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Beacon Hill Park History Chapter 3: 1849-1857

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Under a Charter proclaimed January 13, 1849, the Crown granted control of Vancouver Island to the Hudson’s Bay Company for seven shillings a year. In return for proprietary rights, the HBC was to promote colonization. (Ireland, Willard, “Memorandum re: Title to Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, British Columbia,” May 8, 1942, p.1 BCA)

In 1849, Victoria replaced Fort Vancouver as HBC headquarters on the Pacific Coast. Chief Factor James Douglas, age 49, moved with his family from Fort Vancouver to live permanently in Victoria.

Victoria land is divided according to the Wakefield System

James Douglas was instructed to organize the new Colony of Vancouver Island according to the specific requirements of the Wakefield System. This theory of colonization was promoted by key English government and Hudson’s Bay Company leaders including Lord Earl Grey and Sir John Pelly, who was simultaneously Governor of the HBC and the Bank of England. The Wakefield System was already in place in New Zealand and South Australia.

Archibald Barclay, in a letter to Douglas dated December 17, 1849, explained the goal of Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s theory of colonization:

“The object...should transfer to the new country whatever is most valuable and most approved in the institutions of the old, so that Society may, as far as possible, consist of the same classes, united together by the same ties...such conditions for the...disposal of lands...will have the effect...of preventing the ingress of squatters, paupers and land Speculators.” (Bowsfield, Hartwell, ed. Fort Victoria Letters, 1846-1851. Hudson’s Bay Record Society, Volume XXXII, Winnipeg, 1979, p. lii-liii)

The goal was to promote an “ideal society” by establishing the English class structure and social conditions on Vancouver Island. In this model, gentlemen owned the land and labourers did the work. Land distribution policies were designed to exclude lower classes from owning land. This policy was in stark contrast to the Oregon Territory, where free land was offered to encourage American settlers. Douglas consistently advocated a free land policy on Vancouver Island to attract immigrants, but London did not agree. The American system was exactly what they did not want. As a further safeguard to keep out American “riffraff,” only British citizens could own land in the Colony.

Historian Richard Mackie describes the Wakefield System as “a colonial theory premised on high land prices, a land-based exclusionary franchise, and the hope of an ordered and hierarchical society.” (Mackie, “The Colonization of Vancouver Island, 1849-1858,” BC Studies, No. 96, Winter, 1992-93, p. 3)

London directed Douglas to charge colonists one pound sterling per acre for land, with a minimum purchase of 20 acres. It was anticipated that 300 acres would be purchased by most gentlemen. The HBC was to use 90% of the money from land revenues on improvements such as schools, roads, bridges, so that settlers would have the benefit of infrastructure and institutions. The other 10% of the land sales money would be profit for the Company.

In addition to the land purchase price, buyers were required to provide five men or three married couples as labourers for every 100 acres purchased. This was a difficult and expensive requirement. For every 300 acre tract, a buyer must agree to bring fifteen labourers or nine married couples from England to Vancouver Island and support them while they worked the land. (Mackie, p. 13)

Two other requirements deterred potential colonists in England, as well. Land purchase money was required in advance before buyers could view the property and the only land available to independent settlers was far from the Fort since the HBC had reserved the closest ten square miles. (Roderick Finlayson, Biography, p. 24)

Beacon Hill Park is set aside as a “Park Reserve”

The Wakefield System required public land tracts called “Reserves” be established according to a specific formula. For every eight square miles of land sold to private buyers, a square mile was to be reserved for “church and churchyard, schools, or other public purposes.” Parks were included in the category “other public purposes.” In a list of “Public Reserves, Victoria, 1851-1858," Beacon Hill Park appears as “Park Reserve, Victoria District 178.98 acres.” (Mackie, p. 26)

1858 Victoria Public Reserves Map

The above map, provided courtesy of Richard Mackie, was first published
in his article “The Colonization of Vancouver Island, 1849-58,” BC Studies,
No. 96, Winter, 1992-93, pp. 3-40. The map has been enhanced by Ken Lajoie.

