How one street came to shape the city's downtown


By Danda Humphreys

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Heritage House, 144 pp., $24.95

Over the years, Danda Humphreys has spent a lot of time researching, walking along and writing about the streets of Victoria. She has done her best to make us more aware of the history of our thoroughfares, large and small, and the people who shaped our city.

This book - devoted to what is arguably the most important street in the history of the city - is the natural next step.

Government Street builds on her four previous books, the three volumes of On the Street Where You Live as well as Building Victoria: Men, Myths and Mortar. Those books, in turn, had their roots in columns Humphreys wrote for the Times Colonist for five years.

Humphreys is still spreading the word about the historic delights of downtown Victoria through public speaking and tours through the streets and alleys.

Her skill as a storyteller comes through in Government Street, which describes four possible tours from Chinatown south to the Juan de Fuca Strait.

Part history and part visitor's guide, Government Street will help bring more attention to the street and its buildings. Anyone reading this book will be sure to see the street in a different way.

There are minor quibbles. Fountains, for one thing, seem to cause problems.

Humphreys says that the fountain on the south side of the legislature building "celebrates the 1862 union of four territories to form the Colony of British Columbia." Two of the four were British Columbia and Vancouver Island, yes, but they were not united until 1866.

Government Street describes the fountain in Centennial Square as "the city's 100th birthday gift to itself." In fact, the fountain was a gift from Saanich, Esquimalt and Oak Bay; taxpayers in the three outlying municipalities came up with the $30,000 it took to build the fountain in 1965.

There is a special mention of the McPherson Playhouse, close to the fountain, but why not tell us who it was named for? Thomas Shanks McPherson certainly left his mark on the city, after all.

The book is richly illustrated with photographs, old and new. The scenes from long ago, many taken from old postcards, are matched by modern photographs that help us connect the days of long ago to the present.

Government Street has narrow maps on every second page, showing the rough location of the section Humphreys is describing, as well as a full-page map.

It would have been nice to see maps for each of the four tours described by Humphreys, and the fullpage map could have included some of the small passageways that she mentions, alleys such as Trounce and Fan Tan for instance.

Still, the book serves its purpose. It is designed to raise awareness of the street that was of great importance to the development of the city, and continues to attract interest today. It celebrates local history, and will create more awareness of the people who helped make Victoria what it is today.

This book should motivate us to get out of our vehicles, and take a leisurely stroll (or three or four) through the downtown. Not only will we benefit from the fresh air, we will learn about our heritage as well.

With Government Street in hand, readers will be able to explore the downtown like never before. We will look at familiar corners and buildings with a new perspective.

We will gain a stronger appreciation for the rich history of Victoria - and that is always a good thing.

The reviewer is the author of The Library Book: A History of Service to British Columbia.

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