They have become symbols of our city, little touches that make our streets unique.
They are Victoria's cluster lights, the street lighting design that has been used in the downtown core for the past century, and the baskets of flowers that hang from them.
The $25,000 expenditure on light standards with multiple bulbs was approved by voters on Thursday, Jan. 12, 1911.
Victoria's streets had been lit, using gas or electricity, for almost half a century before several Victoria businessmen saw cluster lights on a visit to Seattle for the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition in 1909. They saw the light, one might say, and suggested that Victoria could use something similar.
The original idea was to install about 60 of them on a short section of Douglas Street as part of a beautification plan. By early 1910, a design had been endorsed, and merchants on Yates, View and Fort streets liked it, so the number of fixtures that would be needed started to rise.
City crews were led by Matthew Hutchison, the head of the electric light works and the fire alarm system.
The original design for the fixtures had four arms with the lamps on top, but it was quickly revised so the lights would hang from the arms. That modification reduced shadows and cast more light.
By the end of 1911, about 250 cluster lights were in place. Another 800 were installed in 1912, and one of the symbols of Victoria was well on the way to being established.
In 1937, as part of the city's 75th anniversary celebrations, hanging baskets filled with flowers were added to the fixtures. Herb Warren, the parks administrator at the time, has been given credit for the idea.
The origins might not be that clear. Back in 1924, the city's finance committee had to deal with a request about the maintenance of hanging baskets. Apparently Harold Diggon, who ran an office supplies store, had started hanging baskets in 1923, and wanted the city to take them over.
That doesn't settle the matter. In 1941, the Victoria Daily Times reported that Jack Trace of Glen Lake had come up with the idea in 1922. His thinking was to brighten the city's May 24 festivities by decorating the lamp standards with flowers.
The Times reported than Clifford's Wire Works had made the baskets, and Brown's Nurseries supplied the flowers. Those baskets had been used ever since, the newspaper said.
That report did not sit well with a reader, Johanna Witty. She wrote a letter of protest, saying that the real originator of the idea was Mary Jane Radbourne, of 1146 Mason Street.
Back in 1919, Radbourne was in charge of the decoration committee for the May 24 celebration, Witty said.
"She gathered a good number of plain working women. We met in an empty store on Government Street, turning left from Yates Street.
"Who made the baskets I don't remember, but the city supplied the roots and paid for the moss, and those women worked up to their waists in wet moss and earth and your baskets became a reality."
And that's that. Maybe.
But this we know for sure: Since 1937, thanks to the city's staff, those baskets have become a vital part of Victoria's image, just like the cluster lights.
The lights and the baskets have not always been prized. Back in the 1950s, the city replaced some of the light standards with modern ones, and even tried adding mercury lights above some of the clusters still in service. The theory was that the clusters did not provide enough light, and were at risk of vandalism.
The public was not impressed, and the city restored the clusters. It's hard to imagine that they would ever be under threat again.
© Copyright 2013