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JUNE 26

Victoria Travel Guide

Victoria History



Victoria's site was originally inhabited by Salish natives , and in particular by the Lekwammen, who had a string of some ten villages in the area. From here they cultivated camas bulbs - vital to their diet and trade - and applied their advanced salmon-fishing methods to the shoals of migrating salmon in net-strung reefs offshore. At the time the region must have been a virtual paradise.

Spanish sailors visited Esquimalt harbour (within the modern Capital Regional District) in 1790 and again in 1792. Founded by James Douglas in 1843 as Fort Camosun (after the "camosack" a type of wild lily native to southern Vancouver Island), a Hudson's Bay Company post, the settlement was later called Fort Victoria.

The first step in this process began in 1842, when Victoria received some of its earliest white visitors , when James Douglas disembarked during a search for a new local headquarters for the Hudson's Bay Company.

When Vancouver Island became a crown colony, a town was laid out on the site and made the capital of the colony. With the discovery of gold on the British Columbia mainland in 1858, Victoria became the port, supply base, and outfitting centre for miners on their way to the Cariboo gold fields. In 1866 when the island was politically united with the mainland, Victoria remained the capital of the colony and became the provincial capital in 1871.

Victoria was incorporated as a city in 1862. In 1865 Esquimalt was made the North Pacific home of the Royal Navy, and remains Canada's west coast naval base.

British values were cemented in stone by the Canadian Pacific Railway, which built the Empress Hotel in 1908 in place of a proposed railway link that never came. Victoria's planned role as Canada's western rail terminus was surrendered to Vancouver, and with it any chance of realistic growth or industrial development. These days the town survives - but survives well - almost entirely on the backs of tourists (four million a year), the civil-service bureaucracy, and - shades of the home country - retirees in search of a mild-weathered retreat. Its population today is around 330,000, almost exactly double what it was just thirty years ago.




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