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Pinehurst: Castle By The Sea

By Doreen Marion Gee

There were monsters behind that fence. Dead eyes leered at me as glints of fangs moved through the tall grass. Fenced off from the back of my childhood home in James Bay was a mysterious forest with a dark castle called Pinehurst. As a child, I imagined scaly creatures slinking up that eerie tower. In reality, the story of Pinehurst is just as fascinating as anything my mind could conjure. The Pinehurst legacy spans over a hundred years of James Bay history. Pinehurst went from being the palatial playground of the wealthy and powerful to a mere shadow of its former self. Along the way, it was the colourful characters that gave it its intrigue and character. Famous people walked its halls, weaving tales of adventure, triumph and loss.

The grand mansion at 617 Battery Street was built for William J. Macaulay in 1889 at the outrageous price of $25, 000.00. The original estate went down to Dallas Road with its entrance there. It had a large conical tower, eighteen rooms, nine fireplaces, and a conservatory. Macaulay was a wealthy lumber baron and banker when he arrived in Victoria in 1888. He bought and developed the Chemainus Mills and purchased 100,000 acres of Island timber land. Another achievement was his formation of the Victoria Lumber and Manufacturing Company. The Macaulay son, Norman, was caught up in the Klondike Gold Rush. According to the Colonist of that time, he purchased four tons of butter to be transferred by steamer, horses and dog sleds to Dawson for his hotels and other ventures in the North.

Pinehurst's next owner was Dr. George. L. Milne, who made a huge imprint on the history of James Bay and Victoria. In 1884, Milne was named Medical Health Officer for Victoria. In 1892, the smallpox scourge struck Victoria, the same year that Milne took over Pinehurst. A dispute with the Provincial Health Officer over the epidemic forced him to resign. Milne became medical officer and immigration agent for the Dominion Government from 1904 - 24. During that time, he collected the notorious Chinese Head Tax. He checked out new arrivals at the Immigration Building on Dallas Road, where any suspicious visitor was detained, including diamond smugglers. Milne helped to found the Royal Jubilee Hospital and was director of the first street railway. He was an influencial politician, as president of the BC Liberal Association and as an elected member of the BC Legislature in 1890. Milne resided at Pinehurst (and summered at Becher Bay) until his death in 1933.

After this glamorous era as a venue for extravagant garden parties for the rich and elite, Pinehurst started a slow decline. It shrunk from a magnificent James Bay estate to an apartment building. It fell into disrepair when the estate was subdivided and sold off and the building converted to apartments. In the mid 1940's, Pinehurst was owned by Walter and Mary Reinhard and then by Larry and Irene Lee from 1956 to the mid 1980's. The Lees named it the Westpark Apartments. Despite strong opposition from Lee in two City Hall battles, Pinehurst was given Heritage designation on August 14, 1980. In 1985, Pinehurst became a CRD subsidized housing development.

Pinehurst with its unique tower is still a visually impressive piece of James Bay history. It has paled from its original glory, but not in its importance. Just like the unique tiles that were placed on its fireplaces about the tales of Sir Walter Scott, Pinehurst has its own remarkable story to tell about our early roots and the pioneers of this fledgling city. The majestic mansion remains a seaside castle over a rolling ocean and sunswept sky.





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