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Beacon Hill Park History 

Chapter 2: 1843-1848

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James Douglas returned to Victoria with fifteen men in the steamer Beaver on March 14, 1843 to build the fort in the area now called Bastion Square.

The Beaver was loaded with supplies and equipment to construct a fort and to begin agricultural operations. Livestock was shipped from Fort Nisqually in the following months.

James Douglas ca 1860
[Photo: James Douglas ca.1860 (BCA A-01233)]

Soon after arrival, Douglas traveled to the Lekwungen village at Cadboro Bay to announce he was building a fort. He promised to pay one "2½ point" blanket for every forty pickets of 22 feet by 36 inches which natives brought to the fort. He loaned them axes to do the work. (Douglas notebook, “The Founding of Victoria,” p. 8)

Douglas journeyed north to close two other Vancouver Island forts, bringing back workers to swell the work force in Victoria to 65. He directed the construction of the fort until October, then returned to his base in Fort Vancouver, on the Columbia River, leaving Chief Trader Charles Ross in charge of forty men to complete the Fort and prepare land for planting European crops. Douglas continued living at Fort Vancouver, visiting Victoria a few times a year, until he moved his family permanently to Victoria in 1849.

A remarkable land conquest took place in Victoria during the next seven years. By 1850 the British possessed the entire region and the Lekwungen had lost their ancestral territory forever. There were few recorded confrontations. This complete land takeover was successful despite the fact that the aboriginal population greatly outnumbered the British. How First Peoples lost their land so quickly and completely is an intriguing question.

Though the Hudson's Bay Company permanent land-base on southern Vancouver Island was new, interaction between the Company and coastal peoples already had a long history. More than fifty years of west coast maritime fur trade experience set the stage for Company control and dominance in Victoria. An unequal power dynamic was already in place. Preconditions for the Company's successful takeover of the Victoria area were developed during the maritime trading era.

Patterns and consequences of the maritime fur-trade era

The maritime fur trade along the Vancouver Island coast began in the 1770's and involved British, Spanish, Russian and American ships. Coastal First Peoples' intermittent contacts with these trading ships had many consequences. During the decades of maritime trade, First Peoples became accustomed to the white presence and grew dependent on European trade goods. Some of these goods--guns, powder and shot--became necessary for survival, while others--kettles, axes, blankets and tobacco--were desired to maintain new lifestyles. It appears the introduction of guns increased warfare between aboriginal groups resulting in major shifts in power dynamics. Village sizes, locations and social hierarchies changed and so did former trade patterns between aboriginal groups.

Overshadowing all other consequences of the fur trade was catastrophic depopulation. An estimated 90% of the aboriginal population died from European disease epidemics on the west coast during the contact century. The unequal power dynamic in the British occupation of Victoria could partly be a result of this depopulation.

Syphilis, gonorrhea and tuberculosis arrived in the 1770's. “Coast Salish populations” were “devastated by smallpox in 1782” and new epidemics occurred in 1836, 1853 and 1862-63. Malaria killed 85%-90% of the population in the southern part of the Pacific Northwest in 1830-33. Measles caused an estimated 10% mortality in 1848 (carried by the HBC ship Beaver up the coast). Influenza hit in 1849. Dysentery, whooping cough, typhus and typhoid fever took further tolls. (Cole Harris, “Social Power and Cultural Change in Pre-Colonial British Columbia,” BC Studies, Autumn/Winter 1997-98, p. 67-68)

Martin Sampson, a Puget Sound Swinomish chief, observed that white people “never saw the Indians at their full numbers and the peak of their culture. What they found was the broken remnant of a once-powerful people, reduced to this state by disease.” (Harris, “Social Power,” p. 69) Sampson points to dislocation and weakening of cultures all along the coast. Entire villages and family lines were eradicated; those who could pass on essential knowledge and skills--Elders and teachers, skilled hunters and gatherers--wiped out. “Depopulation created holes in the settlement pattern... and opened up social hierarchies.” It probably resulted in “a drastic loss of cultural and historical memory.” (Harris, “Social Power”, p. 67-68, 81)

