Victoria, British Columbia — 150 Years Young
On April, 25, 1858 a small trading post on the southern tip of Vancouver Island off Canada’s Pacific Coast was about to change forever. On a day when townsfolk were returning from church, the first ship docking starry-eyed gold seekers alighted upon the quiet community of Fort Victoria, population 450.
Gold had been discovered on the mainland not far away and word was spreading to far-off locales like California, Australia and other parts of the world. Islanders watched in anticipation while hundreds of miners spilled off the ship.
Overnight, Fort Victoria, named in honour of Queen Victoria, was set up as the key outfitting centre accessing the gold fields and within weeks, over 20,000 miners were erecting tent cities in the modest port.
Victoria was incorporated in 1862 and in 1871 became British Columbia’s capital after the province joined the Canadian Confederation. The city was positioned to become the commercial centre of British Columbia. That was until 1886 when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was completed and that title was claimed by the city of Vancouver.
Present day Victoria and area has a population of over 360,000. Residents, especially retirees are attracted to the mild climate. A significant percentage is students attending any one of several universities or colleges.
It continues to be home for the provincial government, Canada’s western naval base and a major fishing fleet, but during the Victoria, BC — 150 Years Young twentieth century, Victoria evolved. The city’s main industries include ship building and repair, forest products and machine manufacturing.
Victoria has become a top tourist destination. In 1904, the Butchart Gardens opened; a botanical display later recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada. Today it receives more than a million visitors a year.
In 1908 the CPR finished the construction of the Empress Hotel It sits majestically in the scenic Inner Harbour. This palace was originally built for Canadian Pacific’s (CP) steamship line, whose terminal was close by. When CP discontinued its passenger service to Victoria, the Empress Hotel turned into a successful tourist resort.
Today’s Royal Roads University was once the Hatley Castle, a grandiose home built in 1908 for James Dunsmuir, Lieutenant Governor and Premier of British Columbia during the early 1900s. The university has kept its strong ties to the Canadian Forces through its previous employment as the Royal Roads Military College.
Victoria’s Royal BC Museum was hailed, “The best [museum] in the province,” by Lonely Planet, who says it’s, “a highlight on any visit [to Victoria].”
The city also has the oldest Chinatown in Canada, an important venue for cultural entertainment in Victoria. About one third of the miners who travelled to Fort Victoria during the gold rush in 1858 were Chinese. They surely came for the prospect of gold but many were also motivated to make the voyage because of the state of their own homeland, thick with drought, famine and war. This year, Victoria will celebrate its 150 year anniversary.
“The past 150 years has seen Victoria mature and change into the world class city it is today; a city of beautiful contrasts, where the elegance of history mingles with the panache of modern life,” states Alice Bacon, 150th Anniversary Coordinator.
“A year-long anniversary program is currently under development,” she says, “[including] a wide range of events that embrace Victoria’s rich history and its de ning heritage characteristics, while maintaining a current and contemporary view.”
Victoria was the first city to create the Living Flag, where 350 people positioned accordingly on the lawn of the legislative buildings in red and white shirts. The Living Flag set a record in 2011 with 3,222 people and this year, Kenneth Kelly, general manager of the Downtown Victoria Business Association and Living Flag instigator, hopes to set a record of 5,000 on July 1, 2012 to commemorate the city’s anniversary.
Focus on Arts and Culture is set for the B.C. Day long-weekend, (Aug. 2-6). Events include a civic ceremony and large-scale community celebrations in Centennial Square (Aug. 2), a 150th Anniversary edition of the popular Symphony Splash in Victoria’s Inner Harbour (Aug. 5) and many other special events throughout the city. More details can be found at downtownvictoria.ca.
Known as the Cycling Capital of Canada, Victoria has more bicycle paths than any other major city so you might be tempted to see this community on two wheels. For mountain bikers, “The Dump” is a reclaimed land ll on Mount Work in Hartland Park. The area has been turned into an extensive mountain bike park with a wide range of difficulty levels.
Aside from a rich, cultural heritage, Victoria is an outdoor enthusiast’s amusement park. With a bustling urban centre surrounded by ocean and mountain wilderness, Victoria and its home on Vancouver Island, has much to show visitors. Museums, art galleries, restaurants and shops satiate the urbanite while activity fans can find adrenaline from bear-watching, bungee-jumping, windsurfing and mountain climbing in some of the island’s many provincial and national parks. In fact, it’s hard to think of what you can’t do or see on Canada’s western island.
In the 2008 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards, Victoria ranked as number 16 out of 100 Top World Destinations. It is also considered the major gateway to exploring Vancouver Island, stretching 300 miles north of the city.
Bottom; Selkirk Trest Bridge – Courtesy of Tourism BC/Tom Ryan
~By Heather Lea
Heather Lea loves travelling, wine and a good adventure story. She’s pretty sure she was born 50 years too late as she loves getting deep into the stories of early mountain explorers.
Heather has written for various outdoor magazines such as Climbing, Gripped and Kootenay Mountain Culture. In 2005, she started an Arts, Culture and Lifestyles magazine called “Reved Quarterly“, which she publishes independently out of Revelstoke, B.C.
Heather wrote this story counting the exceptional life of Isabel Coursier called “Isabel Coursier – Ski-jumping Pioneer” for Experience The Mountain Parks.