After the dawn of a new millennium, it’s interesting to peek at just a few of the events that helped shape Vancouver Island’s past. Our Island has been occupied by humans for more than 12,000 years. One thousand years ago, it was home to many different groups of Native Indians. Five hundred years ago, the first Europeans arrived on the scene.


  • Sir Francis Drake sails the Golden Hinde around Cape Horn to the north-west coast of the land he calls New Albion. Our highest mountain is named after his ship.


  • Spanish, Russian and British explorers navigate the coast and name many of its features.
  • Captain James Cook’s third voyage around the world includes a visit to Nootka Sound, where he becomes the first Englishman to set foot on Vancouver Island.
  • The Island’s first permanent resident is Doctor John Mackay, a member of a fur-trading expedition, who lives at Nootka for just over a year.
  • Frances Trevor Hornby, bride of Captain Charles Barkley, becomes the first European woman to visit the Island.
  • Estevan Jose Martinez takes possession of the country in the name of King Carlos of Spain.
  • Captain George Vancouver and Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra meet at Nootka Sound. They agree to name it Quadra’s and Vancouver’s Island.


  • William McNeill of the Hudson’s Bay Company, captain of the Beaver, visits the Island and reports favourably on one particular area at its southern tip.


  • James Douglas organizes a team of men who will build Fort Victoria on the east side of a sheltered harbour called the Port of Camosack.
  • The treaty between Great Britain and the United States defines the continuation of the 49th parallel as the boundary between the two countries.
  • Paul Kane, well-known Toronto artist and Victoria’s first tourist, paints Fort Victoria and other local features.
  • The HBC builds Fort Rupert just south of Port Hardy in order to develop coal mines in the area.
  • Captain W.C. Grant, Vancouver Island’s first independent settler, buys land and settles at Sooke.
  • Vancouver Island is made a colony, and the HBC moves its headquarters from Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River to Fort Victoria.


  • Richard Blanshard becomes the first Governor of Vancouver Island, but resigns and returns to England after only 18 months.
  • Coal miners down tools at Fort Rupert, precipitating the Island’s first strike.
  • Coal discovered near the Nanaimo River.
  • Discovery of gold on the Fraser River lures thousands of immigrants, mainly from the south, to Victoria and the mainland, and sparks formation of a mainland colony.
  • Negroes offered land and freedom under the British flag.
  • The Island’s first newspaper, The Victoria Gazette, is quickly followed by the French-language Le Courier de la Nouvelle Caledonie, and by The British Colonist.


  • Alberni Indians erect barricades around their land in an attempt to thwart its purchase by the British.
  • Gold finds in the Cariboo draw immigrants from Britain, Australia and New Zealand, and overland from the east.
  • Smallpox decimates Indians on the Island and up the coast.
  • The bride-ship Tynemouth brings young brides from England.
  • Victoria is incorporated as a city.
  • Gold find on Leech River sends gold-diggers scurrying to Sooke.
  • Vancouver Island and mainland colonies unite to form one colony called British Columbia, with Victoria as its capital.


  • First coal-miners strike at Nanaimo lasts seven months.
  • British Columbia becomes the sixth province to join confederation, much to the dismay of many who feel it should have joined the United States.
  • Commercial sealing commences out of Victoria.
  • Steamship Pacific collides with Orpheus off Cape Flattery – one man saved, 275 lives lost.
  • Victorians are horrified to learn that the transcontinental railway will not, after all, cross to the Island.
  • The first telephone in British Columbia rings in Victoria.


  • Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway built by Robert Dunsmuir.
  • Telegraph lines connect the west coast with Europe.
  • Door-to-door mail delivery, electric street lights and streetcars come to Victoria.
  • Indian Act makes potlatching illegal.


  • The discovery of gold in the Klondike brings gold-seekers to Victoria.
  • New parliament buildings – not yet opened – illuminated in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
  • Victoria & Sidney Railway service inaugurated.
  • Crowded streetcar crashes through Point Ellice Bridge into Selkirk Water – 55 lives lost.

1900 – 1910

  • BC’s population mix: 60% British, 16% First Nations, 12% Continental European, 11% Asian.
  • Island soldiers return from voluntary service in the South African War.
  • Islanders mourned those lost in mining tragedies at Cumberland and Ladysmith.
  • The native war canoe Tilikum starts its round-the-world odyssey.
  • Pacific Telegraph Cable link from Vancouver Island to New Zealand completed.
  • Maritime disasters include the wreck of the Valencia (more than 100 lives lost), sinking of the Islander (40 lives lost), and foundering of the Clallam (56 lives lost).
  • “Japanese cannot vote,” says London Imperial Privy Council.
  • Anti-immigration riots cause severe damage in Chinatown.
  • Queen Victoria’s death sparks public and private mourning.
  • Empress Hotel, designed by Legislative Buildings designer Francis Rattenbury, opens for business.
  • Princess Victoria, CPR’s newest passenger ship on the west coast, cuts Victoria-Vancouver passage time to three hours, 31 minutes.
  • Weyerhauser, Rockefeller and Bloedel are among the first Americans to discover untapped virgin B.C. forests. H.R. MacMillan becomes B.C.’s first chief forester.
  • BC Packers, an association formed by American Henry Doyle, combines 45 canning companies and severely restricts fishermen’s bargaining power.
  • Head tax on Chinese entering the country increased from $100 from $500.