Precise depopulation figures for specific locations are not available, but historical geographer Cole Harris explains “the characteristic rate of hemispheric depopulation during the contact century was in the order of 90%,” and it is reasonable to assume it was similar on the coast. “There is now very little doubt that the overall effect of introduced diseases was devastating.” Epidemics began during the maritime fur trade, continued through the land-based fur trade era and into the settlement era, though “In most areas, massive depopulation had occurred by 1850.” (Harris, p. 54, 55)

The devastating consequences of introduced diseases for aboriginal cultures have been downplayed or ignored by historians and the public. Harris suggests a reason: ‘the idea of disease-induced depopulation runs counter to the long held conviction that Europeans brought enlightenment and civilization to savage peoples. It turns the story of the contact process away from the rhetorics of progress and salvation and towards the numbing recognition of catastrophe. [It is] more convenient to think that the Native population had always been small.” (Harris, The Resettlement of British Columbia, p. 29)

Historians have generally presented the maritime fur trade period as a positive experience for aboriginals. It was claimed that trade brought “cultural enrichment,” that coastal cultures were “enhanced,” and that the maritime fur trade was “mutually beneficial.” Anthropologist Wilson Duff thought the fur trade did not destabilize Native life. He wrote: “The Indians were able to enjoy the economic benefits of the trade without the disruptive effects of colonization.” (Duff, The Indian History of British Columbia, p. 54) Duff thought the fur trade “brought prosperity, an increase in wealth in a society already organized around wealth” and new tools and guns “increased the Indians’ productive efficiency...” (Duff, p. 57) Historian Robin Fisher, in Contact and Conflict, downplayed contact violence and suggested Europeans and Natives met as equals.

For decades, historian F. W. Howay stood alone in calling the maritime fur trade “predatory, destructive and violent.” He said maritime fur trade was “unequal,” and a “looting of the coast.”A new generation of historians with fresh perspectives and new information now agree with Howay. Recent studies illustrate how “violence characterized the trade.” Traders captured, flogged and ransomed Natives and “bombarded and burned Native villages.” (Harris, p. 63, 64) In fact, the maritime fur trade was a “culture of terror.”

Maritime fur trade ships were floating forts, protected by boarding nets, bristling with cannons and rifles. Harris says, “When the HBC put a steamer, the Beaver, on the coast in the mid-1830's, it functioned... as a mobile fort.” (The Resettlement of British Columbia, p. 39) Aboriginals were allowed on board fur trading ships in small, guarded groups. The maritime traders “came only as seasonal visitors, seldom so much as stepping ashore.” (Duff, The Indian History of British Columbia, p. 54). Ship crews frequently used their cannons and guns against native people. They “operated beyond the law and observation of their home societies...conduct toward [Natives]...was unobserved and unreprimanded.” (Harris, “Social Power,” p. 63)

British Columbia history is often presented “as a series of positive events, as a progressive, linear process of development.” (Elizabeth Furniss, “Pioneers, Progress and the Myth of the Frontier,” BC Studies, Autumn/Winter 1997-98, p. 21) “This celebratory view of colonial history...omits some of the more brutal aspects of Canada’s past treatment of Aboriginal peoples...” (Furniss, p. 18) This selective “celebratory view” is standard fare in maritime fur trade history.

The same positive generalizations are presented in “celebratory” histories of the land-based fur trade era and early Victoria history. The benefits of contact with white culture are stressed, it is claimed that aboriginals retained “control,” “choice,” and “agency,” and that native art “flowered” as both the maritime and land-based fur trade stimulated art and culture.

Cole Harris and Jean Barman remind us that British Columbia is “a highly successful colonial society, one that has generated such self-congratulatory stories about its past that colonialism has been invisible to most of the people who live here.” (“Editorial,” BC Studies, Autumn/Winter 1997-98, p. 4) White culture naturally prefers to think of the Contact Period as a happier story.

