Heritage Register
James Bay

421-31 Menzies Street
(ex-115-125, also 417-419-423 Menzies St)
Drill Hall & Ordinance Stores (& caretakers' homes)

Built 1891-93

For: Federal Department of Militia & Defence

Designer/Engineer: Henry James
Supervising Engineer: Francis Clark Gamble, CE
Contractor: Maurice Humber & Son

421 Menzies


This impressive complex is built of red brick with cut stone trim. The Drill Hall, which was originally two-storied, is the most prominent building. This symmetrical, now-three-storied, front-gabled, Romanesque Revival structure has five bays on both the front and the rear. The upper storeys of the five bays have round-headed windows capped by voussoirs and keystones. Many of the windows throughout the building were originally multi-lights. A shed-roofed structure between hip-roofed ends is attached to the full length of the building’s left side. The central front entrance comprises a wide, plain frieze, a cornice above a pair of windows, and truncated ashlar columns of sandstone either side of the door. There are sandstone-trimmed buttresses at the rear and right side, but some are now obscured by side additions. The foundation is of random, rusticated ashlar blocks of granite with sandstone quoins beneath a sandstone water table. The chimneys have been removed, but the roof is still slate.

To the right of the Drill Hall is a smaller, front-gabled, two-storey, symmetrical brick building with three bays and no foundation; they are joined by a two-storey pink stucco addition. A round louvred vent in the gable is above the now-bricked-in, segmentally-arched entrance door. The window sills and headers are sandstone. A third two-storey building to the right has six bays, is hip-roofed and asymmetrical. Its entrance is in the extreme left bay. The basement of random sandstone blocks still retains some patches of parging, marked to resemble more regular blocks. The rear right corner of 431 Menzies St is cut off at an angle; the rear itself is irregular. All windows have concrete sills and brick voussoirs. The chimney has been cut short.


In the 1890s Victoria was feeling left out by all the building activity on the mainland, and steps were taken to enhance some of the city’s institutional structures. When City Council discussed the possibility of a new drill hall in 1890, Ald. Wilson commented “the Dominion buildings in Victoria are the shabbiest government buildings in Canada.” After City Council approved the payment of $5,000 towards the construction of the new drill hall, plans were provided by the Militia Department for a large structure for the 5th British Columbia Artillery Regiment. Henry James, an engineer with the Federal Department of Public Works (DPW), designed the Drill Hall while with the newly-established Engineering Branch of the Department of Militia and Defence. Tenders were called in March, 1892, and the existing 1874 drill shed, was demolished. Largely through the efforts of Col E.G. Prior (729 Pemberton Rd / 620 St. Charles St, Rockland), Commanding Officer of the BC Battalion of Garrison Artillery, it was finally completed in 1893. The work was supervised by Francis Gamble, resident engineer with the BC DPW, and the drill hall was opened 24 January 1894 by Lieut-Gov Edgar Dewdney (1759 Rockland Av).

This building was also used as a community hall on Saturday nights to host local events such as basketball games, ladies’ hockey, girls’ fencing, regimental concerts and ceremonies, special events and balls on behalf of local organizations, children’s exhibitions, and Biograph films from 1900 (special matinees for 25 cents). On 13 November 1895 a State Ball was held to welcome the Gov-Gen and his wife, Lord and Lady Aberdeen.


The Bay St Armoury (713 Bay St, Burnside) was built in 1914-15, and in April 1921, the Drill Hall was handed over to the BC government. Although offices were inserted into the building, the heavy timber roof trusses are still intact inside.

*With research by Donald Luxton, & 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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