Vancouver Island Culture & History

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To understand the history of Vancouver Island one has to follow the path of its Aboriginal peoples, whose presence has been traced back more than 8,000 years.

Most Vancouver Island communities feature the region's rich Aboriginal heritage through exhibits, artifacts and interpretive displays in their museums. Totems, carvings and artworks by local Aboriginal artists can also be found in shops and galleries.

Fascinating Aboriginal artifacts found near present-day Port Hardy can be seen in the Port Hardy Museum. Port Alberni's artifacts date back some 4000 years. And Nanaimo's Petroglyph Park features 1,000-year-old rock carvings of varying figures, from mystical creatures to human beings.

European Arrival

When Britain's Captain James Cook landed in Nootka Sound in 1778, his party began trading with the Nuu-chah-nulth. That same year British fur trader John Meares, along with a party that included several Chinese workers, established a base at Nootka Sound.

Britain shared control of Vancouver Island with Spain for a time but, by 1795, the Spanish had voluntarily relinquished their claim on the territory. Lyrical place names like Quadra, Galiano and Malaspina are all that remain of the Spanish occupation of Vancouver Island. The British occupation had much more far-reaching effects.

Fort Victoria was founded on the southern tip of Vancouver Island in 1843, and the island was declared a colony of the British Crown in 1849. But it was the 1858 Fraser River Gold Rush that forever changed the region. People from as far away as China rushed to the area hoping to make their fortunes. Almost overnight, the sleepy little community of Fort Victoria was transformed into a bustling and prosperous city.

In 1866 Vancouver Island and British Columbia united to form a single colony, and two years later the city of Victoria was declared its capital. In 1871, British Columbia became the sixth province of the Dominion of Canada.

Historical Preservation and Connection

The Royal Navy's Pacific Squadron was headquartered at Esquimalt Harbour in 1865, where the Esquimalt Band still makes their home today. A Canadian Naval Base currently operates on the site of that first defensive outpost. For a full account of the military history of the area, tour the old Fort Rodd Hill and the Fisgard Lighthouse. Both are designated National Historic Sites located on Esquimalt Harbour.

As Vancouver Island history unfolded, a petition was presented to the Lieutenant Governor in 1886 asking that a museum be established to preserve the region's history. The result of these efforts is today's world-class Royal BC Museum, located on Victoria's Inner Harbour. The Museum houses the province's most extensive collection of artifacts and displays, spanning prehistoric times to the present day.

At the turn of the century, ferry service began between Vancouver Island and the mainland. The provincially owned BC Ferries made its first run in 1960. Today visitors can hop aboard a mainland ferry and arrive to tour round. It continues to attract visitors from around the world.