While on vacation in British Columbia this month I was given a driving tour of the sights of the city of Victoria. When we stopped at Government House intending to eat our sandwiches in its splendid gardens, the cooler we had brought along was empty. The sandwiches had been made but left behind on the kitchen counter; the cook thinking the driver would pack them, the driver thinking the cook had packed them. While we made do with the dessert, my companions asked if there was anything in particular I wanted to stop and look at. A few minutes earlier I had glimpsed a water tower atop a distant hill so I said, if they didn't mind, that I'd like to take a look. "But", I warned them, "towers are shy creatures. If you go looking for them, they tend to run away..."
After stopping at the marvellous outdoor retailer Mountain Equipment Cooperative, we surmised from our map it must lie in the region of the Craigdarroch Castle so we headed there. Navigating the one-way system we came to the coal mine owner's mansion - scene of a legendary and lengthy family dispute - which is now a museum and walked around outside but were unable to see the tower from this vantage point. "It saw us coming" I told my companions. The 'castle', though imposing, is more a sandstone pastiche of Scottish laird and Disney fairytale but it was impressive that every window, including sash ones, and each door was carved to follow the curve of the turrets, a 'hang the cost' detail but with admission costing $13 pp, I have no doubt their upkeep is expensive.
The mansion is in the area called Rockland which was once Victoria's 'Nob Hill' and now an open-top English bus plys guided tours pointing out the mock-Tudor piles of other migrants who made their fortunes in lumber, furs, coal and construction in this last frontier and bastion of the British Empire. Though we couldn't see it, I suspected the elusive tower must be nearby as we were on a plateau and the tower must have been constructed to serve all these grand homes. We set off down the hill to backtrack to where I had first seen the tower, hoping that then we could then turn around and stalk towards it like a game of Grandmother's Footsteps.
Perhaps it felt like only playing peek-a-boo with us because as we drove away, we suddenly saw it looming over some houses. It was then a case of my jumping out with a camera to capture a view and try to find a way to walk to its base while my companions waited in the car, as they did not want to enrich the city with a parking fine nor be an accessory to any inadvertent trespass. Besides, a large party would likely scare it off again. It was a process of elimination in going up successive driveways, each tantalisingly appearing to lead to the base, to find the one which its attendants must have used to reach the door.
The tower sits rather dilapidated and unused in the garden of a old mansion which is now apparently a multiple rental/condo. Given that access to the tower must have some easement over the driveway, I ran up to the base to log the tower on my GPS device. We then quickly took our leave to visit one of Victoria's many coffee shops, the boho-style Tooks on Cook we had passed earlier. Here very satisfactory sandwiches and slice of quiche with a salad was not as elusive.
View MEC to tower expedition in a larger map
Tower Location: Laural Lane, Victoria B.C. Canada.
Built: 1908. Decommissioned: 2000
Height: 33.22 m.
Capacity: 412,330 litres.
The tower is an unreinforced 25.4 cm. thick concrete cylinder of 6.71 m. inside diameter, 21.34 m. high, supporting a 11.89 m. high water tank of equal diameter. This is a balancing reservoir. The tower can be clearly seen from the ocean and has been used as an navigation aid by small craft.
The 128-foot water tower was built by the famous contractor Henry Kaiser. In 1962, to commemorate the centenary of Victoria, the tower was topped by a 22-foot tall neon flame, which burned for over 25 years.
From Victoria Heritage Foundation
With Victoria’s population growing rapidly, the city water supply was quickly becoming inadequate, and 1909 saw construction of a 100,000-gallon concrete water tower. This must have seemed unsightly, among the villas and Garry oak meadows at one of the highest points of Rockland, but, along with the Smith Hill Reservoir, it constituted a stop-gap project to supply Victorians with water until the new system at Sooke Lake was built. The area around the water tower was known locally as Observatory Hill.
It featured a large, Queen Anne house called Observatory Villa with a 3-storey tower and a small observatory, which was built by amateur astronomer Oregon Columbus Hastings in 1890 (915 St. Charles Street, demolished). By 1903, the lane leading to the observatory had been officially named Observatory Hill.