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Heritage Register
Victoria West

223 Robert Street

Built 1903-04
Heritage-Designated 1974
National Historic Site

For: James & Ellen Muirhead

Architect: Thomas Hooper & C. Elwood Watkins
Builder: Duncan Gillman McBeath

223 Robert

ARCHITECTURE:

This single-storey home, built for $2,000, is a fine example of the transition between Victorian and Edwardian versions of the Queen Anne style. The ornate brackets, decorative shingles, and prominent two-storey corner tower, are Victorian, in contrast with the Edwardian Classical porch columns, narrow siding, and large central windows in the cutaway bays. The large, flat-topped, rectangular hipped roof originally had a widow’s walk. There are three pedimented gabled bays on the front and two sides, and two gabled roof dormers on the front and rear. The front and right side bays are angled and bracketed, the left is a shallow square bay. There are numerous eaves brackets surrounding the house. Queen Anne multi-panes decorate the central bay windows, the windows in the pediments, and the dormers, which have square Palladian windows. The inset front porch between the bay and the tower has sawn balusters and square panelled piers. A true Palladian window is located on the back wall of the porch, to the right of the front door. The cladding is decorative shingles in the gables and on the tower, with double-bevelled siding on the body. The foundation is brick, as are the three remaining chimneys. The decorative detail reflects the stock of catalogue ornament available through the family’s millwork business. The house, built on a subdivision of family property that stretched from Esquimalt Rd to the water, originally had magnificent sea views.

ORIGINAL OCCUPANTS:

1903-50: Accountant James MacLaren Muirhead (1871-1953) and school teacher Ella Grace “Nellie” Lowe (b. New Westminster 1879-1936) married in April 1903 and soon moved into their new home. James, a survivor of the Point Ellice bridge disaster in 1896, worked at the family mill until it was sold. He then worked for the City of Victoria treasury department, eventually becoming comptroller.

[Note: James’ father James Muirhead emigrated from Scotland in 1857, first to Eastern Canada before being lured to Victoria in 1862 by the gold rush. However when he arrived he found the excitement had died down and he went into contracting instead. In 1870 fellow Scot James G. Mann came here from the Cariboo and became Muirhead’s partner. They founded Victoria Planing Mills in 1875 at the north end of Store St on the water side. By 1891 they employed 100 men, and had a monthly payroll of $4,500. Muirhead & Mann supplied materials for building the Parliament buildings. The firm was later known as Muirhead & Mann Sash & Door Factory, They sold the firm c.1907. James’ mother Rebecca came with her family from Australia to California in 1850. Rebecca and James Sr. were married in Victoria in 1868, and c.1880 built their home at 527 Esquimalt Rd (see page 155) in Victoria West.]

James and Nellie Muirhead’s offspring were Lou, Dick and Elinor: James Louis “Lou” Muirhead (1904-1999) married American artist Dorothy Francis Heath Anderson in San Francisco in 1939 and moved back to Victoria in 1940. They and their son Michael lived at 223 Robert from 1941-47 with Lou’s father. Lou served in WWII as an officer in the Canadian Scottish Regiment, landing on Juno Beach on D-Day. Richard Hamilton “Dick” Muirhead (1910-1979), a BC Hydro electrician, married Freda Clark; he was active in the Gizeh Temple Shrine Band, Henderson Lodge AF&AM. Elinor Grace Muirhead (1912-1999) graduated in 1936 from Macdonald College near Montreal, and then worked as a nutritionist at Vancouver General Hospital. In 1941 she married Imperial Bank staffer Lawrence Judson Denton, whose family lived at 1803 Belmont Av, Fernwood in 1928-31. The Dentons moved to Penticton and Elinor worked as a dietician at Penticton Regional Hospital.

When Nellie died at 57, members of the King’s Daughters attended her funeral. James sold the house c.1950 and moved into Clovelly Private Hospital in Saanich.

OTHER OCCUPANTS:

223 Robert soon became a rooming house and eventually became quite run-down. The City, afraid of losing it to developmental pressures, designated it in 1974 as one of the first three designated houses in the City.

1976-2012
: Accountant Jim Lee bought it and in 1987 won a Hallmark Society Award for restoration. In 1991, unbeknownst to Jim or anyone in Victoria, it was declared a National Historic Site. It is one of the few privately owned houses in Canada to have this status.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION & IMAGES:

• Statement of Significance (Canadian Register of Historic Places)

• Vic West History

• Vic West Heritage Register

• Hallmark Heritage Society Archives

• This Old House, Victoria's Heritage Neighbourhoods,
Volume One: Fernwood & Victoria West


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