The History of Hostelling: HI-Victoria
The goal of this series is to help people better comprehend Hostelling International’s mission, to see beyond the cheap sleeps and to understand the greater ideals behind hostelling.
Excerpted from HI’s book History of HI-Canada-Pacific Mountain Region- Celebrating 75 Years of Hostelling in Canada, by Jon Azpiri.
Victoria has always been an important part of hostelling history in BC. Back in the 1930s, Victoria, along with the nearby town of Sidney, housed the first two hostels in the province.
Today, the provincial capital is home to HI-Victoria, a cozy hostel located in the historic city centre. The building was built by local businessman Sidney Pitts in 1889 and was one of the first of a new generation of brick buildings in the city that were replacing previous buildings that were made of wood.
Pitts opened a wholesale store that sold produce, groceries, and provisions. Many of those outfitting themselves for the Klondike Gold Rush bought their supplies there. Just down the road was the old "Customs House" where local businessmen and prospectors had to stake their claims and prove their intentions.
The building switched hands in the 1960s and was taken over by the Salvation Army, who used it to provide temporary housing for those in need.
In 1983, the Canadian Hostelling Association - BC Region bought the building from the Sally Ann. After undergoing some major renovations, the hostel opened in 1984. Part of the building also housed the "Pack and Boots Shop," which sold outdoor equipment to hostellers and the general public.
Since then, the building has undergone more facelifts. In 1991, the Canadian Hostelling Association - BC Region restored some of the building's historic elements, stripping off stucco to expose the beautiful brick façade and arched windows. The stone and brick cornice work at the top of the building was also replaced. Not every change was cosmetic. The building also underwent several seismic upgrades.
More renovations are in the works. Most of this work will concentrate on the interior, providing a more modern and comfortable facility for guests. More seismic upgrades are also planned. One part of the building that won't be touched are a few old pictures of the building from the 1890s hanging in the entrance hallway, a small reminder of the building's ties to Victoria's historic city centre.