Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A History of the Esquimalt Inn, Part I: Halfway House, 1860-1888

A History of the Esquimalt Inn, Part I: Halfway House 



   As one travels along the 800 block of Esquimalt Road you will pass by a pub and privately operated liquor store called the Cambie at the Esquimalt Inn. This modest building that houses both the pub and liquor store, may appear rather plain and ordinary, but underneath its worn exterior masks a lengthy and remarkable history for on this site 156 years ago opened a public house and the first brewery in Esquimalt. The Halfway House, as it was initially named, is the oldest business in Esquimalt still operating from its original location. Esquimalt Road was just a dirt trail back in 1860 and the town of Victoria was two years before incorporation when the Bland Family developed their property at 856 Esquimalt Road.

This article will trace the history of the Esquimalt Inn from its early beginnings when it was known as the Halfway House to its final years as a pub as plans to close the pub and redevelop the large property is in the works. The story of the history of this long established public house is told in four parts with this article as Part One, covering the early period from 1860 to 1888, Part Two, covering the era 1889, through prohibition to 1924, part III when the owners received their beer parlour licenses in 1925 to 1954, then the final part of the story of the Esquimalt Inn covers the years, 1955 until today 2016. Sit back and imagine yourself bellying up to the bar or relaxing at a table inside the Halfway House all those years ago when the pace of the world was slower and your pint of beer costs a nickel. I hope you enjoy your time discovering the history of the Esquimalt Inn.

On February 3, 1859 James William and Elizabeth Bland arrived in Victoria, the following year they purchased land in Esquimalt, built their home and a public house named the Halfway House. The Halfway House became a popular stop on the trail that connected the town of Victoria to the British navy base at Esquimalt Harbour, being halfway between the two. Besides the bar at the Halfway House, the Blands “provided comfortable rooms, clean stables and wholesome food for sailors and settlers.”[1]
The Blands brewed their own beer from water drawn at three wells on their property which provided an abundance of clean, pure water while at the same time saving money from not having to purchase their product from local breweries. “His recipe was used by family members for years. One of his secrets was the use of Muscat raisins.”[2] James Bland registered his brewery in 1861.

On April 14, 1862 the steamer, Hermann arrived at the Esquimalt docks from San Francisco and unloaded a most unusual cargo, twenty-three Bactrian camels, which caused quite a commotion when a number of horses became frightened.[3] The two-humped animals were shedding their winter coats and did not look or smell too appealing. The camels would be kept on two acres of fenced land of the Bland property behind the Halfway House Saloon and Brewery until they were sold as pack animals for the Fraser River Gold Fields It was also reported that the animals were guarded by a “live Turk”.[4]

People were naturally very curious to view these strange and exotic beasts of burden and James Bland quickly recognized the advantage to his business that advertising them would bring. On lookers were not disappointed and were especially delighted to witness the birth of a baby camel some days later.[5]

Clockwise from top left: Elizabeth & James Bland, 1859, BCA G-01333; 
Camels for the Cariboo, 1862, BCA A-00347; 
The Halfway House - Trentham Hotel, 1888, BCA D-01890


Over the next seventeen years Elizabeth and James lived at their Esquimalt home. They had five children, two of which were born on their property on Esquimalt Road. James put his business up for sale a number of times beginning in November 1875 then again in July 1877.

“That splendid property known as the Half-Way House, situated on the Esquimalt Road, comprising two acres of arable land well-fenced, with three wells of the finest water on the premises. The Building is substantially built of Brick, with all necessary Outbuildings, etc. A first-class Brewery is attached with every article for Brewing; the Boiler has a capacity of 200 gallons at a Brewing. There is also a capital Skittle or Bowling Alley on the premises.”[6]

The Blands eventually sold their property and business and by 1888 they went into retirement but not before one dramatic moment which could have resulted in disaster.
In January 1888 a fire broke out in the Half-way House and threatened to consume the business and the house. Quick action by the local fire brigade saved both structures. Fire was the single major cause of destruction in Greater Victoria and remained so for many years.

Joseph Bayley purchased the Half-Way House and property on May 9, 1888 and had a grand re-opening of the hotel on May 17, 1888 under the new name, the Trentham Hotel, Half-Way House.[7] 

Joseph Bayley was no stranger to operating hotels as he owned the Occidental Hotel at the corner of Wharf and Johnson Streets in Victoria with his partner Edward Legg. Bayley decided to sell his interest in the hotel when he purchased the Halfway House in Esquimalt. But Bayley's troubles were just beginning...

