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Gorge Hotel Pub

Profile Image: Gorge Hotel Pub
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Gorge Hotel Pub

1075 Tillicum Road Victoria BC
Closed in the 1990's, now the Gorge Pointe Pub in the same location
*Activity on the Gorge from summers long, long ago and the first Gorge Hotel (1874-1923).
Long before the Gorge Point Pub was conceived and before the well-known California Missionary style Gorge Hotel in 1924 and the beer parlour added in 1938, there was the modest Gorge Hotel. Edward Watson and business partner John Detrick Johnson built the first Gorge Hotel near the Victoria Arm of the Gorge waterway. The “new and handsome hotel” opened on Wednesday January 7, 1874, with two nice parlours for the accommodation of the ladies, a ballroom and a dining room attached. There was also the bar, an essential addition to any fine hotel, complete with a billiard table “for the lovers of this game.”
The location for the new Gorge Hotel could not have been better nestled between the Gorge water way, a popular recreational area where Victorians spent much of their leisure time boating and swimming, and the acres of woods and grassy patches. The hotel quickly became a destination spot during these outings on the water where couples and families made a day of it bringing their picnic baskets which they spread out on the grass overlooking the scenic Gorge in the shadow of the new hotel. But this idyllic setting turned into a nightmare for one swimmer which almost ended in tragedy. It happened on a warm July afternoon when Mr. Alfred Wilkie, “a man who possessed a clear tenor voice,” and who certainly got to use it as he got into trouble while swimming in the Gorge. Wilkie got caught in the strong currents which made him panic. His screams for help were quickly answered by his fellow swimmers who swiftly came to his aid. One of the rescuers grabbed Wilkie by the hair as he was submerging into the foamy waters and pulled him up and safely out of the currents towards one of the nearby boats. A writer for the local newspaper caught the drama unfolding and remarked, “We shudder to think what might have been the consequences had he {Mr. Wilkie] had worn a wig.” It wouldn’t be the last time that people would get in trouble in the Gorge waters.
The hotel partnership between proprietors Watson and Johnson did not last long as Mr. Edward Watson died on August 29, 1874 from consumption. The long-time resident and former jeweller was put to rest in Victoria. J.D. Johnson was now the sole proprietor of the Gorge hotel, a position he would hold until he sold in 1883.
Normally a walk through the trails of the woods around the Gorge Hotel was a good thing. The pleasant and restful sounds of nature and the sun shining through the trees renewed the spirit. But a disturbing discovery of the body of a murdered Aboriginal man found in the bushes near the Gorge Hotel made the news in June 1877. Identified as Charley a member of the Kitimat tribe, the doctor announced that this unfortunate individual had met his end by having his throat cut. He had been dead for quite some time before the body was found. A similar story took place in the same woods twenty years later as reported in the Vancouver Daily World, “John Ross disappeared from Victoria 10 days ago. He was found dead in the woods near the gorge Hotel on Sunday. Near his body lay a knife, a coil of rope and a revolver with one chamber empty. He had evidently been in doubt as to which was the best way to perform the act and finally chose the revolver.”
These gruesome discoveries were the exception, as the area around the Gorge Hotel and waterway was a pleasant place to visit and enjoy for work weary Victorians. Special events took place there such as the annual regatta and various organizations held picnics complete with games and entertainment. Long before radio, television, the internet and Pokémon Go, people sought the joy and fulfilled their souls from the beauty found in the many local parks surrounding Greater Victoria. The Gorge Hotel sponsored many of these events.
By 1878 Proprietor Johnson was in financial trouble and the goods and chattels of the hotel went up for auction during a Sherriff’s sale. Everything was for sale including all four fenced acres that included two wharves, a large barn and a number of outhouses including the hotel. Not much was heard about the hotel until May 1883 when a visitor to Victoria wrote of her experiences on the Gorge, “Our mornings we spent rowing on the [Victoria] Arm, once going up the Gorge, where the stream narrows and falls some four feet, the constant changing currents sending the water boiling over the rocks. The scenery here is wonderfully beautiful and the old Gorge hotel, nestling among the shrubbery away upon the bank above the bridge, is grown all over with vines until what might be shabby, looks picturesque.” This description makes me think that the hotel did not sell but languished for a number of years untended.