Company forts and strategies

Fort Victoria was built and managed according to the successful model perfected by the Company in 150 years of experience across Canada. Forts were “the ‘power containers’ of the fur trade, loosely analogous to borderland castles or walled towns in Europe.” (Harris, The Resettlement of British Columbia, p. 39) These bastions enclosed a small number of whites surrounded by a larger population of aboriginal peoples. Tall palisades, large gates and cannons served to impress local people with British power and establish clear boundaries. “The fort was an imposing symbol of power to which Natives were never allowed free access.” (Harris, p. 57)

Until the Fort Victoria “power container” was completed, both the Beaver and the Cadboro “remained as guard vessels.” (Biography of Roderick Finlayson, p. 10) In both the maritime fur trade and the land-based fur trade, the Company had learned to maintain a power advantage at all times.

Fort Victoria was an impressive structure and it was meant to be. Two visiting British Army officers described the fortress as “a square enclosure of 100 yards, surrounded by cedar pickets twenty feet in height, having two octagonal bastions, containing each six 6-pounder iron guns at the northeast and southwest angles.” (Leigh Burpee Robinson, Esquimalt, Place of Shoaling Water, p. 27) In 1847, the stockade was rebuilt and extended to measure 300' by 465'. A new bastion was constructed at the northeast corner and the old bastion on the southwest corner was rebuilt. (Kaye, “The Founding of Fort Victoria,” BCHQ 7, p. 91)

Bastion at Fort Victoria ca 1860
Partially dismantled fort ca 1860 (BCA A-00903)

Inside, military discipline was maintained. Officers were trained to utilize a variety of dominance techniques to manipulate aboriginal peoples, keep employees obedient and safe and to maximize profits. Gun salutes and demonstrations, the use of trumpets, flags and drums were part of a “theatre of power.” In order to “make Indians behave” and to “train” them, traders maintained a level of fear--considered the basis of respect--by threats, shows of force and use of weapons. “People must be made to be afraid of the traders, to witness the spectacle of power and know that, if they did certain things, they would become victims.” (Harris, p. 56)

Fort Victoria cannons aimed at the Songhees village were used on more than one occasion. In 1844, a cannon shot demolished a Songhees lodge. In 1852 Douglas aimed fort cannons and the cannons of the Beaver at the Songhees. Also in 1852, Douglas threatened to destroy an entire Cowichan village.

Like all Company forts, Fort Victoria was dependent on local people bringing in furs, salmon, potatoes and other items for exchange. To earn profits from trade, dominance strategies had to be balanced with enticements and rewards. Providing trade goods desired by local people in a manner and at a cost acceptable to them involved another set of skills. These too had been perfected by Company experience across Canada.

British attitudes behind the strategies

The British brought to Victoria the same attitudes and perspectives European colonial powers carried to colonized areas all over the world from the 15th to the 20th centuries. Everything British--colour of skin, law, religion, dress, food, crops, sports, music, ideas--was considered superior. The British were civilized but aboriginals were regarded as dangerous savages.

Before Fort Victoria was built, HBC Governor Sir George Simpson warned: “There is a very large population of daring fierce and treacherous Indians on, and in the neighbourhood of the Southern Shore of Vancouver’s that a heavy establishment of people say from 40 to 50 Officers and men, will be required for its protection...” Simpson thought, however, that the steamer Beaver had helped “tame those daring hordes...” (Simpson dispatch, March 1, 1842, reprinted in “The Founding of Victoria,” The Beaver, March, 1943, p. 3)

J. R. Anderson called aboriginals “treacherous, vindictive, revengeful and murderous.” (Fisher, p. 73) Capt. W. C. Grant wrote, “the red man is savage and perverse. He prefers war to peace, noise to quiet, dirt to cleanliness, and jugglery to religion.” (Fisher, Contact and Conflict, p. 90)

James Douglas, acknowledged as more “moderate” and “tolerant” than most, described the Lekwungen as “desperate savages ...numerous and daring, having as yet lost no trait of their natural barbarity so that we will have both trouble and anxiety in the first course of training...” (Douglas to Hargrave, February 5, 1843, Hargrave Correspondence, p. 421)

