The commanding stone structure on the southeast corner of Pandora and Quadra is not what it seems. At first it appears to be another member of Victoria’s congregation of grandiose heritage churches, each vying to outdo the others in scale and piety.
The building itself appears heavy, both in mass and solemnity. It’s a serious place for serious people performing serious tasks. It was commissioned in 1889 by the growing Victoria Methodist community—a non-conformist offshoot of the Church of England named for their “methodical pursuit of biblical holiness”—who had outgrown their original church building (where the CTV studios are now housed at Pandora and Broad). The original church had developed an impressive music program, complete with a full orchestra, and part of architect Thomas Hooper’s brief was to design the new building with splendid acoustics.
In 1925, the Methodists merged with the Presbyterian Church to form the United Church of Canada. As the Presbyterians already had a grand church building of their own, they found themselves with a redundant house of worship. In 1996, the United Church put one of them up for sale, leaving the choice of which building to surrender up to the buyer.
The Victoria Conservatory of Music happened to be looking for its forever home at the time, after tenancies in Craigdarroch Castle and St. Ann’s Academy. A building designed to exemplify music made the choice between churches an easy one, and the magnificent Casavant Frères pipe organ that backdrops the stage of the old sanctuary, now the Goolden Hall, must have made the location seem like a godsend.
The conservatory bought the property in 1997 for $2 million, the current price of a 60-year-old single-family home in Oak Bay, and retrofitted it with classrooms and offices. Today VCM comprises five unique schools. The classical programs now operate alongside the School of Contemporary Music. The Department of Postsecondary Studies prepares musicians for the business side of their career. Early Childhood Music offers a foundation in music for kids under one year old to age five, and the digitally focused School of Music Technology and Creativity approaches music-making forensically.