The best of the city: Victoria Squared – gathering places over the years

Market Square in downtown Victoria, viewed from the South West corner. (Don Denton/News Team)
Vendors display their wares in Bastion Square on a summer day in downtown Victoria.  (Don Denton/news staff)Vendors display their wares in Bastion Square on a summer day in downtown Victoria. (Don Denton/news staff)
A view of Centennial Square next to Victoria City Hall.  (Don Denton/news staff)A view of Centennial Square next to Victoria City Hall. (Don Denton/news staff)

Victoria is a city famous for its copper-domed roofs, hotels with ballrooms, sprawling gardens and glimpses of ocean life. But behind these highlights lie more humble, mysterious and charming parts of the city: its squares.

Town squares are the heart of a community; they host events, demonstrations, public debates, markets and everything in between. Victoria’s many historic squares are must-sees for visitors and residents alike, says Paul Nursey, CEO of Destination Greater Victoria.

“Victoria offers multiple levels of experience. Our plazas provide a kind of surprise and delight behind the icons, adding depth and dimension to the city. It’s not something you lead with, but it pays off a lot.

Bastion Square

Rich in history, this space is part of the original Fort Victoria and has housed some of the city’s fundamental landmarks, including:

• The Courthouse (designed by architect HO Tiedeman), Victoria’s first concrete building, built in 1889. For decades until relatively recently, it housed the Maritime Museum of British Columbia.

• The Law Chambers, designed by FM Rattenbury, built in the late 1800s.

• Burnes House, originally a hotel in 1882 (then a brothel and later a warehouse), restored in 1967.

• Strousse warehouse, built in 1885 as a supply center for gold miners.

• The Board of Trade building, built in 1892 by AM Muir.

Bastion Square is said to be home to the troubled spirits of prisoners who marched into the adjacent Helmcken Alley, which linked the nearby jail to the square, where public executions took place. The prison was demolished in 1885.

In recent years, the square has undergone a makeover. It’s home to sunny patios, live music, some of the best beer and cocktail venues, and a vibrant public market.

Centenary Square

Built in 1962 to mark the 100th anniversary of Victoria’s incorporation, this central public square hosts many events, with a permanent stage, public artwork on display and community gathering spaces among its features.

Located between City Hall, McPherson Playhouse, a seniors activity center, Capital Regional District headquarters, Fisgard Street parking lot and shopping.

It is a central location for the voices of Victoria, serving as a space for protests, festivals and public celebrations. It hosts markets in the summer and recently became the home of Victoria’s Lights of Wonder winter festival.

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Tucked behind the walls of local restaurants and independent shops between Broughton, Fort and Blanshard streets, this public space has an exclusive feel due to its subtle entrances and seasonal availability. The small square offers a quiet outdoor place to enjoy local cuisine and hosts parties in the summer, all under garlands of Edison bulbs.

Market place

This large enclosed space has a character of its own, one that continues to evolve. Located in Victoria’s Old Town, it was close to the bustling seaport of the Gold Rush era. The heritage buildings that surround it in a U-shape today were once commercial spaces, warehouses and hotels.

Today, the three-story plaza is home to an eclectic collection of independent shops and restaurants, and hosts music festivals and special events. More recently, Market Square has transformed into a space to celebrate beer, whiskey and microbrews.

Pioneer Square

This small square is in Pioneer Park next to Christ Church Cathedral and is home to the second oldest cemetery in Victoria. It was the main burial site for Fort Victoria and Victoria between 1858 and 1873. About 1,300 people were buried there, including many Hudson’s Bay Company families and those who arrived for the rush. gold. Most of the smaller headstones were removed and stored when the square and cemetery were turned into a park, but larger monuments still stand.

There are plenty more plazas beyond these, so be sure to get out and explore the nooks and crannies that cradle the city’s rich history and culture.

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