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Francis Rattenbury: Famous Architect & Murder Victim

Born in Leeds, England, Francis Mawson Rattenbury moved to the new Canadian province of British Columbia in 1891, where he won (despite having no formal architectural training) a competition to build a new legislative building in Victoria. Built on a grand scale in the Romanesque style, the Legislature (Parliament) Buildings opened in 1898 and led to more commissions. In Victoria, as Western Division Architect for the Canadian Pacific Railway, Rattenbury designed the château-style Empress Hotel, which opened in 1908, and the original CPR Steamship Terminal (1924). In Vancouver, he designed the Victorian Roedde House (1893) and the neoclassical Courthouse (1907) that serves today as the Vancouver Art Gallery. Then, as quickly as he'd become famous, Rattenbury and his architecture fell out of favor. Financial speculations led to conflicts with his business partners, and in 1923, he left his wife and two children for 27-year-old Alma Pakenham, an affair that led to public ostracism and contributed to his decision to leave Victoria and move to Bournemouth, England, in 1929. There, his relationship with Alma disintegrated as his financial problems worsened, and she began an affair with George Percy Stoner, her 18-year-old chauffeur. In 1935, aged 68, Rattenbury was murdered in his sitting room, suffering blows to the head with a carpenter's mallet from his killer. His wife and Stoner were charged, and Stoner was convicted and sentenced to death, although the sentence was later commuted to a life imprisonment (he served 7 years). Alma committed suicide a few days after the charges against her were dropped. The event was made into the 1977 play Cause Célèbre by Terence Rattigan.

Victoria's Architectural Charm

If you miss the old in Vancouver, you'll find plenty of it in Victoria. Victoria took the opposite approach from Vancouver and preserved nearly all its heritage buildings. As a result, British Columbia's capital, beautifully sited on its own Inner Harbour, is one of the most charming small cities you'll ever find (it has about 325,000 residents in the Greater Victoria area, compared to over two and a quarter million in Vancouver). The city's most famous architectural landmarks are the Empress Hotel, dating from 1908, and the Legislature Building, completed in 1898, both located on the Inner Harbour, the most visible spot in the city.

Most of the buildings in the downtown core are built of stone or brick, and most of them are low-risers (newer hotels being the exception). But wood was the primary building material for houses, and a drive through any of Victoria's quiet residential neighborhoods will provide an architectural panorama of residential building styles from about the 1880s onward, including many English-style "cottages" that were popular in the 1920s. Victoria's neighborhoods are enhanced by lovely gardens, mature trees, and landscaping based on English gardening styles.

Emily Carr: Visionary from Victoria

Victoria was the birthplace of one of British Columbia's most distinguished early residents, the painter and writer Emily Carr. Though trained in the classical European tradition, Carr developed her own style in response to the powerful landscapes of the Canadian west coast. Eschewing both marriage and stability, she spent her life traveling the coast, drawing inspiration from the land, seascapes, and native peoples for her vivid and striking works. In addition to visiting the great collection of Carr's paintings at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, you can visit the Emily Carr House, where she was born. The Vancouver Art Gallery also has a major collection of Carr's hauntingly evocative paintings.

Bill Reid: First Among First Nations Artists

William (Bill) Ronald Reid is the best-known of Canada's aboriginal or First Nations artists, and the man who helped to save and revitalize the traditions of Haida art and culture. Born in Victoria to a father of European descent and a mother from the Haida people, Reid first learned about his aboriginal heritage from his maternal grandfather, a Haida artist of great renown. While working as a radio announcer in Toronto, Reid developed his interest in Haida art and studied jewelry making. In 1951, he returned to Vancouver to help salvage many intricately carved totem poles decaying in abandoned Haida village sites and to aid in the reconstruction of a Haida village in the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology. Working in traditional Haida forms, Reid made jewelry of gold, silver, and argillite before branching out into larger sculptures. Visitors to Vancouver can see two of Bill Reid's most magnificent works -- the Jade Canoe, at Vancouver International Airport, is a large bronze sculpture of a canoe filled with human and animal figures; the Legend of the Raven and the First Humans, a Haida creation myth carved from Nootka cypress (yellow cedar), occupies pride of place at the UBC Museum of Anthropology -- and also visit the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, which showcases a selection of his work. Reid's work is also featured on the C$20 note in the Bank of Canada's Canadian Journey (2004) issue.

Native Art of the Northwest: A Culture of Carving

The art of the first peoples of the Pacific Northwest is colorful, distinctive, and absolutely unique. It is, in its essence, sacred art meant to provide a bridge between the spirit and animal world (through a shaman) and the world of humans. Pacific Northwest First Nations art was almost always carved from rot-resistant cedar wood (or alder wood) and brightly painted with natural pigments; hairlike strands of cedar bark were sometimes attached. Totem poles, the most familiar pieces of native art, were originally erected in front of village longhouses to identify clans, memorialize ancestors, and denote status. But the great carving tradition of the First Nations artists also includes dramatic and sometimes frightening ceremonial and transformation masks; drums and rattles; boxes, feast dishes, and spoons; and canoes and paddles. The distinctive carvings and painted surfaces memorialize myths and mythological creatures; spirits both good and bad; and familiar animals of the sea, sky, and land.

By the 1950s, after a century of physical and cultural decimation, the great carving traditions were on the verge of being lost forever. Efforts by Bill Reid, working with the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver and the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, helped to save major First Nations artworks and revive the carving tradition.

Figures that recur over and over in Pacific Northwest First Nations art include the mythological Thunderbird and the more familiar animals that native tribes encountered, observed, and hunted: Raven, Bear, Salmon, Eagle, Killer Whale (Orca), Beaver, Hawk, Owl, Kingfisher, Wren, Grouse, Frog, and Bee. Stylized masks represent humans and elements of the natural world (Sun, Wind, Moon). These spirits' images are often carved into masks (note that many variant spellings exist for these names):

  • Bakwas -- Wild man of the woods, chief of the ghosts
  • Dzunukwa -- Giant wild woman of the woods, bringer of gifts at the potlatch
  • Huxwhukw -- Cannibal bird
  • Kolus -- One of the great thunderbirds, ancestor
  • Kumugwe -- Lord of the Undersea
  • Noomis -- Ancestor, born an old man at the beginning of time
  • Nulamal -- Fool dancer
  • Pugmis -- Sea equivalent of Bakwas, collector of souls
  • Pugwis -- Messenger of the Lord of the Undersea
  • Pook-ubs -- Figure who is a victim of the sea with white body and skeletal face
  • Sisiutl -- Double-sided serpent with face in the middle

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