Francis Mawson Rattenbury was a true character, one who left his indelible mark on our city’s landscapes even though his time spent on the west coast of Canada was mired in controversy.  Eventually leaving BC to start a new life with his new wife, his demise was both shocking and unexpected as he was found in his sitting room with blunt force trauma to his head, all due to the storied life he led and all the hullabaloo that surrounded it.  That proverbial saying “truth is far stranger than fiction” can find no better roots than in the life-story of Mr. Rattenbury himself.

Nanaimo Court House - Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Nanaimo Court House – Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada –

The Nanaimo Court House is a building that has beckoned me like a moth to the light for years now.  It seems every time we visit Nanaimo I am at the very least passing it by, always on the lookout for a fresh perspective or composition.  Little did I know that our latest foray into the city would result in me going down an unintended rabbit hole of discovery.

I have an incredible love for the dramatic heritage architecture found here on Vancouver Island.  Year of weathering coupled with incredible architectural details has left a fingerprint on our cities that will not be forgotten as long as the buildings remain.  Little did I realize that my love for this architecture has been forming a specific taste in the past couple of years, and after this particular adventure I am beginning to unearth a fascination for the work of Mr. Rattenbury, even though his story is somewhat sordid for the times he found himself living in.

Originally built in 1895, four short years after arriving on the west coast, today the Nanaimo Court House is on the official Heritage Register as an important landmark and icon for the Nanaimo area specifically, and Vancouver Island as a whole.

“It appears that the heritage portion of the court house is the oldest operating court facility in British Columbia,” said Dave Townsend, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney General.

This quote printed by The Daily News (Nanaimo) on is just a snippet of the fascination that you can find while delving into this building’s storied past.  Even today, contemporary stories of drama and wrongdoing unfold in these old hallways and rooms, adding layer upon layer of history to a place that already holds it’s own in this regard.

British Columbia Parliament Buildings - Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

British Columbia Parliament Buildings – Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada –

I believe for many people who are a fan of this type of subject, the British Columbia Parliament Buildings are his most famous buildings, forming not only an integral part of our provincial government but also creating a landmark and icon that are part of the very character of the city itself.

The Empress Hotel - Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

The Empress Hotel – Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada –

What I didn’t fully appreciate as I set out to research the Nanaimo Court House was it’s deep ties right back to Victoria.  The Empress Hotel is a destination for both locals and visitors alike, and is another terrific example of the dramatic work that Mr. Rattenbury created.  It seems that even though his personal life was in somewhat of a shambles at various stages of his life, his work has incredible staying power in the minds and imaginations of everyone who sees it.

The recent colonial history of Vancouver Island only really dates back about 150 years or so.  I find it amazing beyond description the incredible history and stories we’ve amassed in such a short period.  It seems that no matter where you go on the island, there is a terrific story…  and usually a story that is a little hard to believe at first glance.

As you are out and about exploring your own area, keep an open mind and an eye out for the unusual.  A healthy sense of curiosity can lead you down the most amazing pathways, one that will result in a personal connection that will remain with you.

Thank you for your kind visit to The Hollow here today, we really do appreciate it.  As always, we love to hear from our visitors so please feel free to leave us any comments you may have below.

  1. avatar ehpem says:

    Nice shots Toads. You probably know of his residence, now a school, on Beach Drive. But if not, you might want to add it your collection of Rattenbury buildings to photograph.

    • Hiya Ehpem!! Thanks so much for popping by The Hollow once again, we really really appreciate it! NO, I had no idea that the school was Mr. Rattenbury’s house!! It’s now on my list for a visit at some point this summer, I’ve gotta shoot that, it’s such a lovely facility! Thanks a ton for sharing that incredible info and for popping by and commenting, we really really appreciate it!

    • I actually made some time this weekend to pop by his original residence and capture some great shots, I’ll be publishing those soon! Thanks again for the lead on that ehpem!

  2. avatar Frank King says:

    Nice photos and I’m loving the essay. 🙂

  3. avatar Edith Levy says:

    Great shots as usual Toad. I love reading the history on this.

  4. Great work I especially like the Empress Hotel : ) nice work

  5. avatar Len Saltiel says:

    Terrific write-up and images Toad. I have been in two of those buildings and they are quite beautiful.