Heritage Register
James Bay

120 Douglas Street
Beacon Hill School

Built 1914; 1978-79
Heritage-Designated 1985/Institutional, now Apartment

For: Victoria School Board

Architect: J.C.M. Keith
Contractors: Luney Brothers

120 Douglas


This originally-3-storey, hip-roofed, Italian Renaissance Revival-style building is topped by a copper cupola with a weather vane. Four large hip-roofed dormers were added when the building was converted for residential use in 1978-79. The side dormers are wider than the dormers on the front and rear; the dormer on left has two balconies separated by the exterior brick chimney. The compact, asymmetrical front and rear façades are divided into two unequal sections by three large, full-height brick pilasters. The wider sections contain four vertical rows of windows; the narrower section has the entrances with two windows above. The decorative front entrance has double doors and transom window with leaded art glass below the original name plaque. All the front and rear second floor windows are finished with blind arches in brick and topped with keystones. Small metal balconettes have been added to windows in the wider front and rear sections, as well as the windows on the left side of the building. The rear of the building is a mirror image of the front. The lower storey is clad in brick while the remainder is rendered in pebble dash stucco.


Prominent architect J.C.M. Keith designed Beacon Hill School. Keith arrived in Victoria in 1891 specifically to compete in the competition for Christ Church Cathedral which he won in 1892, although the cathedral was not begun until 1929. Meanwhile, he had a huge 50-year practice in residential and institutional design.

Beacon Hill School opened 1914 in a thriving residential neighbourhood with four classrooms and 137 pupils, under Principal Alexandrina “Lexa” Russell, who remained here until retiring in 1930. Lexa was born in Chatham, NB, in 1860, where she trained and began teaching in 1881. In 1888 she moved to Vancouver as that City’s first fully-trained teacher. She came to Victoria with her family in 1890, and attained a teaching position at the Girls’ Central School. As the city’s first Normal School-trained teacher, she held various important posts during her 40 years. After ailing for some time, Lexa died in 1937 at 76. Lexa’s younger brother, Ernest Howard Russell, graduated from Queen’s University with a BA, and became a professor at Victoria College of Arts.

Lexa’s successor was Kate Ford, an original staff member. Kate was born here in 1885 to pioneer Charles Edwin Redfern, a jeweller who came in 1862 on the Tynemouth and married Elizabeth Robinson in 1877. Charles was mayor of Victoria in 1882-83 and 1896-99. He was responsible for acquiring the City Hall clock. Kate married Cecil Ford of London, England, in 1906, but he died in WWI. She died in 1973 at 87.


Dwindling enrolment and increased operating costs forced closure of Beacon Hill School in 1972. The decline in enrolment was blamed on migration of the residential population to the suburbs in the 1950s, and the many high-rise developments in the area. In 1978-79 the building was converted into eight strata-title apartments. This innovative conversion was likely a first for this part of the country. The developer, Town & Country Realty, maintained the historic appearance of the building, including the retention of the original school sign. In 1979 the Hallmark Society awarded the developer for the sympathetic adaptive reuse.

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