‘Could see a plume of smoke’: 5 years since Plaza Hotel burned down lot remains empty

‘Could see a plume of smoke’: 5 years since Plaza Hotel burned down lot remains empty

It’s been five years since a raging fire gutted the Plaza Hotel in downtown Victoria.

“I woke up to the sound of large vehicles and I thought, ‘Oh they must be sweeping the street or something, right?’ And it didn’t stop,” said resident Tom Heemskerk on Tuesday.

“I peeped out my window and this entire block was full of fire trucks.”

The first fire alarm sounded in the adjacent Royal Victoria Suites at 1413 Government St. at about 5:20 a.m., on May 6, 2019, and Leigh-Anne Hall, who works in the vacation rental was there to witness all of it.

“I found out there was a fire and I wasn’t going to work so I came down to watch everything,” she said. “We were hoping that ours didn’t burn down or we’ll be without a job.”

Victoria Fire Chief Dan Atkinson, who was a deputy then, recalls his early morning drive to work when he learned about the fire.

“I was driving when I heard the initial calls for alarm bells just to the building to the south of us here,” said Atkinson.

“Alarm bells came in as the initial report, no fire reported. But as I was actually driving in from Vic West, I could actually see a plume of smoke coming up in the horizon and I knew instantly this was a lot more than alarm bells,” he added Tuesday.

“I knew we had a pretty substantial working fire on our hands.”

SEE ALSO: Century of memories up in smoke after Victoria Plaza Hotel fire

Over a million gallons of water and a total of 40 firefighters successfully snuffed out the flames on May 13, a full seven days later. After which, the property was turned over to the police to conduct their investigation.

Part of the investigation was the search for the building’s missing caretaker, Mike Draeger, who has been missing since the fire broke out in the early morning hours of May 6, 2019, and who lived in the otherwise vacant former hotel at 603 Pandora Ave.

Major crimes detectives who were working with the Victoria Fire Department have treated the case as suspicious but have not established a cause for the blaze to date.

Meanwhile, ‘Hampton Inn, Victoria Downtown’, a 12-storey hotel with 198 rooms, is envisioned to rise in the corner lot.

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Francis Mairet, a partner at Ocean Gates who owns the former Plaza lot, says the brand that they have chosen is a very family-oriented brand and not a luxury four star kind of a hotel.

“Hotel rooms in downtown Victoria are in short list; there is a demand from the travelling public and the city has a hard time to actually satisfy this demand, so Victoria needs more hotel rooms. There is no question about that,” said Mairet.

On Jan 29, 2024, Ocean Gate Developments submitted a proposal to Victoria’s Community Association Land Use Committee for consideration.

The proposed plan will open up the plaza toward the McPherson Playhouse and Centennial Square and reposition the building away from the corner of Government and Pandora.

Construction of the new hotel is pending approval from the City of Victoria.


Harry CorroHarry Corro

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