The Old Fire Hall - 636 Yates Street
Victoria is riddled with buildings that have unique stories to tell and 636 Yates Street is no different. Today, one of our favourite places to visit for unusual snacks stands at the foot of the building in the form of The British Candy Shoppe. This cornucopia of 'sweets' is a throwback to a long tradition of candy stores. The esoteric merchandise is arrayed in large glass jars stretching from the floor to the ceiling and measured out by weight to eager customers. It's a very Victorian experience.
However, the building itself has a little-known secret. 636 Yates Street was the original fire hall of the Deluge No. 1 Company, a volunteer fire-fighting service that was in competition with two other private companies in the mid-1800s.
According to the book, Victoria's Landmarks by Geoffrey Castle and Barry F. King (1985), the fire companies all raised their operating revenue through subscriptions from "member's fines and penalties, and from public subscriptions." Essentially, in the event of a fire you'd only be rescued if you'd paid the bills.
The book goes on to describe the rivalry between the companies. Sometimes one company would sabotage the other's equipment to reach a fire first. There was overt and ostentatious pride in their uniforms. In some instances, the companies even turned their hoses on each other.
Eventually, the need for these private companies disappeared with the advent of citywide fire hydrants. The volunteer system itself was dissolved in favour of a regular standing fire service by the late 19th century.