The consequences of these racist views cannot be overstated. Theories of aboriginal inferiority handily rationalized colonialism. Elizabeth Furniss points out, “the imagined ‘savagery’ of Natives justifies the use of violence as a natural and inevitable process in the expansion of ‘civilized’ European societies.” (Furniss, p. 24)

Racist opinions of British traders and colonizers were based on little actual knowledge of aboriginal people. Robert Brown wrote in 1864 that “few of the white settlers took the trouble to learn about the Indians.” Gilbert Malcolm Sproat expressed amazement in 1879 that “Europeans who had lived among Indians for years had such a superficial knowledge of them.” Robin Fisher writes, “Sproat believed that many settlers were steeped in an intolerance that prevented them from having any sympathy for the people among whom they were living.” (Fisher, p. 90)

Modern histories relying heavily on white British male sources--Company employees, visitors, sailors, and settlers--run the risk of reenforcing the same colonial perspectives. As Harris and Barman point out, “Colonialism is not only about gunboats and economic domination, but also about cultural assumptions and agendas that have long outlived the gunboats.” (“Editorial,” BC Studies, 1997/98, pp. 3-6)

Hudson’s Bay Company goals in Victoria

Since 1670, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s “imperial gaze” searched the globe for land and resources available for making profits. Today we would call the Company an international corporation. Canadians usually think of the HBC as a “fur trade company.” It is, however, more accurately described as “a resource exploitation company.”

As the History of Racialization Group website explains, Victoria was selected “as the location to run the resource gathering empire on the Pacific Coast, a role that the fort took on as company headquarters in 1846. From the Fort, the HBC traded with aboriginal people to acquire furs, coal, salmon, gold, cranberries, whale oil...”

Historian Richard Mackie agrees, “Vancouver Island...was known not for its farms or furs but for its exports of masts, spars, square timber, shingles, coal, salmon, fish, and whale oil produced by Natives, by Hudson’s Bay Company employees, and by independent merchants.” (Mackie, “The Colonization of Vancouver Island,” p. 39)

One of the many Company plans to make money in the Victoria region was to grow and market agricultural products. Seven Company farms were established for that purpose. Though these farms were never very profitable, it wasn’t for lack of trying. The Company ploughed Camas meadows to plant wheat, barley, oats, peas, potatoes and turnips. They grazed dairy cattle, meat cattle, sheep, horses and pigs on Lekwungen meadows and grasslands.

The point is often made that fur traders “did not want Native land,” and thus did not compete for land as did later white settlers. In Victoria, however, the Hudson’s Bay Company did want land for large agricultural operations and got it.

Lekwungen Nation changes and losses

In response to the presence of the new fort, “Large numbers of aboriginals moved into the Inner Harbour and formed at least two new villages close to the fort, abandoning more or less completely their earlier winter sites.” (Duff, “The Fort Victoria Treaties,” p. 5) An aboriginal village called Skosappsom was set up where the B.C. Legislature now stands. Duff describes how aboriginals brought canoe loads of gravel to the site because it was too muddy. (“Fort Victoria Treaties,” p. 45) Aboriginal people had long camped at “Whosaykum” or “muddy place” in James Bay, where the Empress Hotel now stands, when they gathered Camas root on Beacon Hill.

Roderick Finlayson wrote, ...“the natives...began to remove from the village on Cadboro Bay and erect homes for themselves along the bank of the harbor as far as the present site of Johnson Street.” (Biography, p. 11)

The main village was the Songhees (Lekwungen) site directly across the harbour from the fort. The Songhees area had been used by local First Peoples for centuries. Islands in the harbour and on Laurel Point held ancient aboriginal grave sites. Songhees Point was called “pallatsis” which means “place of the cradle” because, as Duff explained, “people deposited the cradles of children who had reached the walking stage to ensure them long life.” (“Fort Victoria Treaties,” p. 42)

Finlayson forced the Lekwungen living close to the fort to move to the point in 1844. The Songhees village was within range of Fort Victoria’s cannons and the cannons pointed directly at the village. Whenever disagreements arose, the gun ports of the bastion opened as a reminder of the force behind the settlement.