Though Beacon Hill Park was set aside to fulfill one of the requirements of the Wakefield System, popular histories of Victoria do not mention it. Instead, praise and full credit is awarded to James Douglas personally for preserving Park land. A typical report in 1971 assumed Douglas was motivated by the noble “desire to provide open spaces for future generations...” and stated he personally kept the Park safe from “grasping hands...” (Archie H. Wills, Colonist, Feb.28, 1971, p.12-13)

As an agent for the HBC and the British government, Douglas was authorized to determine the nature of the “Park Reserve” and he was dividing land as instructed. Thus, Douglas was in a position to select the specific acreage within the "Park Reserve" and to sketch out Park boundaries himself before any official survey was available. By the time the “Park Reserve” was officially recognized by London on Feb. 23, 1859, the size of the park had been significantly reduced. “Grasping hands” had managed to acquire part of the Park and two of those hands belonged to James Douglas. By August, 1852, he had purchased the northeast corner of the Park himself, adding it to his personal "Fairfield Farm" estate. The following map, showing property boundaries in 1858 Victoria, is provided courtesy of Richard Mackie. It was first published in his article “The Colonization of Vancouver Island, 1849-58,” BC Studies, No. 96, Winter, 1992-93.

Victoria landholders in 1858

The Wakefield System’s success was dependent on two factors: the availability of cheap labour and an abundance of good agricultural land. Unfortunately, not only were labourers in short supply, but also, the amount of arable land in the Victoria area was limited. The HBC sent 641 immigrants between 1848-1854 to work on Company farms plus some indentured servants. About 400 of them settled permanently on the island. The Lekwungen were available as labourers at cheap wages from the first, along with French Canadians and Metis labourers. Labourers known as Kanaka were brought to Victoria from Hawaii, where the HBC had an outpost. Chinese became an important source of labour in Victoria later. The labour requirement of the Wakefield System proved impossible; it was relaxed in 1852 for landowners already residents of the colony, most of whom were Company employees.

Historican Richard Mackie concluded:

“The Wakefield System worked for those with money. It resulted in a conservative, atavistic, hierarchical, and land-based political culture dominated by those who could afford to buy land, most of whom were former and active Hudson’s Bay Company resulted in the creation of a stratified colonial society where political power was vested, as in Britain, in the ownership of land.” (Mackie, p. 31-32)

Douglas needed surveys and accurate maps of the area in order to carry out proscribed Wakefield land policies. While waiting for a surveyor to arrive, Douglas divided up land around Fort Victoria himself. In this way, Douglas and other HBC employees were able to select the first tracts. The largest Victoria landowners were not the “gentlemen” hoped for by the British government, therefore, but instead were middle class HBC employees. Not only did Company officers become the elite landowners in Victoria, many successfully made the transition from the fur trade to become Founding Fathers of the City and members of the Colonial government.

Captain Grant shoots a cow on Beacon Hill

Capt. Walter Colquhoun Grant was hired by the HBC--at 100 pounds a year--to survey the Fort Victoria area so that property could be divided and sold to new settlers. Grant is said to be the first landowner on Vancouver Island independent of the HBC. (Willard E. Ireland, “Capt. Walter Calquhoun Grant: Vancouver Island’s First Independent Settler,” BCHQ, p. 87) Grant did, however, start out as an employee of the Company, though he proved an unsatisfactory and temporary one.

