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Booking a Room at the Memory Palace, part 2: More Buffet Drama

I've had an interesting time researching 309 Belleville St, the building that was the Captain's Palace and is now the Pendray Inn and Tea House. Quite a few of the photos included here, such as the one above, have been blatantly stolen from their website without permission. I suppose when I finish these articles I will contact them to let them know what's up, but I doubt they will be too excited to learn about what a farce the business used to be in the same building they now own and operate.

It's telling, I think, that the few histories I can find of the house either mention its time as a restaurant under Prior ownership just in passing, or not at all and completely edit out around 20 years of its history. As far as the history told on the Pendray Inn website goes, the building was built in 1895 and owned by the Pendrays (pictured here on the front steps), bequeathed in 1939 to a Catholic order of nuns as a boarding house, then became the Gatsby Mansion in the 1980s as part of the Huntingdon Hotel's Belleville Park Resort. Then there is some hand-waving and, ta-da, it's now the Pendray Inn.

I may spend some time charting the property's legal status and ownership more closely, because a little looking around just now has turned some thought-provoking things. Take, for example, this article from the Times Colonist which indicates the property went into receivership a couple of times around 2012/2013, and dropped in price at one point from 12 million to around 6 million. It was estimated that it would take 3 million in renovations just to bring the building up to an acceptable standard.

The period we are interested in, those dubious years when 309 Belleville operated as the Palace, runs from 1970 to, perhaps, 1989. We have 1970 as a firm start date, as the Victoria Heritage Foundation reports this is when Bill and Florence (Flos) Prior bought the place and turned it into the Captain's Palace. The end date is more nebulous at this point, although I have a couple of resources available that might be able to shed more light on the closing of the restaurant. I left my wait job at the Palace just before I went to Europe for a few months in 1986. I tried to get my old job back when I returned from Europe and was refused - another story. About a year later, I did get that job back for a relatively short time before moving to Vancouver with my then-girlfriend and now ex-wife, Katherine. That move was in 1988, and the Palace was still wheezing along when I left. Consequently, my best guess at this point is that the place closed down in 1989. How long does it take to run a piece of prime real estate into the ground? About twenty years, apparently.

I find the bit of history about the property I have located so far fascinating, and once I have a chance to do some more digging I will devote a post just to that. For now, though, another story.

I have a couple of story choices if I want to connect with the previous tale of the very young man and his determination to pee in the middle of the Sunday buffet. I can connect via either the buffet or exposed genitalia. I think we will go with the buffet as the link, and I'll keep exposed genitalia in my pocket for a later time.

The Sunday brunch buffet was very typical for its time. Anchored by a carving station of roast beef, and featuring a variety of salads, charcuterie, hottish entrees in Sterno-warmed chafing dishes, and the same dessert cart that was deployed at dinner by various bus staff. It opened with a breakfast bias at 11:00, becoming more lunchy as the day progressed until it shut down around 4:00. In terms of quality, I'd give it a solid 6, bumped up to a 6.5 in deference to the roast beef and mini Yorkshire puddings. The eggs ben were pretty good, too, but it's hard to fuck up an eggs benedict.

While the Palace was universally shunned by the locals, there is always an exception that proves the rule, and the exception in this case was Mr. Hurley. I'm comfortable using his real name because he is almost certainly dead by now and I would be very surprised if he had children. He was in his mid-fifties back in the early '80s and was not the healthiest specimen even then. He was a thin, angular, insipid man, Don Knotts with all the character drained out. Mr. Hurley loved the buffet and was a reliable fixture who was among the first to arrive and the last to leave. It was not uncommon for him to visit the Captain's Room where the buffet was set up and load his plate four or more times. He was the outlier that messed with the tidy Bell Curve of profits that The Ladies had worked into their calculations. Eventually, they began to get suspicious.

That suspicion was based on Mr. Hurley's tendency to visit the washroom multiple times during his heroic efforts, with him usually managing to get a couple of plates in before the first visit and more or less a one-to-one ratio after that. The staff started to joke about it, inevitably, given his too on-the-nose name. He might as well have been named "Mr. Pukey" or "Mr. Chucky." Management is always the last to know, but the day came that Flos (Mrs. Prior to us) issued instructions for us to gather evidence that Mr. Hurley was, indeed, throwing up in the bathroom in between plates of food, ancient Rome style.

I don't recall being an active participant in this evidence-gathering process, though I must have been. I do know that the efforts came up dry for quite a while. Mr. Hurley continued to show up with a weak smile and a limber belly for at least a couple of months. The Mens was very small with just one toilet and a sink and a lock on the door that was engaged when it was occupied. There was a napkin-folding station just outside the door, and I'm certain that many bussers stood there making cloth peacocks with their ears straining. He was a pro, though, and completely silent.

When he did get busted, I was off work, probably camping on Thetis Island with the family like we did every summer. I didn't get to see the confrontation, the accusation, the heated denials, the walk of shame. Mr. Hurley had been banned, probably the only person ever to be banned from the Palace. Goodbye, Mr. Hurley.

Part 3, coming soon.

Click on this image of Victoria's Inner Harbour and environs to trigger the web-version of Google Earth with this view.

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