In the late 1800's, lower Johnson Street was ripe with the frontier spirit. It was from here that prospectors headed north to make their fortune in Klondike gold. It was along these streets that fourteen factories flourished through the legal production of opium. The Scott and Peden families were merchants dealing in grain and groceries. They built the warehouses in what is now Market Square, and their names can still be seen painted on the brick walls facing the harbour.
In 1913, a new warehouse was constructed on the corner of Store Street and Pandora Avenue. This is the building which now houses Swans. In the old days it was a granary and feed store, bringing corn from the prairies to the farmers of Vancouver Island. The grain came in on a train which actually entered the building through the main entrance of Swans.
In the 1950's the Buckerfield's Company bought the building from Scott and Peden. They continued to use it as a feed store, where farmers from the outlying rural communities converged to buy their grain. One of those who came to the store was Michael Williams, a young immigrant shepherd from Shropshire, England, who trained border collies and ran a kennel in Langford. He travelled in to Buckerfield's to purchase food for his dogs. Later, a nursery was added, and Victorians flocked there every spring to choose flowering plants for their gardens.
By the 1980's things were different. Michael Williams had given up the dog business and become the owner of a number of buildings in downtown Victoria. His vision of preserving the character of the old buildings while simultaneously giving them a contemporary flare resulted in the exciting renovations of lower Johnson Street—the Grand Central building and courtyard, and the Victoria Box and Paper Building.
In the same year, Michael returned to the store where he used to buy his feed, this time as owner of the building. True to his ideas about redevelopment, he converted the warehouse into Swans, maintaining the spirit of the old place while giving it a contemporary use. The tradition of storing grain in this building goes unbroken, for in the spring of 1989, Swans began serving beer brewed on the premises in Buckerfield's Brewery.
In November 2000, came the sad news of the unexpected death of Michael C. Williams. It was Michael’s wish to create a legacy in the form of a generous bequest to the University of Victoria. This included several businesses, real estate and one of the largest private art collections in Canada. The business continues to run in the same way it was run when he was alive with Michael's business manager, Ms. Janina Ceglarz, as General Manager/CEO and under the newly formed company, Heritage Reality Properties Ltd.
Swans today is composed of a boutique hotel with 29 spacious suites and an awarding winning 3,000 sq ft penthouse, a Brewpub with an open air / glass patio, the Wild Saffron Bistro, Swans Brewery and the Beer & Wine Shoppe.
Where does the name ‘Swans’ come from? Michael would laugh when asked this question and reply, "The Hans Christian Andersen story. This building was truly an ugly duckling before we started."