Early Courtenay existed mainly east of the Courtenay River, around the site of the Courtenay Hotel, which still stands on what is now known as the Old Island Highway. There were barbershops, blacksmiths, a laundry, a bicycle shop general stores and grocery stores. There were several livery stables which provided all sorts of transportation. The Agricultural Hall was on the site of the present-day Lewis Centre, and was the centre of many of the town’s activities. Downtown Courtenay’s later development on the west side of the Courtenay River can be traced back to Reginald Pidcock, and his decision to start a lumber mill on the west side in 1865. This necessitated the building of a bridge to access the mill. In 1874 the bridge was completed.
The development of “New Courtenay” on the other side of the river happened almost by chance. Mr. Pidcock owned all of the land on the west side. He needed money to pay for an engine for a steamboat he had built, “The Daisy”. When he ran into trouble raising the $3,500, Joseph McPhee offered to buy part of Mr. Pidcock’s land.
Present-day 5th Street, the centre of downtown Courtenay’s shopping district, was originally called Union Street. It marks the dividing line between their original properties.
Over the next few years Courtenay slowly spread west, on either side of Union Street. The construction of a roadbed by Comox Logging and Railroad at right angles to Union Street spread development towards the north and south, on either side of the track.
By 1912, the townsite of Courtenay was growing rapidly. Many young men from "the Old Country" were coming to settle on Vancouver Island, and many of them ended up in Courtenay.
Courtenay’s incorporation in 1915 was the subject of much debate. The impetus was the arrival of electricity. A small group of landowners feared the power company would take control of utilities. They developed a group to oppose any granting of a franchise by the government. They decided to have a one square mile area incorporated as a city.
The Big Fires
July 21, 1916
The August 3, 1916 edition of the Courtenay Review describes the efforts of Courtenay citizens on that night.
May 24, 1926
On this day, a fire burned most of the south side of the main block in the centre of 5th Street. By the time firefighters arrived, the whole side of the street had been so severely damaged that the any shells of structures still standing had to be torn down. The fire is said to have started in Hannay's confectionary and tobaccoist shop, but quickly spread to Blunt and Ewart's garage.
Courtenay Review, May 27, 1926
The Riverside Hotel was the most prominent of the new buildings constructed in Courtenay's early days, in around 1890. It was destroyed by fire in 1968.
Heritage Commission • c/o City of Courtenay • 830 Cliffe Avenue • Courtenay, B.C. • V9N 2J7