The Legislative Buildings for the Colony of Vancouver Island were built here in 1859. Nicknamed ‘The Birdcages’, due to their quaint style, they were replaced in 1894 by the present buildings. The original Legislative Hall, meeting place of the first House of Assembly west of the Great Lakes, was preserved until 1957 when it was destroyed by fire.
Governor James Douglas was responsible for the construction of Vancouver Island’s first colonial administration buildings, commonly known as ‘The Birdcages’. The site he selected was on the south shore of James Bay, across the harbour from downtown Victoria. Before that the government offices had been housed in the log house built for Governor Richard Blanshard that stood outside Fort Victoria at what is now the corner of Government and Yates streets.
‘The Birdcages’ were officially opened on March 1, 1860. There were five structures altogether, including an assembly hall, an administrative office, a courthouse, an office for the commissioner of lands, and a building for the Treasury building. Their architect was H.O. Tiedemann.
There are many thoughts as to why these legislative buildings were nicknamed ‘The Birdcages’. There is a clue however in the October 23, 1859 issue of the Victoria Gazette, when someone describing the buildings wrote, “The first of the series of these structures, which resembles in its mixed style of architecture, the latest fashion of Chinese pagoda, Swiss-cottage and Italian Villa fancy birdcages.”
In 1893 the old buildings were moved to make room for construction of the present Parliament Buildings and eventually all but one were demolished. In 1957, on the eve of BC celebrating the centennial of the Fraser River Gold Rush, the last ‘Birdgage’ was destroyed by fire.