At first, the Lekwungen “shared” the land with only forty white men and a small number of cattle and horses. A few acres of meadow were ploughed. Each year, however, more fields were appropriated for agriculture. In 1845, the Company had 120 acres under cultivation near the Fort. In 1846, naturalist Berthold Seeman reported “..About 160 acres are cultivated with oats, wheat, potatoes, turnips, carrots and other vegetables, and every day more land is converted into fields.” (Scholefield, p. 483) By 1855, just in the Beacon Hill Park area of James Bay and Fairfield, over 200 acres were cultivated. (“The Census of Vancouver Island, 1855,” BCHQ 4, January, 1940, p. 56)

The number of grazing animals grew, too. Finlayson wrote, “In 1848, the cattle increased so that it became difficult to herd them all.” (Biography, p. 20) Capt. Grant wrote in 1851 there were 1,000 cattle and 2,000 sheep in the region. There were also “an unknown number of pigs ranging over the Lekwungen’s prime Camas patch and destroying their crop. While the cattle and sheep cropped the greenery, preventing the Camas from flowering,” the pigs actually ate the bulbs. (Lutz, “Preparing Eden,” p. 28) In 1855, livestock near the Park in the James Bay and Fairfield areas included 26 milk cows, 25 horses and 84 swine. (“The Census of Vancouver Island, 1855,” BCHQ 4, January, 1940, p. 56)

The land selected by the Company to plough and plant was the open prairie and meadow land developed and maintained by the local people for centuries. The Lekwungen goal had been to promote the growth of useful native plants. The Company’s goal was to replace those native plants with European crops.

Every acre ploughed and planted by the Company was a direct crop loss for the Lekwungen. Every additional European animal put out to graze meant a corresponding loss of Lekwungen crop quality and quantity. For every credit in the Company’s agricultural accounting book, there should have been a corresponding debit entry for the Lekwungen people.

The loss of Beacon Hill must have been particularly painful for the Lekwungen. To them it was Meeacan, used for centuries as an aboriginal lookout, play area, duck netting location, camping place, and site of ancient burial cairns and fortifications. The Camas fields on and around Beacon Hill were the most productive in the region, providing an ample food crop as well as a surplus for trading with the west coast Nuu-chah-nulth people.

On the first rough maps drawn by Douglas in 1849, that land was designated a British “Park Reserve.”

British use of the Park

On arrival, the British began referring to the Beacon Hill area as “the park.” The hill, with its meadows and grand view of the Strait, set that piece of land apart. Fur traders and later settlers used park land as they would a Commons in England. They cut trees for firewood and construction, fired rifles, ran dogs, rode horses. Company employees, visitors and later settlers flocked to the hill for picnics, outings and public gatherings.

Though the HBC did not plough Park land, cattle, horses, sheep and pigs were soon put out to graze on Beacon Hill and surrounding meadows. Livestock was still grazing in the Park forty five years later. Victoria newspapers reported in 1888 that livestock grazing on and near the Hill were damaging the Cricket pitch. City Council passed a bylaw providing money to erect fences in parts of the Park to keep out cattle.

There was one positive aspect to grazing. Sheep and cattle kept down some of the brush that was no longer eradicated by fall burning or by the previous browsing of native Black-tailed deer and Roosevelt elk. When grazing was phased out in the Park nothing held back the intrusion of shrubs.

While native grasses and herbaceous plants on the meadows of the Park were damaged by farm animals, more resistant non-native cultivated grasses could withstand mowing and trampling. Thus, the replacement of native grasses with European introduced grasses began and continues to this day. Most areas of Beacon Hill Park have no native grass species remaining.

