Through the bush on what is now Dallas Road Songhees Indians peered excitedly at a "smoking tree" which had appeared offshore. The smoking tree was the lanky funnel of the Beaver, first steamship on this coast. Although they did not realize it, the Indians were witnessing an historic event. In the Beaver was the Hudson's Bay Company chief factor James Douglas.
He had arrived to survey the area and build Fort Victoria, the beginnings of today's Victoria. The Beaver had come to anchor off Shoal Point, better known to today's Victorians as the site of the former V .M .D. shipyards. Construction of the Fort began on June 4, 1843 and Victoria's history begins at this date. But the story as distinct from the history of this city began many years earlier. Victoria can be said to have been conceived in the friction arising out of American territorial ambitions.
In the second decade of the nineteenth century many American adventurers, most of them honest men, but some fleeing their creditors and a few preying on their fellow men began to trickle into the Pacific Northwest. These were not the later cattle barons driving thousands of animals over the Oregon Trail, but men whose total worldly possessions were a gun, a water canteen and what they could carry in the "turkey" slung over their shoulders. They lived off the land. Some had arrived in sailing ships via Cape Horn, but for the most part they were men who had braved the plains and coastal ranges to branch south into California, or northwest into Oregon which at that time comprised the present Washington and Oregon states.
Until their coming the London-based Hudson's Bay Company, the oldest chartered company in the world, held, but for the short-lived infringement by Jacob Astor who founded Astoria, the virtual monopoly of trade with Indians in the Northwest Pacific area.
It had already absorbed its only rival, the Montreal-based North West Company, and carried on a lucrative trade in beaver skins, sea otter fur, and other commodities. The authority of the Company was reinforced with fortified trading posts, among them Fort George which later reverted to its original name of Astoria, and Fort Vancouver, now Vancouver, Washington.
The social, economic and ecological pattern of the territory was disturbed by the American newcomers. They were no respecters of the Indians or the Hudson's Bay Company. Although the slogan "fifty-four forty or fight" was not coined as a nationalist slogan until 1844, they resented the British and began setting up their own communities.
They preached that all men were equal, but practiced policies which in the longer term led to the virtual extermination of their Indian fellow men. The short term result, however, was to endanger the livelihood of the Indians and the trading profits of the Hudson's Bay Company. John McLaughlin, who began his career as a physician in Montreal and now headed the Company's interests in the Pacific Northwest, saw the danger in the new developments. He doubted that Britain would fight the United States for the sake of the Hudson's Bay Company and instructed his chief factor, James Douglas, to seek safer headquarters for the Company.
Douglas first saw what is now Victoria in 1842 and wrote to a friend: "The place itself appears a perfect Eden in the midst of the dreary wilderness of the Northwest coast, and so different is its general aspect from the wooded, rugged regions around that one might be pardoned for supposing it had dropped from the clouds ... " Few people who have seen the approaches to Victoria on a calm, summer day will dispute Douglas's praise. The blue sea and numerous islets, inlets, lagoons and sheltered coves could, but tor our cooler waters, be located in the West Indies. Douglas made a report to McLoughlin and a year later was here again to order the building of a fort in the area now bounded by Bastion, Wharf, Government and Broughton Streets to serve as strong point and warehouse.
The mooring rings for the ships that used to tie up at the Company's wharf can still be seen embedded in concrete next to the H.M.C.S. Malahat Building on Wharf Street. According to some authorities, the nearest Indians were at that time in Cadboro Bay and knew the Victoria area as Camosun or Camosack . . . the latter name now commemorated with the high skyline apartment building near the water tower. Locally the Hudson's Bay Company post was first known as Fort Albert, but in the Company's records it is always referred to as Fort Victoria.
The Hudson's Bay Company fort was built by 53 Company men, mostly French Canadians who had served in other parts of the Pacific Northwest. They were helped by Songhees Indians who cut the 22-foot-long pickets for the pallisade of the enclosure which measured 330 feet by 400 feet and were given one blanket for every 60 pickets cut. The pickets were brought from Mount Douglas which also became known as Cedar Hill.
The first Fort bastion was where now stands the Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans' Club opposite H.M.C.S. Malahat; it had a cannon to return the salute of incoming ships: buried in Pioneer Square is a gunner named Fish who contacted gangrene and died after his arm was blown off by a misfire. Fish was one of those Company servants known as bluecoats who were paid £ 17 ($85) a year with board and lodging for a 13-hour working day.
