A monumental waterfront building, Customs House was built in 1914, on the massive granite foundations of the city’s 1898 Post Office.


The founding of Fort Victoria in 1843 as a remote trading post, a richness of natural resources and a series of gold rushes, led to rapid growth of the young colony of British Columbia in the 1800s.

The town of Victoria and Fort Victoria in circa 1860, looking north across the Inner Harbour from the top of the old Legislative Buildings. The James Bay trestle bridge on the right became the Causeway in the early 1900s.

Image PNX529 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum & Archives

Fire Insurance Plan from 1887 showing the north side of Victoria’s Inner Harbour. In 1893 the Government of Canada purchased area 27 from the Canada Western Hotel Company for $75,000, after plans for a grand hotel failed.

Plan: Library and Archives Canada

The northeast end of Victoria’s Inner Harbour in the 1880s. The bay of water to the right was filled in the early 1900s, creating land for construction of the Empress Hotel.

Image G-04633 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum & Archives


Built by the Government of Canada, the combined Post Office and Customs House sat on the area of land bound by Government, Courtney, Wharf and Humboldt Streets. Strategically sited between the business district, and the parliament buildings across the harbour, it was considered Victoria’s most impressive structure.

Postcard: Dorothy Mindenhall

View of the Post Office and Customs House, at top right of photo, from across the harbour in 1897.

Photo: City of Victoria Archives M06477

Details of the Victoria Post Office. Thomas Fuller served as Chief Architect for the Dominion of Canada from 1881 to 1896, designing about 80 combined post office and customs houses across the country.

Photo: Blackader–Lauterman Library McGill


In 1902 the wooden bridge across Victoria’s Inner Harbour was replaced with a stone causeway. Photo showing construction, with the Post Office and Customs House in the background.

Fire Insurance Plan from 1895. The bridge shown at bottom linked Victoria’s business district to the provincial parliament buildings on the opposite side of the Inner Harbour. The Post Office and Customs House, and Annex buildings, are shown in blue.

Plan courtesy of Royal BC Museum & Archives
Image A-04767 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum & Archives


Postcard of the Inner Harbour from circa 1910 with the Post Office in right foreground. BC’s Parliament Buildings are across the harbour and the Empress Hotel, completed in 1908, is on the left.

View from Post Office and Customs House construction site in 1896, looking across the Inner Harbour to the BC Parliament Buildings — also under construction.

Postcard: Clive Townley

View from the BC Parliament Buildings of Victoria’s Inner Harbour in 1902, looking towards the Post Office and Customs House. The bay to the right of the bridge was filled in the early 1900s creating land for construction of the Empress Hotel.

Photo: City of Victoria Archives M07175


The first Post Office addition enclosed the courtyard between the Post Office and Customs House Annex in 1908. This allowed for the Post Office’s new workroom.

In 1914 a second addition added two stories to the Annex. The design was intended to compliment, but not overwhelm, the visual impact of the 1898 Post Office. Interiors were significantly altered to reflect changing needs and few details of the original Annex remained.

Plan courtesy of Royal BC Museum & Archives

View of the addition from Wharf Street, before completion in 1916.

Photo: Library and Archives Canada PA-046711

View across the Inner Harbour from the Parliament Buildings in the 1920s. The Post Office and Customs House, with the new addition, is visible on the left.

City of Victoria Archives MO6728


A devastating fire started in the top floors of the Post Office and Customs House on January 18, 1937, damaging portions of the 1898 building. Repairs were made and postal service returned to normal within a day, but the federal government refused to make fireproof improvements.

This photograph illustrates the intensity of the Blaze that caused heavy losses to Government offices last Monday night. The picture was taken when the fire was at its height and shows the flames being driven over the roofing by the wind.

Daily Colonist newspaper, January 20, 1937, page 1

In 1956 the federal government demolished the 1898 Post Office to make way for a modern building.

Image I-31944 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum & Archives


In 1957 a modernist building opened on Government Street, attached to the remaining 1914 addition. Designed by an architectural firm specializing in hospitals, the new Federal Building and Customs House was disliked by locals. Critics felt the design turned its back on Government Street and did not suit the historic context of the Inner Harbour.

The Federal Building and Customs House in circa 1960, viewed from Government Street.

Photo: Clive Townley

Modern New Customs Building Soon to Replace Old Post Office.

Victoria Daily Times, February 8, 1956, page 21


In the 1980s downtown business owners petitioned the federal government to redesign the façade of the Federal Building. An architectural plan was released in 1988, opening up the ground floor with glazed additions for retail space.

Friends of Victoria façade proposal 1988.

David Hambleton Architect, Proposal, 1988

The ‘Friends of Victoria’ viewed the proposal as “abominable” and commissioned an architect to envision a recreation of the original façade. They stated “It is time to make amends for the heritage violation wreaked by Ottawa decades ago and provide once again a grand stately entrance to Victoria’s charming Old Town.”

Jensen Kew Architects, Proposal, 1988

By 1992 the federal government had refurbished the façade with controversial heritage–like fiberglass siding, pediments and finials. A 2014 Conservation Plan noted “the 1956–57 building is not considered historic and will be demolished.” The building was demolished in 2018.

Photo: Clive Townley


By 2013 the Government of Canada had vacated the Federal Building and Customs House, and listed the property for sale. A year later it was purchased by Cielo Properties with a vision to restore the historic property and create the premier residential development on the Victoria waterfront. After architectural and engineering assessments, it was determined that apart from restoration of the historic facade, the entire building would be replaced with new construction.

After architectural and engineering assessments the decision was made to demolish the 1957 building, shown on right.

Photo: Clive Townley

The façade of the 1914 building was retained as an important heritage connection to Victoria’s Inner Harbour and Old Town.

The original Gabriola Island sandstone exterior shows extensive wear and requires rehabilitation by a master stonemason. Upper walls are textured sandstone; the base plinth of the building is granite.

Photo: Clive Townley

Underground excavation for a residential and commercial vehicle parkade. The original buildings offered no off–street parking.

Photo: Cielo Properties


The new Customs House will once again link the Inner Harbour and Old Town. The design is contemporary in appearance but inspired by the heritage of the site’s original buildings. The 57 luxurious homes at Customs House will become known as Victoria’s most prestigious address and will offer a rare opportunity for premium waterfront home ownership.

Photo: Clive Townley
Cielo Properties

Now more than a century old, the iconic Customs House building will again takes its rightful place as an important part of Victoria’s architectural heritage.