Things You Didn’t Know About Victoria

Matt McCormick


This is my 7th Toastmasters speech from the Competent Communicator’s manual.

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Thank you Madame Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and welcome guest.

Do you know what I like about Europeans? They know their history. Just look at Graham here. Graham can probably tell you everything about British history - all the relevant and irrelevant facts dating back hundreds of years. I lived in Europe for a year after university and I realised this isn’t unique amongst Europeans and British.

Most of the friends I met there could tell me all sorts of details about their hometown. They would invite me to their hometown for a day or a weekend and as we’d be walking around they’d point out “Oh this building was designed in 1405 by Sir Black” or whatever. “This statue was donated to us from Italy in 1692.” And I would ask them “How do you know all this stuff?” and they’d say “Well it’s my hometown, of course it’s my duty to know all this stuff.” And I think, well, here in Victoria I don’t know anything about my hometown. That’s one of the differences between Europeans. They’ve lived there their whole lives and their family may have been there for generations whereas here not many people stay in Victoria. For instance, how many people were born in Victoria? Two people. So Victoria’s a very transient place and I don’t know much about it. So for this topic of researching your topic, I thought I would research a little about Victoria.

Most of the stuff I do know about Victoria comes from walking down Government Street and as I walk along the streets, the Kabuki Kabs go by - the little peddlers - and so for a few seconds I’ll hear them explaining to the tourists some interesting tidbit of information. Over the years, I’ve gathered a little bit of history that way but still not really enough. And I don’t know if it’s true. Sometimes I think they’re just making it up. They could be just telling stories to the tourists to get more tips.

So one story I hear sometimes is that the Parliament Buildings were designed by someone who came over from Britain who had no training in architecture, he lied about buildings that he developed in Britain and then he was murdered by his wife. So I wanted to find out if this was true or not.

In fact, it is partly true. The Parliament Buildings were designed by Francis Rattenbury. He came over from Britain to BC in his 20s. At that time the government had an open competition for designing the Parliament Buildings. Anyone could enter with their designs. He entered and he beat out almost 60 other applicants. He didn’t sign his name but he submitted it under a pseudonym called ‘A B.C. Architect.’ He did, however, have a little bit of training. He had no formal education in architecture but he had done an apprenticeship with a firm in the UK for about seven years before coming to BC. However, beating out 60 other people is not that easy so maybe he did have to fib a little bit on his application. I never found that out.

After designing the Parliament Buildings - after building them - he went on to do a number of other buildings in Victoria including one of the other famous buildings, the Empress. He was commissioned by the Canadian Pacific Railway to do that and he was also designed the old Carnegie Library on Yates Street on the corner of Yates and Blanshard and the old Bank of Montreal on Government Street which is now the Irish Times as well as Crystal Gardens. So he had a big impact in Victoria for developing our architecture.

Unfortunately for him, he never really found success after Victoria. He started to…His personal life started to come unravelled a little bit and in his 40s he divorced his wife to marry his 27 year old mistress at the time or girlfriend. He left his children and his wife and they went back to England.

At the time he was going through financial troubles through investing in poor business ideas and whatnot, and that continued in England at the time. After about 10 years his wife, kinda did the same thing. She had a ‘mister’ who was actually their 18 year old chauffeur. And they formed a plot to kill him so that they could be together. They actually did murder him, 10 years after they were married, and he - the chauffeur - ended up going to jail and his former wife committed suicide a few days after the trail was over.

He was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in England, until just a few years ago when a family friend finally put up a tombstone for him.

So this is the man that helped develop Victoria around here - our designs. He was a cheat and squandered all his money.

In a way it’s kind of fitting that he designed the Parliament Buildings.