New Oak Bay archives, library partnership highlights pre-Prohibition hotspots

Aqua Vitae first in series of historical talks expected through GVPL

Glen Mofford and his book

Talk of favoured historic watering holes kicks off a new partnership with the Oak Bay Archives and Greater Victoria Public Library.

“It’s a new partnership between us and GVPL and we’re planning to have a number of talks each year focussing on local history in the Oak Bay area,” said Oak Bay archivist Caroline Duncan. “I think this one is an interesting one.”

Author and historian Glen A. Mofford offers insights from his first book, Aqua Vitae: A History of the Saloons and Hotel Bars of Victoria, 1851-1917.

“His talk is going to focus on specifically the Oak Bay locations. Hotels are important in the development of Oak Bay,” Duncan said. “He’s going to talk about the Mount Baker Hotel, Willows Hotel, Oak Bay hotel and talk about some of the social history around those hotel bars.”

The book cites Oak Bay’s Mount Baker Hotel as among the plush prior to the Empress Hotel completed in 1908. It was among the top four – the Victoria, the Dallas, the Mount Baker or the Driard House.

A graduate of Simon Fraser University, Mofford spent the last decade writing about BC’s historic hotels and associated drinking establishments, Aqua Vitae is his first book.

“It’s an aspect of social history that has been ignored,” said Mofford, who grew up in Victoria but now lives in Port Alberni.

For 17 years, Mofford combed through Royal B.C. Archives and documents at the public history room at the library in search of the stories behind some of the downtown core’s most popular saloons and hotel bars that operated prior to prohibition. The book offers a combination of true stories behind Victoria’s drinking establishments in their heyday between 1851 and 1917.

“The book isn’t just about a bunch of guys sitting and drinking in a saloon. It’s a real combination of things,” Mofford said.

“It goes from the very roughest part of town, which was Johnson Street, where, yes, there were a lot of fights and bizarre things such as raffles and rat races, right up to the Victoria Hotel and even the Empress is mentioned.”

Mofford hopes to publish a follow-up book on the beer parlours that sprang up in Victoria after prohibition in 1954.

Nov. 8 Mofford shares an afternoon of stories about the saloons and bars of early Victoria and Oak Bay.

This illustrated presentation starts at 1 p.m. in the meeting room of the GVPL Oak Bay branch.

Register online at www.gvpl.ca.

– with files from Kendra Wong/Victoria News