Victoria is Western Canada's oldest city. On August 2, 2012, we celebrated 150 years of rich history and a bright future.
The Lekwungen People
Victoria is built on the traditional territory of the Lekwungen People (pronounced Le-KWUNG-en). The Songhees and Esquimalt Nations are part of the Coast Salish family and are descendants of the Lekwungen family groups. Lekwungen is the original language of this land. The Lekwungen People hunted and gathered here for thousands of years before European exploration, carefully managing the land through controlled burning and food cultivation.
Established in 2008, the Signs of Lekwungen
is an interpretive walkway along the Inner Harbour and surrounding areas that honours the art, history and culture of the Coast Salish people.
Captain James Cook - 1778
In spring 1778, Captain James Cook became the first known European to set foot on what is now British Columbia. Permanent European settlement, long delayed, was brought about by the gradual movement of the fur trade companies towards the Pacific Coast.
On March 13, 1843, Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company James Douglas, accompanied by the pioneer Roman Catholic missionary Father J.B.Z. Bolduc, anchored off Clover Point in the "Beaver." The next day he selected the site for Fort Victoria. By mid-June, Chief Factor Charles Ross was busy at work constructing the new post.
The Hudson's Bay Company - 1843
The City of Victoria was founded by the Hudson's Bay Company on March 14, 1843, as a trading post and fort at the location the Lekwungen People called "Camosack" meaning "Rush of Water."
Anticipating that under the Oregon Treaty, then being drawn up, the 49th parallel would be chosen as the International Boundary Line, the Hudson's Bay Company moved its fort from Vancouver on the Columbia River to the southern end of Vancouver Island. Thereafter, for a short time, it was known locally as "Fort Albert," but by resolution passed by the Council of the Northern Department of the Company meeting at Fort Garry on June 10, 1843, it was officially named "Fort Victoria" after the great British Queen.
To buttress the British claim north of the 49th parallel, the Hudson's Bay Company, by Royal Grant dated January 13, 1849, received title to the whole of Vancouver Island, but only on condition that colonization should be undertaken. By midsummer, Chief Factor James Douglas was in residence at Fort Victoria to begin this task, with the assistance of his colleagues in the fur trade.
Crown Colony of Vancouver Island - 1849
Constitutional history began in 1849 with the creation by the Imperial Government of the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island and on March 11, 1850, Richard Blanshard formally assumed office as Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island. It was a wintry day, but every effort was made to make the ceremony as impressive as possible, including a salute from the seventeen guns of H.M.S. Driver and an answer from the bastion guns of the fort. All available British residents and a complement of sailors from the "Driver" were assembled in front of the fort to hear the newly-arrived Governor read the Royal Commission, appointing him the first Governor of the first Crown Colony to be established in British territory west of the Great Lakes.
City Incorporation - 1862
The name "Victoria" was adopted when the townsite was laid out in 1852. Victoria was incorporated as a City on August 2, 1862. Mr. Thomas Harris was elected (by acclamation) as Victoria's first Mayor on August 16, 1862, and he presided at the City Council's first meeting held on August 25, 1862.
The Gold Rush - 1858
The life of the little community of Victoria, numbering approximately 230 men, women and children in 1854, centered in the business of the Hudson's Bay Company until 1858 when gold was discovered on the mainland of British Columbia. Then miners and adventurers from the gold fields of California and Australia, and indeed from all parts of the world, flocked to Victoria which was the only ocean port and outfitting centre for the gold fields of the Cariboo. The first ship bringing these modern argonauts, the "Commodore" - a wooden side-wheel American steamer, entered Victoria harbour on Sunday morning, April 25, 1858, just as the townspeople were returning homeward from church. With astonishment, they watched as 450 men disembarked - typical gold-seekers, complete with blankets, miner's pans and spades and firearms; and it is estimated that within a few weeks, over 20,000 had landed.