A “Reminiscence” by Joseph W. McKay described Grant shooting a cow in Beacon Hill Park just minutes after his arrival in Victoria on August 11, 1849. Grant arrived in a “canoe from Fort Nisqually on Puget Sound” paddled by “Indians.” After they landed at Clover Point, he “followed the path along the east side of Beacon Hill” on the way to the Fort. Grant was surrounded by a herd of animals he identified as “wild buffalo” and shot the most forward animal. Angus MacPhail, in charge of the Fort dairy, reported to Douglas that night that “one of his best milch cows had been killed.” McKay also described a later incident when Grant got lost walking from his Sooke farm to the Fort. He was rescued after five hungry days in the forest. (J. W. McKay account printed in the Colonist, April 18, 1935, p. 6) Grant could apparently be inept, clueless and strange, yet also give what Willard E. Ireland calls “one of the ablest accounts of the prospects and progress of the evolving colony available.” (Ireland, “Capt. Walter Calquhoun Grant,” BCHQ, p. 118)

Historical accounts often mention men like Grant landing at Clover Point and walking through the Park to reach the Fort but these accounts do not describe what boat crews did with loaded canoes. If bad weather made paddling around Ogden Point difficult or impossible, canoes sometimes were able to travel inland from Ross Bay following a stream which emerged where the Empress Hotel now stands. According to "Lost Streams of Victoria,” a map with commentary by Jennifer Sutherst:

"The stream that the Empress hotel was built upon was unnamed and flowed from a wetland in the vicinity of Cook and Moss streets. This wetland was connected to another creek which ran into Ross Bay thus linking the bay with Victoria's inner harbour. Oral history indicates that the First Nations would use this waterway as an alternate route during heavy winter storms. During wet winter periods when the tides were high they would be able to paddle from Ross Bay to the inner harbour thereby avoiding the heavy weather on the outer coast." (Jennifer Sutherst, "Lost Streams of Victoria," May, 2003. South Islands Aquatic Stewardship Society and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.)

From London, Grant had arranged to purchase 100 acres of land and he brought eight men from England to farm it. On arrival, he discovered HBC employees owned the best land near the fort and was forced to choose property in Sooke. Grant knew nothing about farming or surveying.

After producing no surveys and proving to himself and Douglas that he was not capable of doing the job, he resigned as surveyor on March 25, 1850. All he completed was a “sketch” of the nearby fort area. Though there is no evidence to support the idea, it is a compelling notion to blame the incompetent Grant for a bizarre map of the shoreline of Beacon Hill Park which omitted Finlayson Point. In place of that prominent piece of land extending south into the Strait, the incorrect early map showed a large bay extending north into the centre of Beacon Hill. A 1995 City of Victoria Park Department digital map, titled “Beacon Hill Park Surplus Acreage,” superimposed the corrected current shoreline over the old incorrect shoreline, resulting in a gain of 29.393 acres of “surplus” land to the Park.

Grant is known to historians for two descriptive papers he presented to the Royal Geographical Society in London, in 1857 and 1859. Independent perspectives (non-HBC) of Vancouver Island were rare, so his words are often quoted. In these lectures and in personal letters, Grant criticized the HBC for reserving the best land near Victoria and complained he had only “rascally indians” for company isolated in Sooke. He said “natives” were “useless” but “harmless.” (James Hendrickson, “Two Letters from Walter Colquhoun Grant,” BC Studies, #26, Summer, 1975, p. 13) Grant was surprised how “indians” had a name for every feature. In Sooke Harbour, he said, “every little point to which a white man would not dream of giving a name has its separate appellation.” (Robin Fisher, Contact and Conflict, p. 103) Instead of seeing this as evidence of their intimate knowledge and connection to the land, he just thought it peculiar.


Aboriginal treaties give land to “the white people forever”

James Douglas explained in a September, 1849 letter to London the urgency of reaching a land accommodation with the local aboriginal people: “Some arrangements should be made as soon as possible with the Native Tribes for the purchase of their lands....I would also strongly recommend, equally as a measure of justice, and from a regard to the future peace of the Colony, that Indians Fisher [ie]s, Village Sit[e]s and fields, should be reserved for their benefit and fully secured to them by law.” (Douglas to Barclay, September 3, 1849, HBCA) In December, 1849, Douglas was authorized to extinguish, on behalf of the crown, the proprietary rights of the Native people of the island.

Between 1850 and 1854, Douglas made 14 treaties with indigenous peoples living around Victoria, Nanaimo and Fort Rupert. The land involved became “the entire property of the white people forever.” Aboriginals were allotted village sites and specified acreage, and they were assured they could continue to hunt in unoccupied lands and to fish as usual.