One of the first white immigrant actions was to halt the key First Peoples land management practice of burning vegetation. From the perspective of the imperialist culture, fire endangered homes and property and had no advantage. Walter Colquhoun Grant, one of the first landowners, wrote “...the savages have an abominable habit of burning the woods...” and “Their object is to clear away the thick fern and underwood in order that the roots and fruits on which they in a great measure subsist may grow the more freely and be the more easily dug up.” (W. C. Grant, “Two Letters from Walter Colquhoun Grant,” BC Studies, Summer 1975, p. 11) Grant tried bribery to persuade aboriginals from setting fires and suggested to Douglas he levy financial penalties on any aboriginal for doing so. Regular fires, essential for the survival of Garry oak and camas meadows, have now been prohibited in Beacon Hill Park for 160 years. The B.C. Conservation Data Centre states, “To maintain the ecosystems, we need to develop strategies that use prescribed fire or simulate its effects.” This could be done in the Park today, one small controlled patch at a time.


Roderick Finlayson took charge of the fort when Chief Trader Ross died in June, 1844. Finlayson took a hard line in at least three situations with the Lekwungen.

The first confrontation occurred when several Company cattle were killed by local people. From the Lekwungen point of view, it might have seemed fair compensation for lost Camas bulbs. Instead of harvesting Camas, they “harvested” a few cattle. As Finlayson saw it, the cattle were grazing on “open spaces,” not on Lekwungen property munching their crop.

Finlayson’s version is, of course, the only one recorded: “ was found that the natives killed some of our oxen feeding in the open spaces. I then questioned the Songees [sic] chief...and demanded payment...He went away in a rage.” When villagers fired a few shots at the fort, Finlayson aimed a fort cannon at the “chief’s lodge, the largest,” and “fired a nine pounder with grape in...the lodge flew into the air in splinters like a bombshell.” He had warned the villagers to get clear of the lodge first. (Biography, p. 12)

Blasting a house to smithereens was an impressive demonstration of fire power and Finlayson followed that up with a threat: “I assumed a warlike attitude and mentioned that unless the cattle killed were paid for I would demolish all their huts and drive them from the place.” (Biography, p. 13) The Lekwungen backed down.

Finlayson concluded that the “Indians” were taught “to be submissive and we made farmers and bull drivers of them.” After another confrontation in 1845, Finlayson said, “Thus these wild savages were taught to respect British justice.”

Some historians praised Finlayson’s actions. W. K. Lamb concluded, “due to Finlayson’s courage and forebearance it only served to enhance the prestige of the fort.” (Lamb, BCHQ 7, p. 91) Arthur S. Morton applauded, saying “It was due to Finlayson’s knowledge of Indian character...that the foundation of the capital of Canada’s westernmost province was laid in peace and not blood.” (A History of the Canadian West, p. 732)

Finlayson’s actions were not based on any special “knowledge of Indian character,” as Morton liked to imagine. He responded as Company officers usually did. Harris wrote:

“They always assumed that any assault on company personnel or property should be met with quick, violent retaliation, preferably in public theatres of power intended to convince Natives that, if they did certain things, they would become victims. This politics of fear-- ‘respect’ or ‘terror’ were the traders common words--was intended to make life settings where more elaborate machineries of surveillance and social management were absent. Once the lesson--administered in the form of beatings, time in irons, staged public executions...or bombardments of villages--was learned, Natives would monitor their own behaviour.” (Cole Harris, “Social Change,” p. 58)

In a further public display, Finlayson fired a cannonball through an old canoe set in the harbor, “the ball going through and bounded to the opposite side.” (Biography, p. 14)

Next, Finlayson insisted the Lekwungen move farther away from the fort, across the harbour. He wrote, “I wanted them to remove to the other side of the harbor which they at first declined to do, saying the land was theirs...” (Biography, p. 13) They did finally agree to move and that location became the Indian reserve laid out in 1850 by Governor Douglas. It is noteworthy--and rare--that the Lekwungen argument was recorded. They made a reasonable objection that “the land was theirs.”


