Greater Victoria lies within the Capital Regional District (CRD), a federation comprising the following incorporated areas: the cities of Victoria, COLWOOD and Langford; the towns of SIDNEY and VIEW ROYAL; and the municipalities of SAANICH, OAK BAY, ESQUIMALT, CENTRAL SAANICH, NORTH SAANICH, Sooke, Metchosin and Highlands. The CRD also includes the electoral areas of Juan de Fuca, the Southern GULF ISLANDS and SALTSPRING ISLAND. The population of Greater Victoria is 345 000; the population of the CRD is 360 000.
The site of Victoria was chosen for settlement in 1843 by James DOUGLAS, a chief factor at the HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY [HBC] at Fort Vancouver (Vancouver, Wash), near the mouth of the Columbia River. A boundary settlement between the US and BRITISH NORTH AMERICA was anticipated, and in the event that the 49th parallel was extended to the Pacific, which did occur in 1846, the HBC wanted an alternative fur trading headquarters site under development.
The smaller harbour of Camosack (Victoria Harbour) was chosen over that of Esquimalt for the establishment of FORT VICTORIA (named after Queen VICTORIA) because it was bordered by extensive tracts of level to gently sloping land suitable for agriculture. Originally the area was occupied by Lekwungen (now called Songhees) Aboriginal people who fished and harvested camas bulbs and cherry bark here. The place was associated with the Songhees legend of a wilful girl named Camossung who was turned to stone by Haylas, the mystical transformer. There were also benign spirits. A promontory on the harbour was a sacred site where cradles for infant children were blessed in pre-contact times.
Victoria became a seat of government in 1849 when the colony of VANCOUVER ISLAND was created. Douglas, having succeeded Richard Blanshard as governor, concluded 11 treaties with local Aboriginal groups between 1850 and 1854 to secure title to land in the vicinity of Victoria. By the terms of the Douglas Treaties, the Crown recognized existing Aboriginal village sites and acknowledged traditional Aboriginal hunting and fishing rights; in exchange, for cash and trade goods, Aboriginal leaders ceded title of their territories to the Crown. The treaties have featured in several LAND CLAIMS disputes in Victoria and nearby communities in recent years.
Victoria remained a small community of less than 1000 population until it burgeoned as the supply centre and jumping-off point for the FRASER RIVER GOLD RUSH of 1858. It was the entrepôt for the CARIBOO GOLD RUSH when incorporated as a city in 1862. The commodious Esquimalt Harbour nearby was designated as a naval base by the British Admiralty in 1865 and still performs this role today as CFB Esquimalt. Victoria's political capital function remained through the successive stages as capital of the colony of Vancouver Island, then of the amalgamated colony of British Columbia (1866) and province of BRITISH COLUMBIA (1871).
As the metropolitan centre of BC, Victoria was unchallenged until the rise of VANCOUVER following the arrival of the CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY (CPR) at Burrard Inlet in 1886. Although it was a terminus of the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway (1886), an important regional line, Victoria's relative economic position declined. By the turn of the 20th century, Vancouver had taken over many of the shipping, commercial and manufacturing functions of Victoria, and the capital city gradually settled into its modern role as a government, naval, tourist and retirement centre.
The narrow, doglegged Victoria Harbour and its long extension, The Gorge, constitute a picturesque, human-scaled focus for the city. In Songhees legend, the large rock beneath the tidal rapids on The Gorge waterway is the unfortunate Camossung. The inner harbour is flanked by the impressive provincial legislative buildings completed in 1898 and the Empress Hotel (1908). Recent planning developments have capitalized on the unique, old-world charm of this area by establishing an extensive public walkway along much of the harbour front. Since 2002, port facilities and amenities have been regulated by the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.
The rehabilitation of Old Town, the late 19th century commercial core around Bastion Square, began in the 1980s. Victoria's Chinatown, the oldest in Canada, was also revitalized then and is now graced by the colourful and decorative Gate of Harmonious Interest. Still, several heritage buildings have been replaced by modern, highrise structures in the city centre, as downtown businesses struggle to compete with commercial and residential developments in neighbouring Saanich, Langford and Colwood. A consequence of this suburban growth is aggravated traffic congestion known as the "Colwood crawl" on the approaches to Victoria.
Compared with other large Canadian cities, Victoria's metropolitan area population is older and more strongly of British origin, despite the infusion of other ethnic groups over the last 50 years. In 2006, both the city and metropolitan area had the highest proportion of population over the age of 80 and the third-highest over the age of 65 among their Canadian counterparts. The mother tongue of Victorians is overwhelmingly English, followed by Chinese, French and German. In the city of Victoria, 12% of residents were classified as visible minorities, the most prominent being Chinese, South Asians and Blacks. In the larger metropolitan area, visible minorities made up 10% of the population, with Chinese, South Asians and Filipinos being prominent constituents. Aboriginal people comprise nearly 4% of the population, the largest groups being the Tsawout and Tsartlip on the Saanich Peninsula, and the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations closer to the city centre. A majority of Victorians profess a religious faith, Christianity having most adherents. Protestants outnumber Roman Catholics by a ratio of 2:1.