The front gate of the Fort was at the foot of Fort Street - Fort and Wharf Streets - and the back gate on Government Street be tween what are now the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and until recently the Canadian Pacific Railway ticket office. The Fort was enlarged in 1849 and another three-storey bastion added, but as the danger from Indians declined the bastions were demolished, the last in 1864. James Douglas lived in one of the few dwellings erected inside the Fort, the remaining area being used for storehouses, officers' hall and main hall. Douglas, who was 40 years old when he anchored off Shoal Point, was a broad-shouldered, slightly bow-legged Scot, born in Demerara.
His father was a Glasgow merchant. His administrative experience had taught him to insist on respect for his position and he enforced strict discipline and high standards of conduct. Dinner at the Fort was at a set time, the linen clean and the silver brightly polished. Social distinctions were carefully observed and younger officers had to retire from the table after the toast to the Queen - Queen Victoria after whom Victoria is named.
As Governor he insisted on salutes being fired when he paid official visits to Craigflower, the first local school outside the Fort; to H.M. ships or to the Company's farm on San Juan Island. In later years as his financial position improved, he ordered his uniforms from London and clothed his daughters fashionably. The Hudson's Bay Company came here to trade. The Royal Navy ships stationed here for the settlement's protection, Russian schooners, American whalers and other passing vessels needed fresh fruits, vegetables, provisions and other supplies. The Company imported goods from England, the West Indies and Honolulu and in addition started farms locally.
The whole of what is now downtown Victoria was farmed by Company employees for the Company. Other farms were begun at Hillside, the Uplands, Craigflower, Cloverdale, View field, Constance Cove, Colwood, North Dairy and elsewhere. Their produce found a ready market even in distant San Francisco and Sitka, Alaska.
From their store on Wharf Street the Company sold a cannon ball. A three-pound loaf from the nearby bakery cost 25¢; boots were $3.75 a pair and lasted longer than the wearer's feet; Hudson's Bay blankets used in trade were famous and their quality made them as good as currency. But the cost of living was high ... prices being about three times those in England. It was somewhat alleviated by the Indians who sold clams at 25¢ a bucket, salmon at 25¢ each and venison at 5¢ a pound. To further the coastal trade the Company brought in the steamers Labouchere and Otter; it also had ships specially adapted for immigrants, the fur trade and for exports to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).
Society consisted of the higher Company officials, mostly Scots; settler families of good standing and officers of H.M. ships at Esquimalt which was three miles away. The sometimes turbulent passage from Esquimalt to Victoria was generally made by canoe and lives were often lost. All entertainment was of the self-engendered variety. Those excluded from the higher circles ... that is the Company's labouring servants and white workers on the farms, found their entertainment with each other and with the jolly ratings of H.M. ships. Recreation, one imagines, was the more appreciated when the working day began at 5 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m., the use of leisure being less of a problem than it is today.
Victoria in its early years was a very scattered and largely pastoral settlement. The farms were very different from those in crowded Europe; they consisted of a comparatively small area of cultivated land and much waste land over which cattle roamed. Uplands Farm, for instance, which was started in 1851 in what is now part of Oak Bay Municipality, consisted of a few farm buildings while cattle grazed in an area bounded by Cedar Hill Cross Road in the north, Camas Lane in the southeast, above Allenby Street in the south, Richmond Road in the west and the shoreline in the east.
What is now the Uplands Golf Club and the Uplands Park were part of the grazing lands. Cattle Point is so named because cattle were landed there to fatten in the Uplands prior to slaughter in what was then called ro-Mile Point, but is more probably the site of the Royal Victoria 5 Yacht Club moorings on Beach Drive where, even today, cattle skulls and other relics of a slaughter house are seen in the water. First manager of the Uplands farms was Charles A. Bailey.
William Leigh succeeded Bailey as manager, but like many pioneers he preferred an office job to farming and became the second city clerk of Victoria. The Hudson's Bay Company was able to operate so many farms because on the face of it, the agreement it reached with the British government was very generous. The Company leased the whole of Vancouver Island from the Crown at a nominal rent of seven shillings ($1. 50) per annum, a condition being that they establish within five years a colony on behalf of the Crown.