Finlayson described another confrontation with aboriginals in 1845. “In the Spring of 1845, a party of natives came from Bellingham Bay to trade with us and traded a large quantity of furs, for which we gave them the goods they wanted in exchange. On leaving the fort in their canoes, they were waylaid about Clover Point by a party of Songees [sic] and robbed of their goods, after which they came back to the fort and complained of their treatment...” (Biography, p. 13) Finlayson forced the locals to return the goods and escorted the canoes past Trial Island. “Thus these wild savages were taught to respect British justice.” (Biography, p. 14)

In this instance, Finlayson was promoting HBC commercial interests by keeping trade open with a greater number of Native groups. Robin Fisher explains, “Indians as well as whites coveted the monopoly situation, and home guards, anxious to keep the trade entirely in their hands, were jealous of the visits of other Indians to their fort.” (Contact and Conflict, p. 30)

Two British Army lieutenants visited Fort Victoria in 1845 to check the Fort’s military preparedness in the event of war with the United States over the international boundary. The lieutenants found two weaknesses at the Fort. There was no powder magazine and the water supply was “very indifferent outside the Fort, liable to drought during summer.” They noted the Fort had 35 men, no sheep, 1 pig, 7 horses, 23 “meat cattle”. Land under cultivation was 120 acres. (Akrigg, p.383, citing “Report of Lieuts. Warre & Vavasour,” PRO, F.O. 5/457, p. 122 (b)


Captain Kellet reported beacons were in place at “Beacon Hill” in 1846 as he surveyed the Strait of Juan de Fuca for the Royal Navy. (Walbran, British Columbia Coast Names, p. 39) From that point on, “the hill” was known by the British as Beacon Hill. During the early days of the Fort, the beacon was an empty barrel on a pole. Later, two beacons were placed on the hill so that when they lined up, Brotchie Ledge, known in those days as Buoy Rock, was more precisely located and avoided.

The Treaty of Washington, signed by the United States and Great Britain in 1846, selected the 49th parallel as the international boundary line between Canada and the United States. The HBC had hoped the boundary would be drawn along the north shore of the Columbia River (anticipating that, they had purposely locating Fort Vancouver on the north side). Though the Treaty specified the British could freely navigate the Columbia River and retain property already occupied, it was clear that Fort Vancouver and Fort Nisqually were in American territory and that the HBC needed to shift trade and location north to Vancouver Island. In 1849, Douglas moved from Fort Vancouver to Fort Victoria, the new western headquarters of the Company.

The Royal Navy’s H.M.S. Herald anchored near Fort Victoria on June 27, 1846. On board was naturalist Berthold Seeman, who described the area landscape. “In walking from Ogden Point round to Fort Victoria, a distance of little more than a mile, we thought we had never seen a more beautiful country...It is a natural park; noble oaks and ferns are seen in the greatest luxuriance; thickets of the hazel and the willow, shrubberies of the poplar and the alder, are dotted about. One could hardly believe that this was not the work of art..” (Scholefield, p. 483) Another man on the same ship, Midshipman Chimmo, praised the forests of the region in his diary, saying “every slope and undulation was a lawn and natural garden, studded with wild plum, gooseberry, currant, strawberry and wild onion.” (Akrigg, p. 392)

Seemann described the close proximity and interaction between the Songhees village and the Fort in 1846: “On the opposite side of the harbour is a large native village; the distance across is only 400 yards, and canoes keep up a constant communication between it and the fort.” (Scholefield, p. 484)


A journal of Fort Victoria in the HBC Archives notes a powder magazine and one other building was erected outside the walls after the original construction of the fort. In 1847, the stockade was rebuilt and extended to the north to enclose the whole establishment. The Fort then measured 300' by 465'. A new bastion was constructed at the northeast corner and the old bastion on the southwest corner was rebuilt. (Kaye, “The Founding of Fort Victoria,” BCHQ 7, p. 91)


James Douglas and John Work, writing from Fort Victoria in December, 1848, both commented on the measles epidemic, which for aboriginals was “more fatal than even the smallpox in 1836.” There was another epidemic in 1853 which is usually said to be smallpox, but could have been measles, and the mortality rate among aboriginals was about 10%. HBC personnel going up and down the coast in the Beaver often spread these diseases, for which the aboriginals had no resistance. A smallpox epidemic raged again in 1862-63.

Ship Captain William Brotchie received a licence from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1848 to cut spars on Vancouver Island. (Fort Victoria Letters, 1846-1851, p. xi) Brotchie Ledge, just off the shore of Beacon Hill Park, bears his name.

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