History of Victoria starts with the HBC
The history of Victoria begins with Victoria’s colonial roots in the Hudson Bay Company. In 1843, the HBC flying the English banner, established the fur trading post Fort Albert near the present day Empress Hotel on land belonging to the Songhees First Nation. This relocation was away from the disputed land of the previous post in Oregon Country, near what is today Vancouver Washington. The Oregon Treaty, signed in 1846, ended the land dispute of Oregon Country and finally established American and British boundaries. The British received everything above the 49th parallel plus the southern tip of Vancouver Island. The HBC fur trading post renamed to Fort Victoria replaced the previous headquarters now in American territory. With this fort, the aim of the HBC was to preserve the trading boundaries as far south as possible to the 49th parallel.
A Crown Colony is Born
Continuing with our history of Victoria, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands were formally designated a crown colony in 1849 called the Colony of Vancouver Island. The British Crown granted HBC exclusive, proprietary rights to Vancouver Island, but it came with a catch; they had to establish a settlement and use the land sale proceeds on developing the infrastructure.
The Crown then sent Richard Blanshard from London to govern the new colony, but his three-year tenure was problematic and he returned to London at the end of it. Governance proved difficult as James Douglas, the factor of the HBC, wielded considerable power as the colony was essentially composed of HBC employees and agents, and James Douglas was tasked with establishing land sales and building the colony. Upon Blanshard’s departure, Douglas assumed the reigns of governor while remaining as HBC factor.
With the arrival of the Fraser Canyon gold rush in 1856, the population exploded in Victoria going from several hundred people to thousands almost overnight. To support this influx of people new industries in fishing and timber harvesting were developing and the issues facing larger population centers became evident.
In 1856, a small legislature was established to assist with governing, and Victoria was officially incorporated in 1862. Shortly after, making way for larger commercial structures, the HBC dismantled the final remnants of Fort Victoria. On July 20, 1871 with Confederation, British Columbia became the sixth province in the Dominion of Canada with Victoria proclaimed the capital city. With the establishment of the Transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 and Vancouver as the western terminus, Victoria’s importance as the center of trade and commerce declined.
Victoria in the 20th Century
In the twentieth century, Victoria evolved primarily as a government center and one of retirement and tourism. Today, ship building and repair, natural resource extraction, and education remain critical industries alongside government. However, technology, manufacturing and web based businesses are growing industries in Victoria and surrounding communities.