Victoria’s Temple of Poseidon

CPR ColumnsAs you enter Victoria’s inner harbor, you will see a beautiful temple for the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon. A row of thirteen Ionic columns with scroll-tops face the harbour. The building features carved heads of Poseidon and his symbols of tridents and dolphins.

This is the CPR Steamship Terminal designed in 1923 by architects, Frances M. Rattenbury and Percy L. James. The choice of a Neoclassical temple to the god of the sea spoke to the importance of the maritime influence on Victoria. The splendid heads of Poseidon were carved by Scottish sculptor George Gibson who lived in the Shawnigan Lake area.

CPR NeptuneGibson depicted Poseidon as a mature bearded man, as he is shown in ancient Greek art. Poseidon lived in a palace in the depth of the sea and rode over the waves in a chariot pulled by horses with golden manes and the tails of fish. As he approached, the sea became calm and the monsters of the deep played around his chariot. He used his trident to control storms, shatter rocks and shake the earth. Mariners sought his favour for safe sea voyages.

The CPR building resembles the Temple of Poseidon overlooking the sea at Cape Sounion in Greece. The temple, located on a headland overlooking the Aegean Sea, dates from about 440 BCE and is rectangular with rows of white marble columns standing out against the sky.

Local author Donna Lynch compared the CPR building with the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, Greece in her book, Vancouver Island Vs The World. Both temples were believed to have been built about the same time and by the same architect.

The spirit of place in Victoria is very much influenced by the sea. I’ll explore more of these marine influences in coming blogs.