Heritage Register
James Bay

140 Government Street
(ex-8, then 588 Simcoe St, 136 Government St)
Woodland Cottage; Woodlands

Built 1861; 1909
Heritage-Designated 1976

For: James & Phoebe Bissett;
John & Emma Newbury

Architect: John Wright & George H. Sanders (1861);
Samuel Maclure (1909)

140 Government


This Italianate Villa-style house by Wright & Sanders, who had formed their partnership in 1860, was built of California redwood because the means to finish local lumber was not yet available in Victoria. It is a rare and valuable home, as one of the earliest architect-designed buildings in the city, and one of the few remaining structures by Wright & Sanders. The home relates well to nearby Carr House (207 Government St) by the same architectural firm.

The present façade has a wide, front-facing gabled central wing with a faux Palladian window above an offset angled bay to the left. To the left of this wing is a shallowly-recessed, side-gabled extension with a small, centrally-located, front-facing gable sheltering a round-headed window. To the right of the main wing is a deeply-recessed side-gabled extension; this narrow side gable, originally the front of the house which faced Simcoe St, has a Palladian window above an angled bay. Fronting this side gable and to the right of the main wing is the entry porch below a balustraded balcony. The porch and balcony have slender, lyre-shaped fretwork balusters unlike the original 1909 Arts & Crafts-style square balusters. The brackets on the porch post and pilasters are now similar to the original 1861 eaves brackets. The front door has Classical sidelights and transom. The chimneys are chamfered and corbelled with niches. Medium-width bevelled cladding is used throughout. The random stone foundation has quoins. A monkey puzzle tree in front adds to the period flavour and illustrates the Edwardian delight in the exotic.


Owners: 1861-89: James Bissett (b. PQ 1830-1904) and his wife Phoebe (née Dawes, b. Lachine, PQ 1831-1916). James and Phebe arrived in Victoria in 1860 with their first child on the barquentine Jenny Ford, which also carried sheep and mules. [Note James’s sister Mary also came with them; she married architect Herman Otto Tiedemann, who designed the law courts in Bastion Sq and the first legislative buildings (“Birdcages,” 501 Belleville St, James Bay)].

James’s father Alexander Bissett was Superintendent of the Lachine Canal from 1843-68, but James worked for the HBC. He was a senior clerk in the Lachine Depot of Montréal in 1853-59. He then became the officer in charge for the HBC in Honolulu on the Sandwich Islands. In 1860, when the company withdrew from there due to declining profits, James was tranferred to Victoria as Chief Trader. In 1861 he had Woodlands Cottage built on five acres fronting Simcoe St. In 1866-67 James was Chief Trader for both Victoria and Shushwap in the BC interior, and in 1868-70 for Esquimalt. In 1871 the family transferred to Montréal, where James became Chief Factor in 1872 until he went on furlough in 1880. The 1901 Canada Census listed him as a tailor in Lachine, part of Montréal. James and Phoebe are buried in Mount Royal Cemetery in Montréal, PQ.

The Bissetts continued to own this property until 1889, renting it out for 18 years.


Tenants: c.1881-86: Richard Wolfenden (b. Yorkshire, ENG 1836-1911) and Felicite Caroline (née Bayley, b. c.1856-1943) (see 120 Menzies St pg 13). Richard joined the Royal Engineers at 19, and in 1858 was one of 150 who sailed on the Thames City, captained by Col. R.C. Moody, to maintain peace during the Cariboo gold rush. At Esquimalt Harbour, they transferred to the Eliza Anderson and sailed up the Fraser River. Discovering there was not much peacemaking to be done, they built roads, developed trails and surveyed the City of New Westminster.

After the detachment disbanded in October 1863, Richard became Superintendent of the Government Printing Office in New Westminster, then Victoria when the seat of government was transferred here in 1868. He performed the duties of Queen’s and King’s Printer (563 Superior St, James Bay) until his death at 75.

Richard held his commission with the New Westminster and Victoria Rifle Volunteers, even after they merged with the Canadian Militia in 1878, and retired with the rank of Lt. Col. in 1888. He was awarded the Long Service Order in 1903.

Richard’s first wife, Kate Cooley, was born in Ashford, Kent, ENG. She arrived in Victoria on the Oregon from San Francisco and they married in Christ Church Cathedral in 1865. Kate helped Richard set up the printing office in Victoria. She died in 1878 at 39. In 1879, he married Felicite Caroline Bayley (b. Philadelphia, USA 1855-1943). Richard and Felicite’s last child, Madge (née Wolfenden, 1893-1992) Hamilton, was Assistant BC Provincial Archivist from 1934-53.

Owners: 1889-1934:
John Cowper Newbury (1862-1934) bought this house in 1889, and lived here with his father and siblings. His parents William (b. Bucks, ENG, 1837-1910) and Jane (née Cowper, b. Northants, ENG c.1837-1888) left England with baby John in November 1862, landed in Panama, travelled by rail to San Francisco, and steamship to Victoria in June 1863. William ran a saddle and harness shop on Yates St until retiring in the mid-1890s. John won the first Governor-General’s Award for BC on graduating from Victoria High School at 14. He began teaching at 18 in 1878 at Craigflower Schoolhouse. His parents and five siblings lived with him in the teacher’s accommodations above the classroom. In 1883 John entered customs; becoming Collector of Customs for Victoria from 1904 until retiring in 1922.

In 1909, John married Victoria-born Emma Frye (c.1869-1963), who was First Nations, and had had several previous marriages. John and Emma had the house raised, moved back from Simcoe St 50 feet, and closer to Government St, and the east side became the front façade. Samuel Maclure designed the alterations. John had previously subdivided his land: brother Cowper W. Newbury built 131-133 South Turner St on a lot behind in 1903; sister Jessie and her husband Harry Martin built 130 Government St in 1905. Later John and Emma moved to Saanich. John was a long-time member of the local militia and an excellent sharpshooter. He was an early supporter of the YMCA, and an avid horticulturalist.

Owner: 1934-87: Their son Cowper William Newbury (1910-1995) inherited the house and converted it to three suites in 1935, the year he married Doreen Victoria Campbell (b. Victoria 1914-2002). Emma moved into the front suite, John’s sister Janie Wilson (she had divorced her husband Jack) into the back one. By 1946, Emma was proprietor of the rooming house The Olivette at 924 Collinson St. She was an active Red Cross member during WWI, and a member of the Native Daughters of BC. Cowper and Doreen moved to Vancouver and sold the house in 1987.

In 1992 owners Jim Maurice and Chris Gay won a Hallmark Society Award for their restoration of this house. The design of the new porch, interior staircase and hallway was by Stuart Stark.


• James Bay History

• James Bay Heritage Register

• This Old House, Victoria's Heritage Neighbourhoods,
Volume Two: James Bay

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