More than three hundred distinctive fence-posts lining the Inner Harbour are direct descendants of turn-of-the-century hitching posts. Instead of preventing horses from wandering, today’s posts--also called bollards--prevent pedestrians from falling off the upper causeway and vehicles from entering legislature driveways. “The bollard we have now is a take-off from the old hitching posts,” Hector Furtado, City of Victoria streets manager explained. “The ring for the hitching of the horse became the point where we hang the chain.” The photos above show classic posts on Belleville Street across the street from the legislature.
In the 1800's and early 1900's, hitching posts were as numerous as parking metres are today. Saddle horses, horses pulling carriages and teams pulling wagons were “parked” by tying reins to handy trees and fences or to hitching posts made of wood, granite, concrete and cast-iron. Dylan, a twenty-first century Black Beauty Line carriage horse, shown left, waits for customers tied to the last remaining picturesque heritage post. “The horses are so strong they pull the old ones out,” city welder-fabricator Harry Szczyry explained. In 2007, all but one of the tourist carriage horses lining both sides of Menzies Street at the corner of Belleville are tied to new posts Szczyry designed. He buries reinforced pipe directly in deep concrete for extra strength, the same installation method used for 19th century cast-iron hitching posts.
“The original bollard had a long stem,” Furtado explained. “Workers would dig a hole, put the post in, level it out and fill it with cement. In the 1970's, we modified the mould and put a base to it.” From then on, Victoria Foundries cast bollards with square bases which were bolted into concrete. Some of the oldest bollards--without the bolt-down base described by Furtado--can be seen along the upper causeway on Belleville Street. The best view of a stem embedded in concrete is at the top of the stairs near the totem pole, where the usual round sleeve covering the base is missing from the top post.
As horses disappeared from the streets of Victoria, so did hitching posts. The simple iron rod with one ring which stood at the old Cormorant Street fire station near city hall is long gone. Decorative cast-iron horse-heads mounted on posts were popular with homeowners. The right photo shows one of two still on display near the old O’Reilly carriage house at Point Ellice House, which is preserved as a heritage museum. The last known city-pattern cast-iron hitching post, featuring two iron hooks and two rings, was photographed in 1962 on Quadra Street.
Three original hitching posts are still in place in city neighbourhoods. A granite hitching post with an iron ring remains on Rockland Avenue between Moss Street and Linden Avenue (below left) and an original concrete hitching post with iron hook and iron ring can be found at 721 Linden Avenue between Richardson Street and Rockland Avenue (centre photo). A hitching ring embedded directly in the sidewalk survives on the west side of Olympia Street, a quiet, one-block-long James Bay street west of Douglas Street and north of Dallas Road (right photo).
Though a second hitching ring reported to be downtown on Store Street could not be found, large sections of the street are lined with another heritage feature preserved from horse and buggy days. Metal carriage curbs were installed on downtown sidewalks to prevent wagon wheels from “jumping the curb,” Furtado explained. “Steel slips on steel.” On the west side of Store Street, between Johnson and Discovery streets, sections of the historic metal carriage curbing are visible in front of Street Link and Value Village. On the east side, metal curbing begins at Discovery and continues to Pembroke.
Since 1996, new city bollards and lamp standards have been made of aluminum by Achinback Industries, a local company owned and operated by Ron, Gord and Jim Betts. Achinback uses the same city-owned patterns passed on from earlier iron foundries. Aluminum is dramatically lighter and more “user friendly,” Furtado pointed out. “Cast-iron cluster light standards need a crane to lift, but one guy can lift an aluminum lamp standard.” When painted, cast-iron and aluminum bollards look identical. Szczyry, well aware that cast-iron bollards weigh 54 kg. (120 lbs.) while aluminum bollards weigh only 14 kg. (30 lbs.), played a joke on two city workers who assumed all posts were the same. Arriving at the causeway to install replacements, Szczyry made a show of easily lifting two aluminum bollards out of the truck, casually tucking one under each arm and strolling nonchalantly down the stairs while the other workers, very impressed with his display of strength, struggled together to carry one heavy cast-iron bollard. There is an easier way than lifting to tell posts apart. Ron Betts suggested using a magnet; magnets stick to cast-iron but not aluminum. A magnet test quickly proved all twenty-two bollards along Wharf Street at Reeson Park, south of Johnson Street bridge, were made by Achinback, while thirty-eight posts near the water below are older cast-iron.
Cars traveling north on Wharf Street regularly “wipe out” bollards at the Via Rail station as they turn left too fast onto the Johnson Street bridge, Szczyry says. A car hitting one bollard can snap off another six. The station bollards are the most frequently damaged in the city and the most expensive to replace because they are hand-painted in three colours to match the building, as shown in the photos above. Most bollards, lamp posts and other street furniture, are “powder coated” now, Furtado explained. “A magnetic powder is sprayed with a gun onto a bollard--like blowing flour on it--then the posts are baked in a big oven.” The result is “a beautiful surface, extremely durable.”
For well over a century, the distinctive heritage posts with round tops have been an integral part of the Inner Harbour scene, adding background texture and ambiance to thousands of photographs taken of the Fairmont Empress, the Legislature and other downtown features every year.