The Company could sell land and minerals and timber, but nine-tenths of the proceeds of such sales were to be spent on roads, education, the Church and other elements of a stable society. Roads came first, and Government Street, the oldest street this side of the Rockies was built. Boulders were thrown into the mud to give a foundation and six-inch planks laid side by side to form the province's earliest sidewalk. All the heavy labour was done by Indians and Kanakas (Sandwich Islanders) , the latter being expert axemen. Victorians owe a great debt to James, later Sir James, Douglas. His foresight led not only to the location of a settlement here, but he instituted Victoria's first town plan, created its first park at Beacon Hill and prohibited the felling of trees along the shoreline, thus protecting the new settlement from the cold winds of the Olympic Range.
Beacon Hill was so called, of course, because the two signals on top of the hill enabled ships to fix their position in relation to Brotchie Ledge and Victoria. But settlers arrived very slowly in the early years. At the time of the Fraser River gold rush in 1858, the population of 500 could have been comfortably housed in a modem highrise apartment.
The Reverend E. Cridge, later the stormy Dean of Christ Church, whose cottage "Marifield" on Carr Street was recently demolished, recalled that when he arrived in 1854 there were only 200 people in Victoria and not more than five houses on each of the four main streets ... Government, Fort, Yates and Johnson. Many of the earliest immigrants quit almost immediately because where land was given away and they were free from the autocratic rule of the Hudson's Bay Company system.
But Douglas had his problems and would have been spared many of them if his advice on settlement had been heeded by the British government. He wanted men, not necessarily with capital, but sturdy men with sturdy sons to break the land. The Colonial Office on the other hand wanted the system which had proved itself in Britain even during the stirrings caused by the French Revolution, namely landed aristocrats offering security to their servants in return for loyal service. It insisted that settlers with capital bring in their own men to open up the land. Douglas was thereby saddled with some rare misfits.
The first settler, Captain Walter Colquhoun Grant, was long on charm and wit, but short on farming experience. He had arranged in London that he be appointed the Company's surveyor (in addition to being a gentleman farmer) in part compensation for his pioneering effort and mislaid his surveying instruments en route. When he did start surveying, Douglas rather wished they had been lost forever. His cordial forgetfulness baffled his colleagues. "He was," said one Company official, "flighty to the point of lunacy." Grant's eight men were champion grumblers and sowers of dis content. They all left him and Grant himself left finally in 1853 after starting a sawmill. The sawmill was about a quarter-mile from where is now the Sooke River Hotel and later became Muir's sawmill.
Both the Sooke mill and Millstream ( the other pioneer mill) exported to San Francisco. After Grant came Edward Edwards Langford. Langford arrived in 1851 and Langford is named after him. Langford's farm was a goo-acre strip running northwest from Esquimalt Harbour taking in what has since become a racecourse and Langford Plains ( now the Colwood Golf Club). Captain Langford's agreement with the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company, an associate of the Hudson's Bay Company and for whom he was bailiff, was a farmer's dream. Buildings, staff and grocery bills were to be paid for by the Company. Langford built 7 what was for pioneer standards a fine country home, naming it Colwood after his Sussex estate.
He added 11 buildings for servant and farm use. Among the "groceries" he charged up in one year to the Company were 70 gallons of assorted rum, sherry and brandy. For the Royal Navy officers in Esquimalt the five daughters of Captain Langford were a mariner's equivalent of a farmer's dream. Colwood resounded to dance music, happy laughter and the clinking of glasses. The happy round of hunts, picnics and dancing brought a lighter note to people accustomed hitherto to Scottish austerity. When Douglas accused Langford of lavishly spending the Company's capital in luxuries, the Captain was annoyed.
As a gentleman farmer he attached more importance to being a gentleman than to farming. His wife shared his tastes. Among the "farming aids" she brought out was a piano. Langford left the Colony in 1861 and his complaints in London caused trouble for Douglas. Some remains of Langford's farm still exist, notably a former dairy shed now in the garden of a home at 440 Goldstream. A printed statement circulated in Victoria to the effect that Langford was more adept at milking his employers than milking cows and a consequent libel action which he lost and which led to his imprisonment for contempt of court, preceded the Captain's departure.
