Vancouver Island has a history as rich and wild as the land it possesses. From indigenous First Nations groups, living as one with the land and sea, to Spanish and British explorers, treaties, gold rushes, hunting and trading, there’s more to this 32,134km2 rock on the West Coast of North America than meets the eye.
- Vancouver Island is 460km long, and 100km across at its widest point
- As of 2011, 759,366 people live on Vancouver Island
- Almost half of Vancouver Island’s population lives in Victoria, B.C.
- Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia
- Indigenous peoples have lived on Vancouver Island for thousands of years
- Vancouver Island is Canada’s 11th largest island, and is the 43rd largest in the world
Long before Vancouver Island became the temperate paradise it is known as today, it was home to various tribes of First Nations peoples. The groupings are the Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth and Coast Salish. The Kwakwaka’wakw are traditionally from northern Vancouver Island and the mainland. Nuu-chah-nulth peoples were some of the first to come in contact with Europeans, having lived on the West Coast of Vancouver Island for thousands of years prior to contact. The Coast Salish consist of numerous tribes of distinct languages and cultures. They make up the largest of the southern groups and span form the Gulf of Georgia to the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Their cultures and histories are tied to the very heart of Vancouver Island, having lived on its lands long before settlements, trading and the development of the Island as we know it today. Throughout the Island, there are places to learn about their history, and dive into the cultures.
Beginning in 1774, with Captain Juan Jose Perez Hernandez, the Spanish set out on a voyage into the Pacific. Their three successive voyages took them deep into the Pacific Northwest, but it wasn’t until 1778 that the British captain, Captain James Cook, would arrive at Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island’s western coast. The following year, Spanish explorer Esteban Jose Martinez established a settlement known as Yuquot in Friendly Cove at the entrance to Nootka Sound, naming the area Puerto de San Lorenzo de Nuca.
Due to assertions over whose land was whose, the Spanish and British came to a near war during what was later dubbed the Nootka Crisis. Luckily, the two nations recognized the other’s right to the land, and the Nootka Convention of 1790 peacefully averted the crisis. To oversee the Spanish turning over Britain’s seized buildings and land, Captain George Vancouver arrived in Nootka Sound. His negotiations with Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra lead to the naming of the land: The Island of Quadra and Vancouver was born.
After Spanish explorer Dionisio Alcala Galiano and his crew were the first to circumnavigate the Island in 1792, Spanish interest began to dwindle, as did their name on the maps and charts of the area. By 1824, the area was greatly known as Vancouver Island.
Considering the Island extends past the 49th parallel marker, another issue was raised, this time between the British and United States of America. This was solved in 1846 through the Oregon Treaty, which established the U.S. Oregon Territory Borders. The entirety of Vancouver Island, despite the parts extending south of the parallel, were awarded to Britain. Today, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands are the only pieces of British Columbian land south of the parallel. Three years after its designation to Britain, the Colony of Vancouver Island was established. However, the Island’s first major settlement was created in 1843 by the Hudson’s Bay Company and under the direction of James Douglas. It was labeled Fort Victoria and was located on the Southern tip of Vancouver Island. The trading post, which exploded in 1858 thanks to the Fraser River Gold Rush, became Victoria in the year 1862. By 1868 it was labeled as the capital city of British Columbia, and remained as such, even despite Vancouver’s eventual size and status as a logging city.
Vancouver Island joined the mainland colony of British Columbia in 1866 thanks to the expansion and pressure caused by the Cariboo Gold Rush in 1861-1862. By 1871, British Columbia became the 6th province of what was then known as the Dominion of Canada.
From then on, as Canada was established and British Columbia continued to grow, Vancouver Island slowly made its transformation into the paradise it is today. While the gold rush dwindled, the fur trade closed and its population burgeoned, some key aspects of Vancouver Island still remain: rugged wilderness, incredible beauty and a distinct culture and vibe that create the heart of this wild piece of land in the Pacific Ocean. Its history was fundamental in creating the place that is known and loved to this day, and adds a rich element to one stunning piece of Canada.
Contributed by: Laurissa Cebryk