The gold rush was on in earnest and the quiet of Victoria shattered forever. Overnight, as it were, a city of tents sprang up around the fort and quickly spread out over both sides of James Bay. While the great majority of these people were only transients, the rush of gold-seekers on the way to the diggings on the Fraser River suddenly transformed "Fort Victoria" from a sleepy village into a bustling commercial centre. A wild land-boom followed, and one reads of city lots that were going begging one day at $25 apiece, being eagerly snapped up a week later at $3,000 each.
With the discovery of gold on the Fraser and Thompson Rivers on the mainland, and in consequence of the ensuing "rush," the Crown Colony of British Columbia was inaugurated at Fort Langley on November 19, 1858, with the subsequent decision to "lay out and settle the site of a city to be the capital of British Columbia on February 14, 1859, at New Westminster."
Union of the Colonies - 1866
With the waning of the gold excitement, the continued separate existence of the Crown Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia became costly and impractical. Early in August 1866, an Act for the Union of the colonies was passed by the Imperial Parliament. It became effective at noon on November 19, 1866, when it was proclaimed simultaneously in the two capitals. In Victoria, there was no rejoicing, and in New Westminster only a "small knot of people" gathered in front of the government offices to hear the Acting High Sheriff of British Columbia, J.A.R. Homer, read the proclamation. Not a cheer was raised.
Parliamentary government in British Columbia dates back to August 12, 1856, when Governor James Douglas convened the first Legislative Assembly of Vancouver Island within Fort Victoria. In 1859, government buildings were constructed at James Bay, south Fort, and christened "The Birdcages." In continuous use for almost 40 years (except for the brief period 1866-68 when New Westminster, not Victoria, was the capital) they were replaced in the 1890's by the present Parliament Buildings, completed late in 1897. The formal opening took place on February 10, 1898, when Lieutenant Governor R.R. MacInnes drove up in his carriage to open the first session of the Provincial Legislature to be held in the new buildings.
Confederation - The Capital City - 1871
On July 20, 1871, British Columbia became the sixth province of the Dominion of Canada and Victoria was proclaimed the Capital City. The achievement of Confederation was no simple undertaking. The colonial legislative Council had for weeks in March, 1870, debated the terms of union and, agreement reached, three delegates were appointed to negotiate with the federal government. Dr. J.S. Helmcken from Victoria, Dr. R.W.W. Carrall from Cariboo, and Hon. J.W. Trutch, senior government official, left Victoria on May 10 and, travelling of necessity most of the way through the United States, reached Ottawa early in June to begin the negotiations which were to reach their culmination the following year. With Confederation, the continued establishment of the British or Canadian naval and military headquarters on the Pacific at Esquimalt, adjoining Victoria, was guaranteed.
For most of the nineteenth century, Victoria remained the largest city in British Columbia and was the foremost in trade and commerce. However, with construction of the Transcontinental railway, Vancouver, as its terminus, emerged as the major west coast port and the largest city in British Columbia.
In the twentieth century, Victoria evolved primarily as a city of government, retirement and tourism. The City remains, however, Canada's western naval base and home to a major fishing fleet. Ship building and repair, as well as forest products and machine manufacturing industries, continue as significant sources of employment. Increasingly, the city is developing as a marine, forestry and agricultural research centre. The City is also noted for its fine educational institutions which include the University of Victoria, Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific (one of only six in the world operated by United World Colleges), and Royal Roads University.
Today with an estimated regional population of 326,000, a moderate climate and scenic setting, Victoria has retained a very vital but comfortable quality of life. The City of Victoria is proud of its British heritage, its fine homes and neighbourhoods, its historic and dynamic downtown, the flowers and parks, and of course, the Inner Harbour with its vistas toward the famous Empress Hotel and the Legislative Buildings.
In a survey conducted by Conde Nast Traveller magazine, Victoria was judged to be one of the world's best cities, topping the list in the category of environment and ambience. In a cross-Canada survey, Victoria residents registered the greatest satisfaction with their city. This satisfaction and regard for the quality of life and the environment is perhaps the most notable feature of Victoria today.
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