Saying “thank you” or “hello” or any other written courtesy has become a little more old-fashioned with historical gift cards produced for Capital Iron.
Qualicum Bay artist, writer and card creator Michael Poyntz says the cards, six in all, offer glimpses of Victoria’s history. Most are connected with the Capital Iron building’s own 150-year history.
“Here’s a piece of the history of Victoria distilled in this one building that is really, really unique,” Poyntz said.
The building, at 1900 Store St., began as a warehouse, dock and consignment sales centre. Ships would unload goods for sale, or locals would warehouse goods for sale or transport out of the city.
It was later transformed to a rice and flour mill that went bankrupt.
It then became another rice mill, which also went bankrupt. It sat near-vacant for 17 years until 1934, when Morris Greene turned it into Capital Iron and Metals Ltd., which transformed in 1972 into the current retail business.
Poyntz said when he was visiting Capital Iron last April, he noticed historical photos on the wall that he thought would make great pictures to explain the history of the store.
But he soon realized the stories extended beyond Capital Iron to the history of Victoria — even Canada.
For example, one greeting card shows a photo of the three-masted clipper ship Thermopylae in 1875. Back then, the ship was known as one of the fastest in the world.
Thermopylae regularly unloaded cargo including rice at the Store Street building, then the Victoria Roller Flour and Rice Mill. After it was processed in Victoria, the rice was sold, largely to feed Chinese labourers constructing the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Poyntz learned that the Canadian government put a tax on unprocessed rice around 1896 to protect wheat farmers from competition.
But the tax meant mills that were processing rice for sale in Canada were deprived of raw material. Victoria Roller Flour and Rice Mill went bust around 1897.
“They did that deliberately to protect the wheat crop, and that drove the rice mill out of business,” Poyntz said.
As work on the cards progressed, he said, one of the toughest tasks was meeting the exacting research standards of Ron Greene, son of Capital Iron founder Morris Greene and former store president.
“He was very clear from the beginning — if it didn’t meet his standards, the whole thing wasn’t going anywhere,” Poyntz said.
So all pictures had to be traced to their original sources.
Permission had to be obtained for the use of each one, including one traced to the Times Colonist. And all written material on the cards had to be beyond dispute.
Greene, who still owns the Capital Iron land but has retired from the business, is an acknowledged local history expert. He is past-president of the Victoria Civic Heritage Trust, current president of the Victoria Historical Society and past-president of the B.C. Historical Federation.
In an interview, he admitted he has a “penchant for accuracy.”
“I’ve learned my lesson,” Greene said. “You make sure you are accurate.”
He also said he has long taken pride in Capital Iron, its building, heritage designation, restoration and place in the life and business of Victoria.
“It really has been a great part of Victoria,” he said.
Michael Black, Greene’s son-in-law and current owner of the Capital Iron store, said he is delighted with the new cards.
Black said he was thrilled to see the images produced well and the snippets of history recorded and presented for the public.
“And from the look and feel of them, the cards have exceeded my expectations,” he said.
The cards are for sale at Capital Iron for $4.99 each, or a box of six for $24.99.
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