The Coach House

by Eve Lazarus on August 21, 2011

When I was mapping out a walking tour of James Bay for Sensational Victoria not too long ago, I came across the Coach House, an early carriage-style residence tucked away at the point where Marifield Avenue runs into St. Andrews Street. It’s built on land that was once owned by Emily Carr’s father Richard, and a stone’s throw from Carr House on Government Street where Emily was born, her own house and the subject of her book “the House of All Sorts,” and the two houses owned by her sisters. I couldn’t find any mention of the house in any of the heritage inventory books, so decided to do a bit of research of my own.

The Coach House in the 1970s

Current owners Jackie and Martin Somers named it the Coach House and Jackie says that she’d always thought of it as belonging to a coachman because the story went that it was used as the coach house for a mansion on Douglas Street—in those days Douglas was called Katherine Street. As Jackie notes, what you see from St Andrews Street was originally the back of the house. The front has a pretty Tudor-style trim, which is now hidden by an ugly parkade. When the house was built pre-1900, Marifield Avenue didn’t exist—it would have been the driveway to Bishop Cridge’s house of the same name.

The Coach House first appears in the street directories in 1897 as the servant’s quarters for Castlewood, a mansion owned by William G. Bowman, proprietor of the Metropolitan Livery Stables on Yates Street. Bowman sold the mansion to Lt. Col. John A. Hall, a director of the Victoria Chemical Company in 1903 and in 1911 it was owned by Stephen Jones who also built and owned the Dominion Hotel (1876) at Yates and Blanchard. Jones lived in the house until 1940 where it looks like it was torn down to make room for the Bickerton Court high rise apartment building.

William Maddock, was a gardener and handyman for all three owners of Castlewood. He and his wife Lillian lived in the little house from at least 1897 to 1915—the last year the directory shows a separate listing.

The Somers’ bought the property from John Wilcox in 1974. John, who sent me the photo, had bought the house as a newlywed, and while doing work on it found several old Chinese coins buried in the dirt under the front steps. “On one occasion my wife and I heard what sounded like footsteps on the stairs leading to the top floor when we duplexed part of the home,” he says. “There was definitely no one else at home when we heard those sounds.”

The spirits had left by the time the Somers moved in. Jackie says when they renovated the house in the ‘70s they uncovered the original coach house doors in the wall that now faces Douglas.

I can’t find any pictures or a building date for Castlewood which changed addresses several times over the years. The mansion would have sat next to the notorious Colonist Hotel on the corner of Simcoe and Douglas and survived at least until 1940. If anyone has any information I’d love to hear about it.

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