Description of Historic Place
The Inner Harbour Causeway consists of a granite retaining wall and lower concrete promenade (known as the "lower causeway") that defines the edge of the Inner Harbour waterfront in front of Government Street in downtown Victoria, British Columbia.
The Inner Harbour Causeway is a monument to the development of tourism in the Inner Harbour Precinct. Constructed in 1903, the causeway's granite retaining wall allowed for the development of the James Bay mud flats and the subsequent construction of the Empress Hotel by the Canadian Pacific Railway, which established Victoria as a primary tourist destination on the west coast of Canada.
The heritage value of the lower causeway resides in its strategic role in the development of Victoria's urban environment, for the way it reflects the changing role of Victoria's urban environment, for its design, and for its use.
Completed in 1974, the lower causeway was the key recommendation, and the most tangible outcome, of Arthur Erickson Architects' 1973 Inner Harbour Study, commissioned by, and written in collaboration with the City of Victoria, to consider enhancing the living and working environment of the Inner Harbour as its role as a commercial port and industrial margin declined. This innovative study, the first to look at the entire shoreline of that area, provided design guidelines that could be used by the City to make the shoreline accessible to the public. The guidance is of interest for reflecting the spirit of the age, focusing on people, health and play rather than on machines, commerce and work.
Designed by Vancouver architect and waterfront design specialist, Norm Hotson, while at Arthur Erickson's office, and one of the last major projects engineered by City of Victoria staff, the lower causeway is of significance as a piece of enduring 1970s urban design. Its popularity as an open-air market, tourist destination, and attractive urban park are testament to the success of its design.
The form of the lower causeway is of value for the way it reflects the principles underlying Erickson's architecture. Spatially, the provision of a dedicated pedestrian route away from the traffic along Government Street, the creation of areas for events and people watching, and the integration of contemplative spaces, are characteristic of Erickson's landscape design at that time, as is the sculptural use of "sitting and walking" steps and tiers to define spaces. The trees and low hedges that provide shade and a windbreak, and the "mushroom lights" and contrasting paving material installed at the promenade edge to avoid the use of railings, are of interest for the way they illustrate the architects' lateral thinking on design issues.
The lower causeway has become a significant public space at the heart of the city, used by workers and visitors, market stall-holders, musicians and artists.
Source: City of Victoria, Planning and Development Department
The character-defining elements of the Inner Harbour Causeway include:
The 1903 granite retaining wall, cast-iron light fixtures and stairway to Government Street
The 1974 lower causeway, with original design elements such as:
- waterfront location
- public access by boat and on foot
- steps and tiers that create zones, including the pedestrian zone, gathering areas, and contemplative areas
- absence of buildings and signage
- integration with the fabric of the old stone causeway, including the visibility of the rustic stone revetment as a backdrop to the lower causeway seating, and the adaptive reuse of the old steamer steps to link the new causeway with the old
- uninterrupted views along the lower causeway promenade and between the trees and stone face of the old causeway
- trees in square planters to permit views of the Inner Harbour from the benches on the lower causeway, and from the parapet of the stone causeway behind
- curving shape of the causeway at the northeast and southeast corners
- paving materials, including the exposed aggregate placed concrete, the quartzite pavers at the water's edge, and the slate pavers in the seating areas
- benches on the upper tier, octagonal planters arranged in groups, mushroom luminaires, and lighting poles on the lower causeway
- careful positioning of elements throughout the lower promenade, including the alignment of trees, control joints and lighting poles, the centering of benches between the trees, and the even spacing of the lighting and step irons to the water