Prior to the arrival of European navigators in the late 1700s, the Victoria area was home to several communities of Coast Salish peoples, including the Songhees. The Spanish and British took up the exploration of the northwest Coast of North America beginning with the visits of Juan Perez in 1774 and of Captain James Cook in 1778 although the Victoria area of the Strait of Juan de Fuca was not penetrated until 1790. Spanish sailors visited Esquimalt Harbour (just west of Victoria proper) in 1790, 1791, and 1792.
In 1841 James Douglas was charged with the duty of setting up a trading post on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, upon the recommendation by Sir George Simpson that a new more northerly post be built in case Fort Vancouver fell into American hands (see Oregon boundary dispute). Douglas founded Fort Victoria, on the site of present-day Victoria, British Columbia in anticipation of the outcome of the Oregon Treaty in 1846, extending the British North America/United States border along the 49th parallel from the Rockies to the Strait of Georgia.
Erected in 1843 as a Hudson's Bay Company trading post on a site originally called Camosun (the native word was "camosack", meaning "rush of water") known briefly as "Fort Albert", the settlement was renamed Fort Victoria in 1846, in honour of Queen Victoria. The Songhees established a village across the harbour from the fort. The Songhees' village was later moved north of Esquimalt. When the crown colony was established in 1849, a town was laid out on the site and made the capital of the colony. The Chief Factor of the fort, James Douglas was made the second governor of the Vancouver Island Colony (Richard Blanshard was first governor, Arthur Edward Kennedy was third and last governor), and would be the leading figure in the early development of the city until his retirement in 1864.
With the discovery of gold on the British Columbia mainland in 1855, Victoria became the port, supply base, and outfitting centre for miners on their way to the Fraser Canyon gold fields, mushrooming from a population of 300 to over 5000 literally within a few days. 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. In 1866 when the island was politically united with the mainland, Victoria was designated the capital of the new united colony instead of New Westminster - an unpopular move on the Mainland - and became the provincial capital when British Columbia joined the Canadian Confederation in 1871. Memoirs still in print of those early days include those by painter Emily Carr.
In the latter half of the 19th century, the Port of Victoria became one of North America's largest importers of opium, serving the opium trade from Hong Kong and distribution into North America. Opium trade was legal and unregulated until 1865, then the legislature issued licences and levied duties on its import and sale. The opium trade was banned in 1908.
In 1886, with the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway terminus on Burrard Inlet, Victoria's position as the commercial centre of British Columbia was irrevocably lost to the City of Vancouver. The city subsequently began cultivating an image of genteel civility within its natural setting, aided by the impressions of visitors such as Rudyard Kipling, the opening of the popular Butchart Gardens in 1904 and the construction of the Empress Hotel by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1908. Robert Dunsmuir, a leading industrialist whose interests included coal mines and a railway on Vancouver Island, constructed Craigdarroch Castle in the Rockland area, near the official residence of the province's lieutenant-governor. His son James Dunsmuir became premier and subsequently lieutenant-governor of the province and built his own grand residence at Hatley Park (used for several decades as Royal Roads Military College, now civilian Royal Roads University) in the present City of Colwood.
A real estate and development boom ended just before World War I, leaving Victoria with a large stock of Edwardian public, commercial and residential buildings that have greatly contributed to the City's character. Victoria was the home of Sir Arthur Currie. He had been a high school teacher and real estate agent prior to the war. Before the end of the war he would command the Canadian Corps. An excellent University of Victoria web site A City Goes to War,documents the life of Victoria during the Great War. A number of municipalities surrounding Victoria were incorporated during this period, including the Township of Esquimalt, the District of Oak Bay, and several municipalities on the Saanich Peninsula. Since World War II the Victoria area has seen relatively steady growth, becoming home to two major universities. Since the 1980s the western suburbs have been incorporated as new municipalities, such as Colwood and Langford, which are known collectively as the Western Communities.
Greater Victoria periodically experiences calls for the amalgamation of the thirteen municipal governments within the Capital Regional District. The opponents of amalgamation state that separate governance affords residents a greater deal of local autonomy. The proponents of amalgamation argue that it would reduce duplication of services, while allowing for more efficient use of resources and the ability to better handle broad, regional issues and long-term planning.
675 Belleville Street
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