1910 – 1920

  • The 115-acre Songhees Indian Reserve is purchased by the provincial government.
  • Strathcona Park created in central Vancouver Island.
  • Local inventor William Gibson achieves successful flight in home-made plane.
  • Miners strike in Nanaimo, Ladysmith, Cumberland and South Wellington to protest unsafe working conditions.
  • News of the sinking of the Lusitania sparks anti-German demonstration in downtown Victoria.
  • Queen Charlotte Islands (now Haida Gwaii) Sitka spruce used for aircraft construction.
  • Japanese-registered sailing ship Komagata Maru, carrying 376 Sikhs, is turned away from Vancouver Harbour.
  • Helen McGill appointed first BC provincial court judge.
  • National news-gathering co-operative, Canadian Press, enabled faster, more efficient dissemination of news throughout Canada.
  • Workmen’s Compensation Act introduced.
  • Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway runs first train from Victoria to Courtenay over new extension from Parksville.
  • Prohibition law becomes effective.
  • Mrs. Ralph Smith becomes first woman member of the BC legislature.
  • Daylight Saving Time is introduced.
  • The Big Snow cripples the city of Victoria, which relies on the army to help dig it out.
  • BC purchases two submarines, to be based at Esquimalt.
  • Fire sweeps Victoria’s downtown business section, causing more than $1 million damage.
  • Virulent epidemic of Spanish influenza forgotten as citizens celebrate Armistice in the Great War.
  • More than 300 die in the sinking of the Princess Sophia.
  • Of 43,000 BC men and women who went to fight in Europe, almost 20,000 have been killed or wounded.
  • Ice hockey, Vancouver Island’s newest spectator sport, makes its debut at Victoria’s 4000-seat arena.


  • Prohibition replaced with Government control of liquor sales.
  • Mary Ellen Smith, first woman to hold Cabinet rank in British Empire, sworn in as President of Council and a member of the Cabinet.
  • Favourite Roaring Twenties dance at Victoria’s Alexandra and the new Crystal Garden: The Charleston.
  • Hudson Bay Company store opens on Douglas Street.
  • New shipyards at Ogden Point made Victoria accessible to deep-sea trade from Europe.
  • Vancouver Island linked to New York by 55-hour airmail service.
  • Victorians learn to drive on the right.
  • Opening of the highway section of the Johnson Street bridge links Victoria to its western suburbs.
  • Lester Patrick’s Cougars win the Stanley Cup.
  • The Prince of Wales (who as Edward VIII will later abdicate) and younger brother Prince George (who will become King George VI) visit Victoria.
  • Esquimalt Dry Dock officially opened.
  • Living on credit, or “the never-never” leads many into a debtor’s nightmare.
  • The Wall Street Stock Market crashes on “Black Thursday,” catapults the Islander into economic crisis, and prompts provincial Tory leader Simon Fraser Tolmie to impose a tax of one per cent on all incomes over $12 per week.
  • Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association opens second-largest Chinese hospital in the Dominion on Herald Street.


  • When they disembark from the Empress of Japan at Victoria, the King and Queen of Siam become the first reigning monarchs to visit Canada.
  • Automatic stop-and-go traffic lights installed.
  • Driving licences now compulsory at a cost of $1 each.
  • In London, England, George Percy Stoner is convicted in the slaying of his lover’s husband, well-known Victoria architect Francis Rattenbury.
  • After almost a month of intensive effort, firefighters gain control over massive forest fire that threatened the town of Campbell River.
  • Air-mail service inaugurated between Montreal-Vancouver-Victoria.
  • Germany invades Poland.
  • Britain declares war on Germany.


  • Esquimalt Naval Base and the Canadian Scottish Regiment prepare for war.
  • Royal Air Force base established at Patricia Bay.
  • Royal Roads becomes home to Canada’s Navy College.
  • One-hundredth anniversary of the founding of Victoria passes without fanfare.
  • Bombing of Pearl Harbour and the fall of Hong Kong spurs Japanese internment in BC’s Interior.
  • Shells from Japanese submarine fall around Estevan Point’s lighthouse and radio-telegraph station.
  • Rationing of gasoline, tea, coffee, sugar, butter, beer and liquor becomes a fact of life.
  • Emily Carr, Victoria-born artist and author, dies at age 73.
  • Parades, bonfires and boat whistles greet the announcement that the war in Europe is over. Three months later, Japan’s surrender sets off another round of celebrations.
  • Earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter Scale rocks Courtenay, causing widespread damage and the collapse of several buildings.
  • Parking meters make their debut in Victoria.
  • The new Hospital Insurance Act, with its compulsory premium payment, and a three per cent sales tax designed to finance increased social services goes into effect.
  • Immigration reopened; resulting influx creates a “baby boom.”
  • Voting rights extended to Chinese and East Indian citizens.
  • Modern buses replace electric streetcars.
  • Memorial Ice Arena opens.
  • An offshore earthquake measuring 8.1 on the Richter Scale, collapses embankments, tumbles chimneys, topples trees and severs roads in the Queen Charlotte Islands (now Haida Gwaii) and along the coast.


