History of 601 Superior street Victoria

A large house sits on the southeast corner of Superior and Government Streets. Its many additions give it a singular look. This is one of the oldest houses in Victoria.

Built in 1879, it was to be home for Martha and Dennis Harris. Mrs. Harris was the youngest daughter of Sir James Douglas. Mr. Harris worked as a professional surveyor.

Lot 1716, on which the house stands, was first registered in the Victoria Assessment Roll in 1876. In 1877 it was sold to Martha Douglas. In 1878, the year of the Harris wedding, the lot was transferred to Dennis Harris. Improvements of $1500 in 1879 indicate that this was the year when, under the direction of architect John Teague, the dwelling was constructed for the newly married twosome.

Although they had their lovely new home up Birdcage Walk (Government Street’s former name), the Harris couple chose to live in the large Douglas manor down the walk. (It was roughly where the IMAX Theatre is found today.) Martha’s mother, Lady Amelia Douglas, was widowed and Martha had been her last child living at home. Dennis was often away on his surveying work. It made more sense for the newlyweds to live in mother’s large house, and so they did from 1880-1889. All four of their children were born in this period. What a pleasure it must have been for Lady Amelia!

The Harris house ended up in the hands of tenants, but Dennis retained ownership. For two years Dennis Croft lived in the place. Then a Mrs. Fraser established a dressmaking business there. She took roomers in the spacious dwelling as well. Mrs. Fraser stayed until 1899.

The Harris family, after Lady Amelia’s death in 1890, moved to a palatial mansion they had erected, Easton Hall, at Burdett and Vancouver Streets. But they retained ownership of their house on Birdcage Walk at Superior Street. After ten years in Easton Hall, the Harris family moved to the Superior Street house, built for them when they were newly married. They took up residence in 1900, and they stayed the rest of their lives, celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary there in 1928. Harris died in the late fall of 1932, and Martha passed away a few months later, early in 1933.

Martha Harris was a noted weaver and artist in the textile arts. Daughter Hilda followed her mother in this talent and was a skilled spinner and weaver. She had a great musical gift as well. Hilda, who was never married, lived her entire life in Victoria, much of it in this home. The 603 Superior Street house continued as her residence after her parents passed away until her death in 1939, aged 54. Her brother, James Chichester, lived in the residence for a time in the late 1930s.

The City Directory, after Hilda’s passing in 1939, lists, in the 1940 edition, Miss L Patenauder at the address, and shows she was renting rooms. Similar entries occur until 1947. The 1948 entry shows the building being ‘occupied.’

From 1949 on, the entry is ‘Government Offices’ of one type or another. Until 1953 the Labour Relations Board had their offices in the dwelling. In 1955 the Department of Finance was occupant, and remained so until 1978. Beginning in 1974, along with the Dept. of Finance, rooms were available for travelling assessors at 603 Superior.

The 1979 entry shows the office as ‘vacant’ but rooms were still available. In 1980 the newly named Ministry of Finance appeared in the offices, with travelling assessors’ rooms available. The Ministry, with the assessors’ rooms, stayed until 1982.

This is a excerpt of and article written by Ted Ross of the James Bay Beacon for full article click here