time employee of the Imperial Inn’s Crown & I Pub which is the next motor Inn we will be discussing.
The Imperial Motor Inn, 1961-1991
The Black Bull Lounge at the Imperial Inn
The Imperial Inn, located at 1961 Douglas Street opened around the same time as the Tally-Ho in 1961. The building design had a unique Sino-Japanese theme complete with bonsai trees and Asian sculptures.
The new hotel had the Black Bull Lounge and for a few years offered patrons a unique experience in the Gilled Cage, a kind of British Pub complete with sing-a-longs and for the daring one could purchase “a yard of ale”. The pub was located where the conference rooms are today just left of the main entrance and lobby of the hotel.
The Gilded Cage featured pianist June Day and Fran Dowie, who both had a background in theatre in England. They led in the sing-a-long and provided entertainment to an appreciative audience. But the show was short lived and after it closed the owners of the Imperial Inn decided to open a larger pub facility on the east side of the hotel and which would open as the Crown and I Pub.
The Gilded Cage – a sing-a-long in a British Pub atmosphere.
The Crown & I Pub proved to be very popular, especially during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Its close proximity to the Memorial Arena allowed many sports fans to enjoy a beverage before and after an event at the new pub. Word spread and the place did a booming business.
Unlike the Sino-Japanese theme for the hotel, the Crown & I was decorated in black and red. The pub had a mild medieval knights theme. There were two pool tables and dart boards in one corner. The room was rather large with quite a number of tables covered in orange or red terrycloth. Music was popular rock which we know today as classic rock and the place filled up on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Imperial Inn at 1961 Douglas Street in 1969.
I recall going there a few times with friends and we have to get there rather early in order to get a seat. Service was quite good with an ample amount of waitresses and male bouncers made themselves visible to remind party-hardy patrons that there would be consequences if they got out of control.
The pub offered a full menu and the food was good, cheap and plentiful.
As the years rolled by the Crown & I Pub was leased by new management and became the Ice House. Strippers and black walls completely changed the look and the feel of the place – from a pub atmosphere to a club. I didn’t care for the change or the inclusion of strippers into my old haunt.
Fortunately the Ice House didn’t last too long and a new lessee, who had moved from across the street above Paul’s Restaurant, replaced it with Soprano’s Karaoke & Sports Bar.
Entrance in the back to Sopranos Pub, 2010
The old Imperial Inn is now called Capital City Centre as it was purchased by Wally Eng and the Red Lion Group in December 2011 after the previous owner had declared bankruptcy. The new owners have since replaced the aging furnishings and have plans to further renovate and improved the hotel. The cocktail lounge was renamed, Splash but the pub is still leased out, at least for now. The future looks promising for this 52 year old hotel.
Capital City Centre, 2012
The Red Lion Motor Inn, 1965-2001
The Red Lion Motor Inn, February 1967
The last of the Motor Hotels to be built along the Douglas Street Corridor, for the purpose of this article, was the Red Lion Motor Inn which opened at 3366 Douglas Street on Wednesday April 28, 1966.
The new motel cost about two million dollars and offered guests 80 deluxe rooms, two lounges, restaurant dancing nightly at the Tower Lounge and the Drummer's Lounge, which featured a cozy atmosphere complete with a fireplace. Attached to the south side and downstairs in the motel was the 350-seat Block & Tackle Beer Parlour.
A distinctive large tower was erected that held the Tower Room where dining and dancing took place nightly from 5:30 PM to the Irvin Lang Trio. Tony Ing was drummer in that "house band" in the Red Lion.
There was also the Lions Den Restaurant. Ken G. Hole was the manager of the motel in its early years.
The Red Lion Motor Inn certainly had its own theme, very much like the Crown & I Pub in the Imperial Inn, it was decorated in a medieval theme described by Avis Walton in her travel book, About Victoria and Vancouver Island, “Decor throughout the Inn is post-and-beam, antique brick, wine-red carpets…a handsome building with a tall tower emblazoned with a red lion rampart.”
The new Red Lion Motor Inn
I remember the first time I entered the Block & Tackle Beer Parlour. It was in the summer of 1972 and I worked across the street at A&W on Douglas. My girlfriend and I were a year underage but didn’t have a problem getting served a few beers. I looked around at all the bright red terrycloth tables and noticed that the wall were covered in fishing nets, floats, fishing blocks and pictures of fishing trawlers and fake wooden fish. It would be another three years before strippers were brought in as entertainment when the beer parlour would eventually become the Red Fox Pub, known for its strippers. Beer was still cheap in 1972 at 25 cents a nine ounce glass and service was top-notch.
It wasn’t until 1975 that I frequented a few of the local pubs which include the Red Lion Pub. The place did a roaring business [no pun intended] and the addition of strippers initially resulted in an influx of new customers, just as management had intended.
The Red Lion Motor Inn enjoyed a booming business for right up to one tragic night in that took place in November of 2001. That was the night the most of the Red Lion Motel burned to the ground.
On Saturday November 10, 2001 at 1:15 AM a fire was reported burning in Diego's Lounge located above The Fox Pub. Within an hour Diego's and the Red Lion's Cold Beer & Wine Store were completely engulfed in flames. The Victoria Fire Department stabilized the inferno after hours of fighting the blaze, but the damage was done and the Red Lion Motel was destroyed save for the west wing.
Fire has historically been the most common cause for a hotel to be fully or partially destroyed. There was some talk of rebuilding but it took seventeen months before new owners came along and rebuilt the Red Lion Inn which re-opened April 9, 2003. It looked very much like the old place with a large pub, restaurant and lounge but the owners were not permitted to reconstruct the tall tower from the original hotel as height restrictions would not allow it.
Old Red Fox sign just before fire destroyed the motel
The 'new' Red Lion Motel in 2005
The five Motor Inns that were build along Douglas Street from 1957 to 1966 provided their customers with a place to rest, a variety of music and entertainment, and a place to meet friends and enjoy themselves for years to come. Indeed the first of these motels that closed was the first to open – the Colony Motor Inn which closed in 1991. But for over thirty years people had the opportunity to enjoy what these places of pleasure provided. Like the popular music of the day, these great old places were classic in their own right and are remembered fondly by most who were lucky enough to be there.
Note: This article is in the first draft stage. More information will be added over the coming months. Your contributions will certainly help paint a more complete history of these great old motels.