But the following month, June 1883, it was announced that the Gorge Hotel and property had been sold to Mr. William Marshall for $3550. Marshall, with his wife Elizabeth, reopened the hotel and cleaned up the property and applied for a liquor license. Grading of the road and lessening of the bank outside the Gorge Hotel allowed easier access to the reopened hotel. The Marshalls had only owned the hotel for less than six years when William Marshall died during a trip to San Francisco. Mrs. Eliza [nicknamed “Aunty”] Marshall became the sole proprietor of the Gorge Hotel which she would operate for the next thirty years.
Each May 24th Victorians would celebrate the long-reigning monarch Queen Victoria on this day, her birthday. Mrs Marshall made arrangements for a special first class lunch for her guests and the general public culminating in a “social hop” in the spacious dance hall, renamed the William Marshall hall in memory of her late husband. The orchestra played on past midnight as the sweet sounds of strings glided along the water and followed the silver moon lite shores.
This event was one of many put on by Mrs Marshall and her staff over the years. Other organizations rented Marshall Hall and put on their own private dances such as members of the Robbers Roost Campers, who entertained their friends and members where twenty couples spent an enjoyable evening dancing to midnight which kept the bartender and waiters busy.
During many of these events, special raffles were held. One of the more significant prizes at these regular raffles took place on July 30, 1906 where ticket holders had a chance to win the Winton Automobile that had recently came first in a race down in California – valued at $4,000. Needless to say, that raffle, which was advertised as far away as Greater Vancouver, attracted record crowds.
But along with the gaiety and joy experienced at the Gorge Hotel and its grounds came the ugly side of society. On the evening of February 27, 1908 two masked bandits burst in on Mrs. Marshall as she was relaxing in the Gorge Hotel Bar. Initially the robbers thought she was alone, but in the shadows of an alcove was Mr. Richard Dancey, a motorman employed the past eight years by the BC Electric Company. Dancey was changing a record on the gramophone when the two robbers burst in. A startled Mrs. Marshall called out for Dick Dancey who jumped out of the shadows startling one of the robbers who shot at Mr. Dancey and the bullet entered his neck which knocked him to the floor. Meanwhile the other robber forced Mrs. Marshall to open the till where he grabbed at the money in the till then both quickly ran off into the night. The whole incident happened in less than two minutes; that’s how quickly life changed for the wounded Mr Dancey. The police arrived shortly after being called and Mr. Dancey was still alive but with a bullet lodged near his spine as the shot entered his lower neck and went down and back into his body. Mr. Dancey slowly recovered over the following three weeks while in the St. Joseph’s hospital. The doctor did not wish to operate until Mr. Dancey had gotten some strength back after losing so much blood. The two thieves were never caught and brought to justice in spite of a $1,000 reward with an additional $250 reward offered from the BC Electric Company.
A few years later Gorge Hotel bartender George Hanbury was assaulted by a customer while tending bar. Mr. H. Morgan did not like the fact that bartender Hanbury cut him off because he felt that Morgan had had too much to drink. So he decided to punch the bartender into serving him – which never works out well. Morgan was found guilty and ordered to pay a $20 fine and was probably barred from the Gorge Hotel for life.
On September 4, 1915, long-time owner Mrs. Eliza ‘Aunty’ Marshall died. Remarks during her eulogy mentioned that Eliza was a shrewd business woman that possessed a big heart who was always thinking of those in need as opposed to her own needs. She rarely took time off over the past thirty years while she ran the Gorge Hotel and died at the age of 53. The Gorge Hotel was sold to the Ganner Brothers.
Raymond and C. Ganner operated the hotel from 1915 and into the prohibition years 1917 to 1921. By 1923 well known hotelman George “Joker” H. Paton purchased and operated the Gorge Hotel. Paton would go on to operate a number of beer parlours including the Halfway House and the “Joker’s Club” in downtown Victoria. The first Gorge Hotel met its fate, like many great old hotels, in a fiery end – it was destroyed by fire.
For forty-nine years the original Gorge Hotel and Marshall Dance Hall was a fixture in the Gorge-Craigflower-Tillicum area of Greater Victoria, “When Esquimalt was an Imperial Naval Station and crews of the visiting warships celebrated May 24th on the Gorge water, the Marshall Inn (Gorge Hotel) was the centre of service was famous.”
It wasn’t long before the second Gorge Hotel would be built near the original and the saga of that establishment would last for the next seventy years. But that’s another story.* By Glen Mofford
Closed / Inactive
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