Wilson Duff, former Curator of Anthropology at the British Columbia Provincial Museum, explained, “Douglas took the usual British view that although the absolute title to the land was vested in the Crown, the Indians did own some proprietary rights to it that should be extinguished by making treaties and paying compensation.” (Duff, The Indian History of British Columbia, p. 61) By contrast, France, during its years as a colonizing power in Canada, never compensated aboriginals for loss of land. They did not recognize aboriginal proprietary rights and never negotiated treaties.

The six treaties with the Lekwungen of the Victoria area, signed on April 29 and April 30, 1850, were the first of the fourteen treaties that Douglas negotiated with First Peoples on the Island. On paper, each Victoria area group was allotted a number of Pounds Sterling, varying from 27 to 79, based on what Douglas assumed the value of the land was for farming.

Beacon Hill Park was part of the area listed as belonging to the “Swengwhung Tribe.” Officially, they received 75 pounds sterling for their property, though no money changed hands. James Douglas described the details of the arrangement in a letter to Barclay, May 16, 1850: "They were paid in goods, mostly blankets, from the Fort Victoria stores and the value to the Indians included a markup of approximately 300% over the 'department' or wholesale price. The Songhees, for instance, received goods with a retail price of 309.10.0 Pounds but the cost to the company had actually been 103.14.0 Pounds." (Fisher, p. 67)

Wilson Duff believed “Douglas took the most pragmatic approach: pay them the least amount that will satisfy them. He made the payments in a form appropriate to the times, ‘in woolen goods which they prefer to money.’” The Songhees “accepted 371 blankets and a cap for Tlolemitstin” and the District of Victoria became ‘the Entire property of the White people forever.’” (Duff, pp. 16, 55)

The key words of the treaty by which the Lekwungen gave up Beacon Hill Park and the Victoria area are:

[The Lekwungen] “...surrender, entirely and for ever...the whole of the lands situate and lying between the Island of the Dead, in the Arm or Inlet of Camoson, where the Kosampson lands terminate, extending east to the Fountain Ridge, and following it to its termination on the Straits of De Fuca, in the Bay immediately east of Clover Point, including all the country between that line and the Inlet of Camoson.” (Duff, “The Fort Victoria Treaties,” p. 12)

An elderly chief who said he was present at the potlatch treaty signing event described it in detail to a newspaper reporter in 1934. Chief David Latass (or Latasse) told Frank Pagett: “I was twenty-one when Governor Douglas gave a big party to the Indians of southern Vancouver Island. The entertainment took place at Beacon Hill on May 24, 1850...The natives were seated in big circles, the chiefs forming the inner-most line, the lesser braves being further to the rear...women and children hung around the outskirts of the circles of men...Hudson’s Bay men distributed hard biscuits smeared with molasses...” (Victoria Daily Times, Magazine Section pp. 1, 8, July 14, 1934.)

At the time of the interview, Chief David said he was 105 years old. Though he was clearly very old in 1934 and described by the reporter as “extremely fragile,” it is doubtful his birthdate could be so precisely known. If born in 1829, he would have been age fourteen when the “first white men” came to Victoria Harbour in 1843 and age twenty-one at the treaty signing “powwow” on Beacon Hill, as he stated. It is possible the account is true; it is also possible he witnessed the treaty event as a young boy or it was described to him later by an elder who was present.

According to Chief David, aboriginal land was not sold to the Hudson’s Bay Company; it was rented. “We knowing a crop grows each year, looked for gifts each year, what is now called rent...The Indians were great bargainers and they would not have had any idea of letting the whites use their land from year to year unless some equivalent trade or gift be made each year.” He believed decades of rent were due to his people.

