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Diana Bodnar

The British Columbia Parliament Buildings, edited by Martin Segger, Vancouver, Arcon, 1979, 88p.

This recent book on the history of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings in Victoria is of interest to the politician, scholar and tourist alike. Not only does it give to politicians, other parliamentarians and civil servants a sense of the many economic, political and philosophical forces behind the erection of the building in which they work, but it also accurately documents and perceptively analyzes the architectural forces behind its design. The book also serves as a verbal and visual introduction to the building to potential visitors as well as a valuable memento for those who have visited.

Following a supportive preface by Premier William Bennett, the book describes the construction of the Victoria building within the Canadian architectural context of the period 1875 to 1915. Several other legislative buildings were erected at this time including those in Quebec, Ottawa, Edmonton, Regina, and Winnipeg. We are given not only a brief history and architectural description of the British Columbia building, which was designed by Francis Mawson Rattenbury in 1893, but also a sense of nineteenth century taste and aesthetics. Spaces were smaller. Detail was extravagant. We become aware of the American and British architectural precedents and influences upon this building which were very much appreciated upon its completion. We are given a rare opportunity to view the building through the eyes of a late nineteenth century newspaper reporter. The book reproduces in full an 1898 account of a tour through the building. All the interior spaces are described in detail with respect to their design and function. Factual explanatory notes are supplied in the margin by the editor.

The following chapter proceeds to explain some of the political history, form of government, and legislative assembly procedures in British Columbia. The remaining chapters describe concisely but thoroughly the history of the first government buildings in Victoria, the competition which was held to select a new design, the biography and architectural work of the chosen architect, and the many craftsmen who were selected to add to the building their metalwork, sculpture, carving, painting and glasswork. The book concludes with a brief description of the restoration work which was carried out in the building after 1973. Two appendices list the many competitors for the original design and describe objects and areas of interest on the surrounding grounds.

This small, compact but well organized book contains a wealth of information. Unfortunately for some, there are no footnotes. However, a very adequate bibliography is presented in a narrative format as acknowledgements. The high quality paper and large print make it easy to read. One of the highlights of the book is the forty excellent colour photographs. There are numerous other sepia toned historical photos and drawings, and several black and white photos: Unfortunately, the illustration captions are brief or non existant. The book is available in hard and soft cover, the latter having a fairly durable binding.

Martin Segger, the editor, received his Master's degree in art history from The Warburg Institute, University of London. He now lectures in Renaissance and Baroque art and is Director of the Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery at the University of Victoria. As one of Canada's leading architectural historians and an active preservationist, he has written several books and articles on British Columbia architects and architecture. Other contributors include George Giles, F.R.A.I.C., former Deputy Minister of Public Works for British Columbia; Douglas Franklin. an instructor in architectural history, at Camosun College in Victoria; and Robert Watt, Chief Curator, Vancouver Centennial Museum. By selecting and combining contributors with different viewpoints and areas of expertise. Mr. Segger has put together a well-rounded publication.

The British Columbia Building. as one of the more historically and architecturally significant buildings in Canada, deserves the thorough and beautifully, illustrated treatment it has received in this book.

Diana L. Bodnar

Vancouver British Columbia

Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 3 no 3

Last Updated: 2020-03-03