As a product of today's society it may be hard for us to imagine how a small Hudson's Bay Fort began over 150 years ago, with no infrastructure, technology, or modern communication. What initiated the need for a new trading post on the north Pacific Coast? How did the construction begin, and what was life in the Fort really like? I have attempted to answer some of these questions with the help of reminiscences and letters written by some of the original residents of the Fort.
Prior to Fort Victoria, Fort Vancouver was the main HBC depot of the Pacific Coast.
The wrecking of two Hudson's Bay Ships on a sandbar at the Columbia River's mouth in 1829 and again in 1830 spurred the need for a easily accessible trading post.
The further quarrelling between Britain and the United States over control of the Oregon Territory finalised the Hudson's Bay Company's decision to establish a northern trading post.
In 1842 George Simpson, Governor of the HBC in British North America ordered the establishment of a new fort, anxious to ensure their presence on Vancouver Island and in British Territory. Simpson felt confident that the 49th parallel would become the international boundary leaving Fort Vancouver out in the cold, as it did with the Oregon Treaty of 1846.
James Douglas, at that time was posted at Fort Vancouver, and was later chosen to find a new accessible harbour to establish a trading post. In March of 1842 under Simpson's advice, Douglas came across what was then referred to as Camosack (known today as Victoria). This is an exert from his report back to John McLouglin, commenting on the favourable aspects of Camosack.
"According to your instructions I embarked with a party of 5 men, in the Schooner Cadboro, at Fort Nisqually and proceeded with her, to the south end of "Vancouver's Island", visited the most promising points of the coast, and after a careful survey of its several ports and harbours, I made choice of a site for the proposed new establishment in the port of Camosack which appears to me decidedly the most advantageous situation for the purpose, within the Straits of Juan de Fuca.
As a harbour it is equally safe and accessible and abundance of timber grows near it for home construction and exploration."
Report of James Douglas on Camosack to John McLouglin
Microfilm: Fort Victoria #D-19 /reel 49/frame 0651
Thus in 1843 the building of Fort Victoria commenced! Enlisting Aboriginals, and HBC labourers within the building of the Fort.
Welcome to Fort Victoria! This section of the Hudson's Bay Company website will allow you to walk back to 1843 and mingle with original residents of the fort. The pioneers will share their thoughts about fort life, as well as show you the building, and structures within, and around the fort. When possible, an image of each building will be shown, accompanied with a primary source quote from the Fort residents.
The walking tour is based on an original map plan draw by James Douglas in 1843,(located to the right) and progresses counter clockwise around the fort, beginning with Roderick Finlayson's Residence, and concluding with the Fort's perimeter. Let the original residents speak for themselves, and guide you through their home.
Enjoy the tour!
Read Original Documents
Read Martha Harris's Reminiscences
Read Roderick Finlayson's Biography
Visit the Fort Construction Page
Visit the Fort Life Page
Start the Fort Tour
Walk To The Fort Stockades
Walk Through The Fort Gates
Walk Into The Fort Yard
Walk To Roderick Finlayson's Residence
Walk Up Into The Fort Galleries
Walk To The Saleshop
Walk To The Fort Warehouse
Walk To The Bastion
Walk To The Chief Factor's Residence
Walk To Bachelours Hall
Walk To The Men's Quarters
Walk To The Blacksmith's Shop
Walk To Dr. Kennedy's Residence
Walk To The Fort Belltower
Leave The Fort And Walk Around The Perimeter
Walk To James Douglas's Residence
Walk To The Fort Bakery
Walk To Richard Blanshard's Residence
Walk Thru The Fort Gardens
Walk Into The Fort Harbour
Visit The Original Moorings Still In Victoria's Harbour Today
Walk To The Songhees