  • Crew of three Royal Canadian Navy warships sailing from Esquimalt become among first of 25,000 Canadians to see action in Korea.
  • Nancy Hodges prepares to take over her duties as BC’s first woman Speaker in the Legislature.
  • W.A.C. Bennet, premier in a minority government, sets the scene for decades of Social Credit domination of B.C. politics.
  • Roger Bannister runs the “Miracle Mile,” defeating John Landy at BC’s new Empire Stadium during the British Empire and Commonwealth Games.
  • Marilyn Bell becomes the first woman to swim Strait of Juan de Fuca.
  • Chief Mungo Martin finishes carving the world’s tallest (127 feet, 7 inches) totem pole.
  • BC forestry minister Robert “Honest Bob” Sommers, sentenced to five years in jail, becomes first minister of the Crown to serve time for bribery and conspiracy.
  • The demolition of Ripple Rock in Seymour Narrows near Campbell River removes hazard to West Coast ships.
  • Midnight ferry service between Victoria and Vancouver cancelled.


  • BC Ferry Corporation takes over from Black Ball Line.
  • Victoria College becomes University of Victoria at new Gordon Head campus.
  • Victorians reel at the news of the assassination of U.S. President John. F. Kennedy.
  • Earthquake at Anchorage, Alaska, results in tidal waves that roll down the coast and cause severe damage to Port Alberni and the Alberni Valley.
  • Maple Leaf becomes Canada’s official flag.
  • Typhoon Frieda blows into Victoria with gusts of 145 km/h, toppling trees and knocking power out to several areas including the Gulf Islands.
  • Islanders rejoice as BC skier Nancy Greene wins a gold medal at the Grenoble Winter Olympics.
  • More than 30,000 shoppers show up to celebrate the opening of Victoria’s $10-million Hillside Mall.
  • New post office hours ring the death knell for Saturday mail delivery in Canada.


  • Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau shocks and delights Islanders with news of his marriage to BC girl Margaret Sinclair, almost 30 years his junior.
  • W.A.C. Bennett resigns; Bill Bennett becomes leader of the Social Credit party.
  • Norwegian cruise ship Meteor catches fire off Hornby Island, killing 32 crewmen.
  • Russian freighter rams BC ferry Queen of Victoria, killing three people aboard.
  • Announcement of the new BC Day August holiday inspires mixed reaction; some would prefer the holiday to brighten up one of the dull days of winter.
  • Nanaimo celebrates its centennial with presentation of an illuminated scroll.
  • Strikers in the foresty, food, pulp and propane industries are legislated back to work.
  • BC residents offered opportunity to invest in BC resources through purchase of BCRIC shares.


  • Islanders watch as one-legged runner Terry Fox begins his cross-country Marathon of Hope to raise money for cancer research.
  • Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip sail into Victoria Harbour aboard Britannia.
  • Islanders mourn as Terry Fox, who collapsed near Thunder Bay, Ontario before completing his run, dies at age 22 in his home town of Port Coquitlam.
  • Four years later, one-legged athlete Steven Fonyo completes his cross-country run by dipping his artificial leg into the waters of Juan de Fuca Strait at Beacon Hill Park.
  • Islanders join the crowds thronging to Expo 86 in Vancouver, which is transformed by the fair into a vibrant, growing city and world-class tourist destination.
  • Wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen becomes the decade’s third source of inspiration as he completes a round-the-world wheel-athon to raise money for spinal cord research.
  • The 1987 stock market crash brings financial ruin to thousands.
  • Pacific Salmon Treaty signed by Canada and the U.S. attempts to achieve
  • equitable division of fishing catches and ensure conservation of the resource.

  • A Free Trade Agreement between the two countries is designed to boost employment and open up the U.S. market.


  • Rita Johnston becomes BC’s premier after the conflict-of-interest resignation of Bill Vander Zalm.
  • Victoria hosts the Commonwealth Games, which boost a $60 million increase in tourism revenues.
  • World’s tallest (55-metre) totem pole erected in Victoria.
  • In the 1980s, concern about the environment had focused on areas such as the Carmanah and Walbran forests, Meares and South Moresby islands. Now the focus is on Clayoquot Sound, where people protesting logging practices are arrested for blocking logging roads.
  • Royal Roads Military College reopens as Royal Roads University, an extension of the University of Victoria.
  • Nisga’a land claim settlement aims to create accord between whites and aboriginals.
  • Automated stations replace BC’s manned lighthouses.
  • The worst snowstorm in the history of Victoria dumps a record 67 centimetres on a city that is ill-prepared to deal with it. Neighbours help neighbours. Farmers’ tractors help clear roads.
  • Leonardo da Vinci Exhibit at Royal BC Museum draws a record 450,000 visitors.
  • Minor early-morning earthquake causes Victorians to revisit earthquake-preparedness.
  • Islanders welcome the New Millennium.

Researched and written by:
Danda Humphreys