Chief Robert Sam of the Songhees (Lekwungen Nation), in a speech in Victoria on May 25, 2000, gave his version of the contract: "This land, we did not forfeit to anyone. A treaty was signed for 147 Hudson's Bay blankets for borrowing this land. The blankets that were shared with the Lekwungen Nation have long since disintegrated. We have never sold our land." (The Raven’s Eye, the Aboriginal Newspaper of British Columbia & Yukon, June 10, 2000.)

It is very likely the Lekwungen assumed they were agreeing to “share” the land in the treaty process, as Chief Sam believes, or "rent" it as Chief Latass stated. There are also indications they thought a peace agreement was being “signed”. Problems with language were certain and cannot be over-emphasized. Historian John Lutz points out “There is some evidence that Joseph McKay could speak the local Salish dialect but it is hard to believe he was proficient....Whether McKay was used as a translator or whether they used the Chinook jargon, there was...[ample] room for misunderstanding and reinterpretation on both sides.” (September 7, 2003 communication)

Every European concept involved in the treaty process was unfamiliar to the Lekwungen, even the idea of an agreement on a piece of paper. “Land ownership” and “forever” had different meanings in the two cultures. Another difficulty was that treaty negotiations took place out of sight of most or all of the landmarks under discussion. The Lekwungen had different names for land features than the British so verbal descriptions of land boundaries must have been confusing. If maps were used, it is not likely they were helpful to the Lekwungen because they were unfamiliar with paper maps and could not read.

The Lekwungen men were shown how to make X “marks” on blank pieces of paper, which Douglas attached later to the formal treaty documents after they were printed in London. Signing a blank piece of paper would be a questionable procedure for people in the white culture accustomed to signing legal documents. It is unlikely the Lekwungen could understand that an X on a blank page meant agreement to an invisible but binding document.

Douglas decided to ignore the overlapping areas of aboriginal use and draw arbitrary lines indicating “ownership” by just one group for each piece of land. Though this was the only way he could see to formalize the transfer, his lines did not match the more complicated actual situations, in which land was used and shared in different ways for different purposes. As Duff explains, “Shared territories had no place in his conception of the situation.” (“The Fort Victoria Treaties,” p. 46) The Cadboro Bay village site, for example, was a shared village, but was awarded to the Chekonein as Douglas divided the area up. In the current three-way treaty negotiations between British Columbia, Canada and First Nations peoples, overlapping land claims by adjacent aboriginal groups continue to complicate land settlements agreements.

Though the Lekwungen received only a small plot of Songhees Reserve land plus 371 blankets and one cap in exchange for miles of prime land, even that small compensation was criticized by Governor Richard Blanshard. In a report to Lord Grey, Blanshard said the amount Douglas paid to the “Indians” was “unnecessarily generous”. This was echoed loudly by later officials, white settlers and the publisher of the British Colonist, Amor de Cosmos. Joseph Trutch, in charge of Indian land policy from 1864 to 1871, said, “...the Indians really have no right to the lands they claim...” Under Trutch, British Columbia aboriginals lost much of the land acquired under Douglas. (Fisher, pp. 160-162)

Whatever “forever” was supposed to mean, it didn’t last long for the Songhees Reserve. From the time Victoria’s white population exploded during the Gold Rush of 1858, the City attempted to acquire the valuable Reserve land. Finally, in December, 1911, the Lekwungen surrendered the Songhees Reserve and moved to the Esquimalt Reserve. In exchange for giving up the treaty land, $10,000 was paid to each head of a family.

James Douglas purchased 300 acres along the east boundary of the Park in 1850, before the area was officially surveyed. As Chief Factor of the HBC, he was in the position to choose a land parcel first and sell it to himself. This tract of land, called ‘Fairfield Farm,’ was expanded to 418 acres by August, 1852. That expansion included the northeast corner of what had originally been set aside as Beacon Hill Park land.

John Adams comments: “In total Douglas had made a land grab of monumental proportions even before the district had been fully surveyed. He had used his position to purchase land for himself in the choicest agricultural area close to the fort, and had used his authority to protect a valuable piece of land on his very doorstep.” (Old Square Toes and His Lady, p. 86) There were personal benefits for Douglas in assuring a “public park” lay along the western boundary of his own property. After Douglas retired, he walked or rode every morning from his James Bay house through the Park to his farm, circling Beacon Hill, arriving home in time for breakfast.

