Urban Oases of Victoria - The Paper Box Arcade

Every city has those little places where you can go and hide from the noise and energy that surrounds you. Victoria is no exception. It may be a small square, a hidden passage, a secret little park or quiet bench with a view. Living in a city you need these places to reflect and relax. Without them, the hectic vibration can be too much. Still for many of my favourites, people don't know about them (and I understand that this can be a good thing) and simply walk by. 

There should always be a sense of newness to a city and it is these oases that provide them, especially if you come upon them by chance. Still, I think that a few of the best ones should be shared. As a new segment on my blog, I am going to occasionally highlight some of my favourite secret little hideaways. Here is my first.

The Paper Box Arcade

Lower Johnson is an amazing shopping street. It has so many stores, in such a short amount of space and most of them are original local places that you won't see anywhere else. Lower Johnson is also home to one of my absolute favourite urban oases, the Paper Box Arcade. 

If you walk west on the south side of Johnson Street you will eventually come to the Paper Box Building. A beautiful heritage building, that has been in recent years covered in a rainbow of colour. At the bottom is a sign over an entrance way that says The Paper Box Arcade. This used to lead you to a further selection of stores, including Victoria's original pot shop, The Sacred Herb, but now it only leads to a short, but beautiful little urban secret place. 
The secret rock garden with a bench.

From the street and even as you walk down the passageway, you have no idea of the surprise of the rock garden. Their are a couple of benches to sit on as you make your way through that are perfect for a little rest, and the fact that it is just off the frenzy of Lower Johnson makes it that much more of a treat. 

As you make your way to the west you can look up at new condos that have been built into old buildings and sneak peeks onto the patios of Ferris' Oyster Bar and Il Terrazo. The last part of the passage takes you under twisting vines decorated with Edison Lights and then back out to the urban buzz of Lower Johnson. 

The passageway and the restaurant patios.
The arcade shows that you don't need acres of green space to create a refuge from the city. One of my personal pet peeves that you often hear from those opposing new development in the city, is that the project should have more green space or would be better suited as a park. While there are certainly places when a park is warranted, you don't need parks everywhere. Instead the city should be encouraging smaller and interesting places where someone can pause and collect their thoughts.

While the arcade is perfect as a place to think, it would appear that it is not currently very successful as a place to buy things as both of the commercial spaces along the arcade are vacant. I honestly believe that most people walk past and don't even notice the opportunity to walk through. 

The arcade could have had much more use if a vision of the city's from almost twenty years ago come to fruition. I have been trying to get plans or drawings from City Hall but so far have not turned anything up. If I do manage to find a copy I will post them on an update to this post. 

When you first walk into the arcade and walk straight to the first turn you could go to the left if it weren't for two gates. Just outside these gates is a small parking lot surrounded by the brick buildings of Old Town. The vision for this space was to remove the parking lot and turn it into a parkette complete with pathways, benches, trees and grass. This would have created an amazing urban oasis and would have still been necessarily secret, hidden by all the buildings. Perhaps someday we will see this happen though it would require the support of the surrounding business owners which is what I suspect may have scuttled the first plan.

The desolate parking lot that could have been home to a park. 

Do you have a favourite secret oasis? If you do, let us know in the comments!


  1. Thanks for another great "hidden gem" find Thomas. I haven't wandered into the Paper Box Arcade in some time but I am now inspired to do so. I'd sure love to see that desolate space go from parking to park. I wonder how we as Victorians might make that happen?


    1. I am going to start by trying to find the original plans and putting them out there again.

  2. "While there are certainly places when a park is warranted, you don't need parks everywhere. Instead the city should be encouraging smaller and interesting places where someone can pause and collect their thoughts."

    Nailed it.

    I wonder if that parking lot might actually be large enough to allow for some new construction re: live/work townhouses and still leave room for paths, benches, greenery, etc.


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