The city has a significant and growing homeless population. The city operates several emergency and transitional shelters, and has purchased former motels and downtown rooming houses in an effort to accommodate this population.
There are 8 radio stations, including the student-run radio stations at the University of Victoria and at Camosun College. Victorians also receive a wide variety of radio broadcasts from Vancouver and Seattle. There are 2 local television stations, one affiliated with a national network, the other independently owned by employees and local investors.
The only daily newspaper is the Victoria Times-Colonist, but there are also several weekly free newspapers, which enjoy a large readership. Several small publishing houses are in Victoria, some of which cater to fine literature, but most of which are commercial in nature. Victoria's community "freenet" claims to have been the first such Internet service in Canada.
Ferry connections with the mainland have always been of the utmost importance to Victorians. The CPR steamship service from Vancouver to Victoria was replaced in 1960 by the provincially-owned BC Ferries operating from Swartz Bay, north of Victoria, to Tsawwassen, south of Vancouver. BC Ferries, which is headquartered in Victoria, has operated independently of the provincial government since 2003. Other motor vehicle conveyances are the Washington State Ferries from Sidney to Anacortes and Black Ball ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, Washington. There is also a passenger-only high-speed catamaran service from Victoria to Seattle.
Air transportation further mitigates geographic isolation of island life through Victoria International Airport, located 22 km north of the city, while seaplanes provide regular service from mainland points to Victoria Harbour. As a shipping port, Victoria has declined in importance, but as a maritime destination, it has grown substantially, with more than 100 luxurious cruise ships visiting its Ogden Point pier every year. Local shipyards have expanded to refit these large vessels.
Victoria is well endowed with educational and fine arts institutions. The UNIVERSITY OF VICTORIA (founded in 1963) grew out of Victoria College (1903), which was originally affiliated with McGill University and subsequently with the University of British Columbia. Other institutions include the Victoria Conservatory of Music (1964) and Camosun College (1971). In 1995, the former Royal Roads Military College was restructured as Royal Roads University, and in 2005 one of Canada's first private for-profit universities, University Canada West, opened in the city.
The Royal British Columbia Museum and Butchart Gardens (20 km northwest) are leading attractions for visitors. The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the Victoria Symphony Orchestra, Pacific Opera Victoria and annual music and dramatic festivals have enhanced the city's reputation in the arts. Canada's first artificial ice rink was built in Victoria in 1911 (see SPORTS FACILITIES). Since then, from time to time, the city has supported professional hockey, along with pro and semi-pro baseball and lacrosse. Victoria played host to the COMMONWEALTH GAMES in 1994 and the annual Royal Victoria Marathon (1979) is one of the premier competitions in Canada.
Author PATRICK A. DUNAE, C.N. FORWARD and JOHN NEWCOMB
Peter A. Baskerville, Beyond the Island: An Illustrated History of Victoria (1986); Harry Gregson, A History of Victoria, 1842-1970 (1977); Grant Keddie, Songhees Pictorial: A History of the Songhees People as Seen by Outsiders, 1790-1912 (2003).
Links to Other Sites
The official website for the City of Victoria, BC.
The website for the Hallmark Society, the oldest heritage preservation organization in Victoria, BC. Dedicated to the preservation, conservation, and restoration of heritage sites and related public education initiatives. Check out the online newsletter for the latest news about local heritage issues.
A biography of renowned BC architect Samuel MacLure. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria
Official website of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.
The website for the magnificent Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC.
Watch video clips about some of the oldest historic sites in the City of Victoria. From the website for the City of Victoria.
A Heritage Minute about the Chinese people who came to British Columbia in 1882 to work on the final link of the Canadian Pacific Railway. From the Historica-Dominion Institute. See also related learning materials.
Encyclopedia of British Columbia
Fast facts and a timeline of the history of British Columbia from the website for the "Encyclopedia of British Columbia." Most of the website content, including articles, photos, and graphics, is available through subscription.
The Colonial Despatches
View digitized copies of correspondence (dated 1846 - 1859) between the British Colonial Office and the "colonies" of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. Search or browse this site for references to specific individuals, communities, companies, or industries in the province. Also includes digitized images of maps of various locations. From the website for the University of Victoria.
Fort Rodd Hill & Fisgard Lighthouse
This illustrated Parks Canada website shines a light on the history of the Fisgard lighthouse and Fort Rodd Hill in Victoria.
See maps and statistical data for regions and communities throughout British Columbia. A Government of British Columbia website.
BC Geographical Names
Search the BC Geographical Names Information System for historical and geographical data about specific locations in British Columbia.
Geographical Names of Canada
Search the "Canadian Geographical Names Data Base" for the official name of a city, town, lake (or any other geographical feature) in any province or territory in Canada. See also the real story of how Toronto got its name. A Natural Resources Canada website.