The following 1858 map shows the "Original Properties of the five founding families of Victoria.” The map shows a City area of small town lots surrounded by huge tracts of land owned privately by HBC officers. In addition to Douglas, large land owners included William McNeill, John Work, John Tod and Charles Ross, Roderick Finlayson, J. D. Pemberton. (The properties of James Tod and George Blenkinsop are to the north and are omitted from this map reproduction.)

Victoria Properties - 1858

This map is based on a map provided courtesy of Sylvia Van Kirk, published in "Tracing the fortunes of five founding families of Victoria,"
BC Studies, no.115/116, Autumn/Winter, 1997/98, p.148.
The map was enhanced by Ken Lajoie.

Anyone not employed by the HBC could not choose the closest property and were forced to pay higher prices at the company store, as well. Douglas administered the Wakefield System to give advantage to HBC insiders in every way possible.

Beacon Hill lookout

Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken described the beacon on the Park hill as it appeared in 1850: “On Beacon Hill, stood a pole with a cask on top, and another beacon closer to the beach, these were guides to the harbour, hence the name Beacon Hill. The cask was riddled with bullets, it being a target at which some practiced for fun.” (The Reminiscences of Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken, edited by Dorothy Blakey Smith, p. 105)

Helmcken explained Beacon Hill’s usefulness as a lookout for ships: “[Captain James] Sangster had charge of the Cadboro and was pilot in general. He it was who used to sit on Beacon Hill, spy glass in hand, looking for any of the Company’s ships rounding Rocky Point or any other expected vessel.” Helmcken added that the custom was for a ship to fire two guns after rounding Rocky Point to give notice of arrival and the need for a pilot. (Reminiscences, p. 125)


James Douglas replaced Richard Blanshard as Governor of Vancouver Island in June, 1851. Douglas now held the two top positions simultaneously, Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company and Governor of the Colony. Independent white settlers charged that Douglas would favour the Company in his decisions and that conflicts of interests were inevitable. They were correct.

Joseph Despard Pemberton, an Irish surveyor and engineer, arrived in Victoria in 1851. He conducted the first competent official surveys of the area.

William John Macdonald, another Scot hired by the HBC, arrived in Victoria on May 14, 1851. His Reminiscences include a horse ride the next day: “ we went for a scamper round Beacon Hill and Clover Point...wild clover over those parts a foot high.” Macdonald described aspects of life in the Fort: “Milk and butter in abundance, the Company having a dairy of one hundred cows on the hill.... At this time there were no houses outside the Fort, all the officers and men about seventy in all, lived inside the Fort, gates locked every night and watchmen set.” (Burns, Flora Hamilton, “Victoria in the 1850's,” The Beaver, December 1949, p.37) [In 1877 W. J. Macdonald was appointed by the Lt. Gov. to be one of the two trustees of Beacon Hill Park. He was also twice elected Mayor of Victoria.]

In 1851, Douglas tried without success to convince London to deduct acres of rocks and swamp from the purchase price of land in the Victoria area. He advocated charging purchasers the set price of one pound per acre only for those acres good for agriculture. (“Fort Victoria Letters,” p. 174)

Capt. Walter Colquhoun Grant planted Scotch Broom seeds at his farm in 1851. Though Grant is known to historians for his lectures in England on Vancouver Island, he is known to people who value native plants as the one responsible for a continuing environmental problem. In 1850, though his farm was struggling, Grant left for Hawaii where he stayed two months. Archivist Willard Ireland writes, “Undoubtedly it was during this visit to Hawaii that Grant procured the seeds of the broom which local tradition credits him with introducing into this Province.” (Willard E. Ireland, BCHA, vol. XVII, Jan-April, 1953, p. 114) When he returned from Hawaii in late February, 1851, Grant planted those seeds on his Sooke farm. John Muir, the next owner of the property, wanted to eradicate the broom plants. According to his son, Douglas, they were preserved because they reminded Mrs. Muir of Scotland. (Ireland, p. 114)

Broom patchNorthwest Ridge broom patch.N. Ringuette, April, 2004.

