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Inside Fort Victoria, looking out the East Gate
Fort Victoria was a fur trading post of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the headquarters of HBC operations in British Columbiamarker. The fort was the beginnings of a settlement that eventually grew into the modern Victoria, British Columbiamarker, the capital city of British Columbiamarker.

The headquarters of HBC operations on the Pacific slope of the Rockies at the time of Victoria's founding was Fort Vancouvermarker, on the lower Columbia River, but it had struggled for years to turn a profit; its location was difficult to defend, inaccessible to ships and too far from the lucrative furs in New Caledonia. The signing of the Oregon Treaty settled the matter of Fort Vancouver’s further suitability. The company sent James Douglas to build a fort some distance north on Vancouver Island and made him its Chief Factor.

Erected in 1843 on a site originally called Camosun (a variant of the Chinook Jargon word also rendered "camosack", said to mean "rush of water", which was also the name of the blue-glass beads that were a form of fur trade company currency). The fort was known briefly as "Fort Albert", though the name Fort Camosun continued in use until 1846, when it was renamed in honour of the Queen. The Fort was built using labour from local first nations people, who were paid one Hudson’s Bay blanket for every 40 pickets they cut. The Songhees people soon established a village across the harbour from the fort. The Songhees' village was later moved to the north shore of Esquimalt Harbour.

Crown Colony

The flag of the Hudson’s Bay Company
1849, the crown Colony of Vancouver Island was established and the HBC was granted exclusive proprietary rights over Vancouver Island. The condition imposed by the Colonial Office was that the company would establish a settlement within five years or see their grant revoked. It was also to spend ninety percent of what it made on land sales on infrastructure such as roads and schools. A town was laid out on the site and made the capital of the colony. London sent Richard Blanshard to be its governor.

Even as the settlement began to grow, the nature of the company’s business was changing. Animal populations were beginning to dwindle from overtrapping, slowing the fur trade, but the California gold rush created a huge demand for resources with few places to buy them on the unsettled west coast. By 1850 there were several sawmills operating at Victoria to feed the hungry California market. The company was soon trading salted salmon with Hawaii and outfitting Royal Navy ships with supplies for the Crimean war.

The Colony prospered and grew with the gold rush and by 1860, a small legislature was formed. However, Governor James Douglas turned down any suggestion of a responsible government.

James Douglas, who remained Chief Factor and establisher of the fort, was made the second governor of the Vancouver Island colony in 1851, and would be the leading figure in the early development of the city until his retirement in 1864.

Sources

  • Jean Barman, The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991)
  • Margaret Conrad and Alvin Finkle, History of the Canadian Peoples: Vol. I—Beginnings to 1867, 4th ed. (Toronto: Person Longman, 2006) and was founded in 1893.


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