Hatley Park National Historic Site
This site features illustrated inventories of plants located in the gardens of Hatley Park National Historic Site in Victoria, BC.
The Arts and Crafts Movement
A nicely illustrated review of Victoria’s Arts and Crafts Movement from the University of Victoria website.
Pacific Opera Victoria
The website for Pacific Opera Victoria offers news about the current season and future productions of Victoria's innovative professional opera company.
An extensive information source about the geological history, human settlement patterns, earth and water resources, and natural hazards found in locations across the country. Click on the red symbols on the interactive map of Canada to explore aerial landscapes, maps, photos, colourful online posters, and more. A Geoscape Canada website from Natural Resources Canada.
British Columbia Archives
Explore the fascinating history of BC through online digitized copies of selected government documents, manuscripts, maps, architectural plans, photographs, illustrations, audio and video files, newspapers and much more.
Check out the latest news and other online features from the "Victoria Times-Colonist" newspaper. From CanWest Global Communications Corp.
The official website for BC Ferries. Ferry schedules, information about the ferry fleet, travel guides, promotional videos, and more.
Rockland Heritage Walking Tour
An illustrated tour of heritage landmarks in the Rockland neighbourhood of Victoria, BC. Features Government House, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Craigdarroch Castle, and many other stately residents designed by Francis Rattenbury, Samuel Maclure, and other notable architects. From the Rockland Neighbourhood Association.
An extensive biography of Edgar Dewdney, civil engineer, contractor, politician, office holder, and lieutenant governor. Provides details about his involvement with Indian and Métis communities in the North-West Territories, the settlement of the West, the construction of the transcontinental railway, and related events. From the “Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.”
The Fraser River Gold Rush and the Victoria Newspaper Boom
A virtual display about pioneering newspapers in Victoria, British Columbia. Features a historical overview, digitized archival documents, and a PowerPoint presentation. Includes details about early BC printing presses.
Architectural Styles Guide
An illustrated guide to residential architectural styles in the City of Victoria. From the website for the Victoria Heritage Foundation.
The Victoria Symphony website offers a calendar for the current concert season, profiles of the music director and conductors, information about the popular “Victoria Symphony Splash” and other special events, and teacher guides for educational concerts.
Victoria Heritage Foundation
The website for the Victoria Heritage Foundation. See an illustrated guide to neighbourhood walking tours.
British Columbia Historical Federation
The website for the British Columbia Historical Federation, an umbrella organization for provincial historical societies. View full issues of "British Columbia History" and "British Columbia Historical News." Note: some large PDF files.
Historic Photos of Canada
The "Historic Photos of Canada" website offers hundreds of high resolution images of Canada’s first 50 years of nationhood, as seen through the lenses of the world’s earliest cameras.
The British Colonist
A searchable online archive of The British Colonist, a Victoria newspaper. Covers the years 1858 - 1910. A University of Victoria website.
Hudson's Bay at Fort Victoria
This British Columbia Heritage website chronicles the early years of Fort Victoria, the Hudson’s Bay Company outpost on Vancouver Island. Features an in-depth tour of the fort, original documents and historic photographs from B.C. Archives, stories about pioneering families, and much more.
Heritage BC Stops
Click on the tabs at the top of the page to access interactive maps and virtual tours of unique heritage sites located throughout British Columbia. Features points of interest, archival illustrations and photographs, personal anecdotes, and much more. From Heritage BC. Note: try various web browsers for the best display of website pages.
Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary
The website for the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary in Victoria.
Check out the image galleries and multimedia archives for amazing views of the undersea environment around southern Vancouver Island. From the Victoria Experimental Network Under the Sea website, the University of Victoria.
About early Chinese immigrants who ventured to Canada and settled in Victoria and other communities around British Columbia. From the University of Victoria.
Takata Japanese Garden
A brief description of the Takata Japanese Garden, a "westernized version" of a peaceful Japanese "stroll garden." Also, see the menu on the left for a link to the "Zen Garden." From the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, Saanich, Vancouver Island.
Panoramic Maps: Canadian
Click on the map to select historical panoramic maps of various Canadian locations. Use the "zoom" function for close-up views. From The Library of Congress in the US.
Attitudes Toward Chinese Immigrants to British Columbia 1858-1885
Download a copy of a thesis about the widespread discrimination suffered by Chinese immigrants in BC during the late 19th century. From Simon Fraser University.
See an illustrated feature about events that marked the Victoria Day holiday in Victoria, BC. From the Royal BC Museum blog.
From C to C: Chinese Canadian Stories of Migration
Explore an interactive timeline that chronicles the multidimensional history of Chinese immigration to Canada. View archival documents, photographs, and videos that focus on the legal and societal obstacles encountered by migrating Chinese, as well as the substantial achievements of Chinese-Canadians through the generations. From Simon Fraser University and S.U.C.C.E.S.S. (a Vancouver multicultural organization).
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...