The lack of farming zeal by the gallant Captain was more than offset by the excessive farming zeal of the Company's chaplain, Reverend Robert Staines, who arrived with Mrs. Staines in 1849. The drawback to Staines from Douglas's point of view was that Staines was hired to raise good citizens, not good pigs. Staines had no previous experience as a clergyman and, some churchmen maintain, was not even regularly ordained. He bought 46 acres near Mount Tolmie and 400 acres at Metchosin and loved his fine bred pigs more than he did his parishioners. Before long Douglas was accusing Staines of being a fomenter of mischief and preacher of sedition:
Mrs. Staines, who taught the few young ladies in the settlement was, in contrast, a good teacher. But she didn't like the Scots fur-trading families, including Mrs. Douglas, who was of mixed blood. Harmony wasn't improved by Mrs. Douglas's evident preference for the company of her children and chickens to that of Mrs. Staines.
She considered Mrs. Staines "uppish." Staines was fired after he had signed a petition protesting the appointment of James Douglas as Governor. He was on his way to London with the petition when he was drowned, as happened with distressing frequency those days. For better or for worse, the beginnings of more representative government are due to these settlers with grievances. Their complaints were heard in London and the first council was set up in 1851 replacing the one-man rule of Douglas. Its members were John Tod, Captain Cooper and James Douglas, Douglas being the senior member.
The Council met within the Fort stockade and was the forerunner of provincial government. Appraisal of some of these early discontented settlers must take into account the unanticipated handicaps under which they labored, the greatest of which was housing ... there was none. The Skinners, who arrived in the Norman Morison in January 1853, were rowed ashore at dawn to find the Fort locked tight. They had to wait under a tree surrounded by curious, semi-naked Indians until the gates were opened. Even then there was no accommodation for them in the Fort.
With difficulty a blanket-partitioned shack was found for them and their three servants. Within a month of her arrival Mrs. Skinner gave birth to a daughter. More fortunate, but in degree only, were the Kenneth McKenzies. They were housed with their servants in an unpartitioned loft in the Fort. The Langfords got a small log cabin near the Fort which they shared with their many children. Later they shared the Governor's modest dwelling where Mrs. Langford gave birth to a son George, probably the Colony's first all-white child. But the settlers' hardships were not caused by Douglas and the Hudson's Bay Company, although many settlers blamed both. They were due to environment and Colonial Office policy. Many officials 9 in London didn't even know the location of Vancouver Island.
One could find equal ignorance today. However pleasant Vancouver Island may have seemed to Douglas, he was no farmer and the terrain here, from an agricultural point of view, compared unfavorably with that in most of the British Isles. In fact a settler who left, John Coles, told the Royal Colonial Institute in London that the land was not good enough for potatoes. Because there were no carpenters the settlers also suffered when house-building - the Indians had never seen a saw or plane. All lumber was rough and hand hewn.
In fact it paid to bring processed lumber at ruinous prices all the way from San Francisco. Most land had to be drained and cleared by hand labour. Water had to be brought from Spring Ridge, a mile from the Fort. Entertainment except for the self-engendered variety imported with the immigrants was non-existent, letters few and far between. The settlers wanted roads, bridges, schools and housing and thought the Company should provide them, but the Company's only revenue for financing the Colony was from the sale of land which few people wanted.
When Douglas and his council resorted to taxes on liquor, timber cutting and imports to raise revenue the settlers complained. To meet their complaints the franchise was extended in 1859 to small property owners and tenants: in return Douglas was permitted to levy road building and other charges. Between 40 and 50 people were given the vote and seven members elected, namely John Muir, Dr. J. S. Helmcken, Thomas J. Skinner, J. D. Pemberton, James Yates, E. E. Langford and Dr. John Kennedy. It would be wrong to conclude that the early settlement seethed with discontent. An aggrieved minority always makes more noise than the complacent majority. Among the earliest pioneers was John Work (or Wark), who combined farming with the raising of 11 children, eight of them daughters.
Old John Work himself got married a week before daughter Jane. His wife Josette Legace of mixed blood could not write her name so made her mark in the marriage register. Work was associated with the Hudson's Bay Company for many years before he arrived in Victoria and was the biggest purchaser of Company lands, owning 1,304 arable acres. He was also the largest potato grower and only the Douglas farm in Fairfield produced more wheat. There was much merriment at the Work house, or as some of his children preferred to call it, the "Wark" house. Dances and parties were frequent while the daughters were growing up. His farm included lands from Hillside to the Gorge, Cook Street north to Finlayson Road and south to the city side of Kings Road. Boys sent by their mothers to buy at John Work's farm could get a sackful of vegetables for 20 cents. The old pioneer is buried in Pioneer Square. No trace remains of Work's farmhouse and its exact location is in dispute.