Splendor sine occasu is the motto on British Columbia’s coat of arms, and is found in many places within Victoria’s legislative buildings. The splendorous sun, setting into the Pacific Ocean washing coasts of mainland B.C. and its numerous islands, didn’t set on the British Empire during imperial times. The attractive coat of arms features shield with union jack and setting sun, crested with the Queen’s crowned gold lion. But the fierce wapiti stag and white bighorn sheep supporting the shield give it true local character, as do blooming branches of dogwood underneath and on the crest.
Young architect Francis Rattenbury entered and won the competition to build B.C.’s parliament buildings in 1893 shortly after his arrival from England, beating out 64 other architects, many greatly more experienced. Five years later, his "Imperial Garden of Eden", built way over budget, was ready for use. Rattenbury was to achieve further fame by building luxury Canadian Pacific Railway hotels, including the venerable Empress, just around the corner from Parliament, and lovely glass-roofed Crystal Gardens, a former bathing and amusement center built in1925.
Success didn’t bring Rattenbury happiness, however. After divorcing his wife and marrying his mistress, the much younger and talented Alma Pakenham, the couple moved to England. Sinking into alcoholism, Rattenbury was eventually beaten to death with a mallet by Alma’s teenaged lover. Alma committed dramatic suicide shortly thereafter, by stabbing herself in the heart and throwing herself into the River Avon.
Parliament is imposing from afar, viewed across a vast lawn and fountains, with its muted gray limestone and granite walls, arches and columns, and green copper domes. The tallest central dome is topped with a gold-gilt statue of Captain George Vancouver. A statue of Queen Victoria stands on a pedestal above street level at the edge of the lawns. Every night, more than 3300 light bulbs outline buildings, windows and domes of Parliament.
No less impressed by Parliament’s interior, we took one of the free tours that are offered every half hour during summer months. Tour guides range from the commonplace to would-be actors in period costume, affecting behavior and speech of imperial times. Beneath the gilded central dome lies an exquisite mosaic floor. Between the arched doorways are mural-style paintings depicting workers of the province, from farming and forest to fisheries. Virtually all the windows are stained glass and communicate some historically significant event or symbol.
On the walls near the entrance, hang 18 reproductions of architectural and technical drawings by Francis Rattenbury. In a nearby alcove, one can sit and view legislative sessions on a TV, beginning mid-September, when they reconvene. During summer, the red-carpeted multi-leveled legislative chambers sit empty.