As Victoria gets ready to celebrate its 150th birthday, we find ourselves reflecting on the history that brought us here. Victoria originally started out as Fort Victoria in 1843, and slowly as the years went by began to grow. Very little of the original structures and buildings remain from this period, and any time we have a chance to be part of preserving and sharing our history we really enjoy doing so.
We’re taking a look at one of these historic old homes in today’s post, by visiting TLC The Land Conservancy of BC’s wonderful classic home the Ross Bay Villa. This old character home was originally designed in a Gothic Revival style by John Wright, one of the earliest architects on the west coast of North America. He is responsible for designing many of Victoria’s earliest buildings and it’s interesting to note that they are all preserved as either historic or heritage sites. He also designed many buildings in San Francisco that have since been destroyed by fire and earthquake. The house features a double-flue chimney which is one of his hallmarks. The first residents of the house were Francis (Frank) and Anna Roscoe who moved in presumably under lease in the summer of 1865. Their first child, Mary, was born in the house that August. Roscoe served as MP for Victoria during the 1870’s and ended up stepping aside for Sir John A. MacDonald who went on to become Canada’s first Prime Minister. This is one of the very first homes built in the Victoria area and is one of less than 12 remaining homes from the period.
This home was almost demolished in 1998/1999 and only because of the care and stewardship of TLC was this home saved from a date with a wrecking ball. Over 10 years has gone into its restoration at this time, and further work remains. Our recent blog post “A Project Of Love” featured the ongoing work of a team of talented volunteers who have been working tirelessly since last fall to recreate an authentic oilcloth floor covering for the foyer in the home. This oilcloth piece will be ready for the Canada Day Lawn Party at Ross Bay Villa, hosted by TLC.
Two of the rooms inside have been restored to completion, and TLC has been working on the outside grounds as well in an effort to recreate the original gardens and grounds of the home. Incredible amounts of effort and research were done to identify the original footprint for the gardens and their features. As a result, we were thrilled to have a chance to attend and photograph the commissioned archeological dig underway. The group has been focused not only on restoring the original grounds, but have also been trying to find any artifacts from the period that may have been left behind. TLC is working in conjunction with the Victoria chapter of the Archaeological Society of B.C. on this project, which seeks to uncover clues about life at the Villa in the late 1800’s.
Once again, we find ourselves amidst a group of dedicated and passionate volunteers who go about their work with enthusiasm and a smile. In today’s age where we find ourselves all running through life at high-speed, it’s really inspiring and wonderful to have a chance to take pause and enjoy watching people with a singular focus and drive working on such truly important projects. If not for the caring of such groups, our heritage and history would easily disappear in a cloud of dust as new developments spring up.
There is no iPhone App for this work, no “Easy Button” to press to make it all magically happen…this is the tireless work of skilled and talented archeologists busy at work. Each square foot of material brought up from the ground is passed through a manual filtering process in an effort to separate dirt from artifact. To the layperson, much of the material brought up looks like simple dirt, but to the trained and skilled eye of these people artifacts and interesting items begin to emerge.
From talking to the team at work, we understood that all sorts of interesting things have appeared. The work is difficult due to the fact that the home is today right in the middle of Victoria proper, and countless families have lived here and used the land since the 1860’s. We were told of how over the years, rototilling has resulted in the layers becoming somewhat blurred, causing toys and glass from the late 1800’s to be mixed in with modern-day flotsam and jetsam. The identification and cataloging of such things is something that is difficult to truly fathom as you watch these people carefully going about their work.
It was a real highlight of our spring to have a chance to attend the archeological dig at the Ross Bay Villa. Those of you who follow our blog regularly know of our deep love for the history and heritage of Vancouver Island and BC. It’s really something special to find a gem like the Villa here right in the heart of the city that for all intents and purposes is much like stepping through a time portal to a period almost 150 years prior. Absolutely no detail is too small to be overlooked by the group charged with this intricate work, and the results really reflect this care.
As we mentioned above, the Canada Day Lawn Party is going to be a mighty exciting day. Each step forward with the restoration project at the Villa brings us all one step closer to being in direct touch with our immediate history, and those who came before us and were responsible for settling and creating the area we now call home.
Let’s head back inside for a brief look at the completed Drawing Room at Ross Bay Villa. The day we attended the archeological event, scheduling issues precluded us from performing a full photo-shoot inside, but we are working with TLC to arrange a date to return soon to capture a detailed set of photographs of the two completed rooms in the house.
The amount of effort that went into sourcing and acquiring this perfect reproduction of the original wallpaper is astounding. All the furniture you see here was a result of gracious donations from benefactors, and it all comes together to really create a strong sense of authenticity. Just behind the open door in this photo is an area of the wall that is covered in plexiglass showing the various layers of original wallpaper from the era; a wonderful find that is delicately preserved and displayed for all future generations to enjoy and learn from. There were more than 120 different wallpapers found in this house!
The beauty of the sitting area in the room is breathtaking. This antique tea set heralds us back to the late 1800’s and immediately creates images of beautiful ladies in flowing and elaborate dresses and hats as they sit and talk about society and the happenings of the day. Time slows down here, and within a matter of moments you completely forget that just outside the fence is a busy and bustling modern city, complete with all its trappings.
As we step outside to enjoy the gardens and lawn, we can’t help but be amazed at what we find. Several of the original fruit trees are still here, including an old Wellington apple tree that stands in front of the house, albeit with a little help. It is very likely that these trees will continue to thrive for another 25 years or more. What a truly magical place.
We hope you’re enjoying your tour of the Ross Bay Villa with us. If you happen to be hopping by, put it on your “to do” list to visit this wonderful home. Please stay tuned for our next installment, and thanks for popping by today! And in closing, we’d like to mention that we really do love to hear from all our visitors, so please leave us any comments you may have!!