Since then the exotic shrub has spread through Beacon Hill Park and the region, filling in open meadows and crowding out native species.

Broom adversely affected butterflies as well: “Of all the alien plant species that have been introduced to the region, the most detrimental for butterflies has been an invasive, yellow-flowered shrub called Scotch Broom...[It] has spelled disaster for butterflies ever since...taking over natural meadows and crowding out most of the native flora.” (Nancy Baron and Frances Backhouse, “Rare Butterflies of Southeastern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands,” p. 1) James Douglas reported in an April, 1851 letter that “about 100 Indians [are] employed in clearing Brush and trees and bringing new land into cultivation.”


Douglas buys the northeast corner of the Park

Douglas began building a house in 1850 on another piece of property he owned in James Bay, where the Royal BC Museum stands now. He moved from the Fort to that house in October, 1852. The walls were plastered with lime made from clam shells collected by the Lekwungen. (James Anderson, “Notes and Comments,” BCA) It was a short ride from his James Bay home across Beacon Hill Park to visit Fairfield Farm.

The 300 acres Douglas purchased in 1850 along the east edge of the Park, called ‘Fairfield Farm,’ was expanded to 418 acres by August 1852. The extra acres acquired by Douglas included two parcels along the east edge of his property plus a third parcel, an estimated 24 acres of the northeast corner of Beacon Hill Park.

The north-south strip left between the new northeastern Park boundary and the Douglas property, approximately 8 acres, was then sold by the HBC to private landowners. The HBC lot sales led to a legal challenge. The case was decided against the HBC in 1862 but the new owners were allowed to keep the property. Accounts of this legal case never mention the majority of the northeast corner was owned privately by James Douglas. In total, an estimated 32 acres of Park land were lost. (It is possible that a further section along the north boundary was also sold, but since map boundary lines vary and conflict through the years, that is unclear.)

Most of the ten square miles set aside for the HBC in downtown Victoria was opened for sale. “In 1851 and 1852, Finlayson, Work, Tolmie and others bought land and established farms in the former trade reserve.” (Mackie, p. 33)

The streets of the Victoria townsite were officially laid out in 1852. Bills of the Colony showed payment “to Indians for labour in surveying of 6.15.5 Pounds” and 28,12.2 Pounds paid to “Indians and others” engaged in making public roads.

The “Indian population” on Vancouver Island was approximately 11,000 (though the estimate had been 30,000 just two years before) and the non-Indian population was 500.

Douglas uses force in two confrontations

A confrontation between the Lekwungen and white settlers occurred in 1852, again over cattle. HBC men went to the Songhees village to arrest a cattle thief but were driven off. The Beaver was then placed opposite the village with cannons trained on the village. Douglas reported on March 27, 1852, “the Fort guns were also turned upon it but before any offensive measures were taken the Indians beat a parley and returned the property...They are now mustering property among them to pay for the cattle stolen...” (Bowsfield, “Fort Victoria Letters,” p. 164)

James Douglas acted forcefully again in 1852 when a white shepherd was killed by an aboriginal near Victoria. He assembled 150 men, mostly off a naval ship, and told the Cowichan to give up the murderer or he would “burn out your lodges and trample out your tribes.” The Cowichan handed over a man said to be the murderer. (Cole Harris, The Resettlement of British Columbia, p. 65) Douglas had witnessed a very similar verbal threat and display of force by Governor Simpson at Fort St. James in the 1830's.