Part II covering the period from 1889 to 1924 coming soon. 

[1] See Duffus, Maureen’s  website

Also see, Robinson, Sherri, The Halfway House an article written in Beyond the Blue Bridge: Stories From Esquimalt, Esquimalt Silver Threads Writers Group, 1990, p. 143, edited by Maureen Duffus. Sherri Robinson is the great-great granddaughter of James & Elizabeth Bland.

[2]  Robinson, Sherri To be found
[3] The British Colonist, April 15, 1862, page 3.

[4] Ibid, page 3.

[5] The British Colonist, April 23, 1862, page 3.
[6] The British Colonist, July 11, 1877, page 3.

[7] The British Colonist, June 14, 1891, page 2.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

History of the Kingsway Hotel: Part I, 1925-1955

  History of the Kingsway Hotel

 Part I, 1925-1955

In an age when large historic hotels are closing, being re-purposed or are burning down, the Kingsway Hotel and Pub in Port Alberni endures. Fine food is available from Adrien’s Grill located inside the pub, and the bar dutifully dispenses draft beer by the glass and by the mug as well as wine, cider and a variety of spirits, seven days a week. A number of entertaining events take place on a regular basis at the old Kingsway Hotel from live music to a weekly meat draw in which all the proceeds go to Ty Watson House, operated by the Alberni Valley Hospice Society.

Upon entering the Kingsway one is greeted by a working shuffleboard table, a rare sight now-a-days in any hotel other than a Royal Canadian Legion. As your eyes adjust to the inside lighting they may focus on the walls of the old hostelry which are richly decorated with photographs of commercial and sports fishing boats and fishers proudly displaying their bountiful catches. Local scenes of logging and fishing are mixed in with a variety of ephemera that can be seen all over the large pub, from signs that boast “Free Beer – Tomorrow” to things that can best be described as strange and very likely concocted while under the influence of a good deal of beer, like the fish head with deer antlers. This article traces the long and colourful history of the Kingsway Hotel. 
The Kingsway Hotel opened in March 1925 by Theodore Gattman, who owned the block surrounded by Kingsway and Athol Streets, First and Second Avenue. In April that year, shortly after the four-storey Kingsway Hotel opened, his application for a liquor license was approved, which provided a substantial economic boost to the new hotel. Initially the majority of patrons that stayed in the hotel and drank in the beer parlours worked in the primary resource sector. Loggers, sawmill workers, longshoremen, fishermen and tradesmen made up the bulk of customers at the Kingsway. This was a blue collar beer parlour, where men and women worked hard and played hard.

In May 1927, Gattman was elected alderman for the City of Port Alberni. That same year he sold the Kingsway Hotel to Fred Cicconi from Calgary and Emolio “Blackie” Maralia from Italy. But that wasn’t the end of Gattman’s involvement in the hotel industry as he built his new hotel, the Arrowview on the northern end of his property close to the Kingsway Hotel. The Arrowview opened in 1928.

The new proprietors, Cicconi and Maralia partnership didn’t last long as Fred Cicconi died in 1928 leaving Emolio Maralia the sole proprietor of the Kingsway Hotel. Maralia operated the hotel for the next eleven years, but there were some problems along the way. In December 1939 Maralia was arrested for a hit and run accident and was convicted and ordered to pay a fine of $200 plus court costs. After that incident his name was no longer identified with the Kingsway Hotel.

The Kingsway Hotel in 1948 (BC Archives #E-05416)

From 1940 to 1945 the Kingsway Hotel went through a couple of managers until A.A. McDonald & L. Knight became the proprietors of the hotel. In October 1946, a fire at a local cafe, aptly named the Golden Glow, which only been opened for two weeks, saw James A. Anderson, his wife Wilma and their infant son Ronald rescued from the blaze. They were put up by Mr. Leonard Knight, proprietor of the Kingsway Hotel. The 1940’s and 1947 in particular, were notorious due to the rash of fires that plagued the Alberni Valley. The small Port Alberni Hotel on lower Argyle was destroyed by fire in October 1942 and both the Somass Hotel and the King Edward Hotel burned down, with loss of life at the King Edward, in 1947.

Fortunately the Kingsway Hotel survived these horrendous fires and by 1948 the Kingsway Hotel Company was formed with J. Wasco & F. Collins as the first directors. They managed the hotel until 1953 when they were succeeded by Jean Gagnon and T. Len Hamilton who operated the hotel until 1955.

Part II of the History of the Kingsway Hotel will continue from 1955 right up until the present day.