March 16, 1843: Work started on building Fort Victoria. James Douglas chose the site, but Charles Ross was in charge of construction. French-Canadian employees of Hudson’s Bay Company did most of the clearing, digging, and axe work. Local Songhees people provided the cedar logs (from near Mt. Douglas) which formed the palisades. They were paid one Hudson’s Bay Company blanket for every 40 logs supplied.
The fort measured 330 feet by 300 feet and had only one bastion in the southwestern corner (where Nautical Nellies Restaurant is today). At this time the northern palisade ran south of Bastion Square behind what is now the Board of Trade Building – roughly along the lane now informally called “Hudson’s Bay Lane” along the back of the building.
Fort Victoria at first was a secondary Hudson’s Bay Company post. The company’s headquarters for all its points west of the Rocky Mountains was at Fort Vancouver (where Vancouver, Washington is today).
Fort Victoria is enlarged (1846)
In 1846 the boundary was established along the 49th parallel, separating British from American territory. This put Fort Vancouver inside American territory. The Hudson’s Bay Company moved its headquarters to Fort Victoria and enlarged the fort to accommodate more warehouses. The extension pushed the northern palisade of the fort to where Bastion Square is today. A line of bricks in the pavement in front of the Law Chambers and Board of Trade Building marks the position. A second bastion was built (at what is now the head of Bastion Square, at Government Street). The exact location of the northeast bastion is outlined in brick with a brass Hudson’s Bay Company crest in the centre.
Fort Victoria becomes the Capital of Vancouver Island (1849)
In 1849 the British government created the Colony of Vancouver Island. The Hudson’s Bay Company was given a ten-year contract to manage the colony, and James Douglas moved from Fort Vancouver to take charge of the operations. At the same time, the British government appointed Richard Blanshard to be the first governor of the colony. He had little to do and resigned in 1851. James Douglas was appointed to replace him.
Richard Blanshard’s house (the first Government House) was built just outside Fort Victoria (on property bounded by Yates, Langley and Government streets today). James Douglas lived at first in the Big House inside the fort (now the northeastern corner of Langley and Fort streets).
Activities at Fort Victoria
Life at Fort Victoria was typical of most Hudson’s Bay Company posts. Men (mostly French Canadians) lived in large barracks. Local native people came to trade at the Indian Store. Furs from throughout British Columbia were collected and stored in large log warehouses. Small ships (such as the SS Beaver) and canoes transported most of the furs and trade goods along the coast. Goods arrived once a year by ship around Cape Horn from England and were also stored in large log warehouses. Farms were established near the fort. Hunting, fishing and riding were the main pastimes of the men. Dances with fiddle music and occasional plays were some of the few entertainments.