Photo: Courtesy Anvil Press

If Victoria were a person she’d probably seem quite proper, with her fine-boned Rattenbury buildings and penchant for throwing elegant high teas. But Victoria has her secrets, and writer Eve Lazarus details a few in her latest book Sensational Victoria: Bright Lights, Red Lights, Murders, Ghosts & Gardens.


As the title suggests, the book provides pages of interesting tidbits about the fascinating people who have enlivened the Garden City and surrounding area, from sea captains and pioneering madams, to more recent writers and entertainers such as Alice Munro and David Foster.


The book features fascinating photographs, both archival and contemporary, and an authoritative yet entertaining tone. Did you know, for example, that a 1914 cottage owned by artist Emily Carr was slated for demolition? Thankfully, concerned residents bought the structure for $1 in 1995, saving it from demolition. The relocated building now sits on private property not far from my home, yet I had no idea it existed. I also didn’t know that the Duck Building on Broad Street was once a brothel presided over by Stella Carroll. How about the fact that Agnes Bings was brutally murdered in 1899 after leaving Plymouth Bakery, the downtown Store Street building where Café Mexico stands today? 


Writer Eve Lazarus has long been fascinated by old homes. "On several occasions I’d visit homeowners to talk about their heritage garden or some famous person who had lived in their house, and would come away with a ghost, a madam, or a murder story that changed the structure of the book," Lazarus writes in her preface. 


There are also stories and images of the area’s legendary homes and gardens—including those associated with Alice Munro, Susan Musgrave, Robin Skelton, as well as some noteworthy people you may not have heard of, such as Mabel Fortune Driscoll, who survived the Titanic, or Sylvia Holland, the first registered female architect in B.C. The book profiles people, but also the places they inhabited, and will likely appeal to anyone who appreciates architecture and design. What better time than the Victoria Day weekend to find out more about her secrets?

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