William John Macdonald described the Cowichan confrontation differently in his Reminiscences. In his version, it happened in 1856. He said he went with Douglas as Captain of a Militia of 50 men. Then Macdonald added, “I had to train and organize a body of 50 men to guard the Coast from the depredations of the Northern Indians, who used to land on their way home and shoot cattle.” (Burns, Flora Hamilton, “Victoria in the 1850's,” The Beaver, December 1949, p.38)

Though the most common threat of Company officers was to blow aboriginals up with gunpowder, a variety of other threats were used. At Fort George, Douglas McDougall showed chiefs “a small bottle and told them it contained smallpox and threatened to release the disease.” (Cole Harris, The Resettlement of British Columbia, p. 57) When stationed in Kamloops in the 1840's, John Tod lied to the First Peoples there that smallpox was approaching and successfully turned resistant natives into grateful vaccination supplicants.


A public birthday celebration was held in Beacon Hill Park in honour of James Douglas, Jr., age two, It was a major public event with horse races, prize fights, bagpipes, fiddles and dancing. (John Adams, Old Square Toes and His Lady, p. 101.)

“The lives of the Songhees people changed even more in the fall of 1853, when about 3,000 First Nations visitors from the north began arriving in their territory to work and trade at the Fort.” (Keddie, Songhees Pictorial, p. 40) The Haida, Stikine, Cowichan and Fort Simpson visitors vastly outnumbered the local people.

William John Macdonald, the HBC employee who would later become a trustee of Beacon Hill Park under the Colonial Government, stated in his Reminiscences that there were “not more than 200 white people in the whole Colony” in 1853.


Though they had not received permission from London to do so, by 1854 Douglas and Pemberton had figured a way to adjust the price of one pound per acre so land purchasers would pay only for good agricultural land. They interpreted the landscape to discount a “liberal allowance for rock and swamp.” Douglas had tried to convince the company to do this as early as 1851. Finally, in 1855, London advised Pemberton he could use discretionary power in charging for rocks and swamp and in 1856, this became part of colonial land law. Douglas also set up payment on the installment plan for land in 1856.

Historian Robin Fisher points to another land loss for area aboriginals: "Contained within the HBC land around Fort Victoria was a ten acre Indian reserve,” which was acknowledged by all in 1854. "But by the end of the decade the land had been re-allotted as the site of the government offices." This can be seen in a “1861 Map of Victoria and Part of Esquimalt District.” The Legislature is sitting today on that land. The Lekwungen did not receive even one blanket in exchange. (Fisher, Contact and Conflict, p. 68)

An official census of the white population at the end of 1854 found the total on all of Vancouver Island was 744. The population of Fort Victoria was 232. There were 79 houses built close to the Fort. On farms and settlements near Victoria were 154 more whites. (Akrigg, p. 80) Bishop Edward Cridge thought the colony’s entire white population was about 600 in April, 1855. (Mackie, p. 29)


To qualify to vote, male colonists had to own 20 acres of land. 43 colonists qualified to elect the seven member Assembly in 1856. Only males owning 300 acres or more could run for office. Native people were not entitled to own land or vote. Richard Mackie explains: “By charging one pound per acre and linking the franchise to the ownership of land, the Colonial Office forged a legal and formal connection between wealth, land, and political power.” (Mackie, p. 25)

The HBC was always in need of labourers for their subsidiary companies (they operated coal mines, farms and sawmills). Four large farms, including Craigflower Farm, were run in the Victoria area by the Puget Sound Agricultural Company (PSAC), a subsidiary of the HBC. Douglas was the salaried “agent” for this company, along with his many other salaried jobs. The PSAC brought “several hundred” indentured servants to help work the land and also imported Kanaka workers from Hawaii. Later, in 1858, racial tension in California between whites and blacks led Douglas to invite blacks to Victoria. 35 came first with up to 800 following in the next two years.

The aboriginal population of Vancouver Island was 25,873 in 1856. (Helmcken Papers, BCA) “The Native population... constituted the largest, cheapest, most accessible and most knowledgeable pool of labour in the colony.” (Mackie, p. 23) They helped construct European houses, cleared land, built roads, made shingles, tended colonist gardens, worked as domestics and filled in part of the harbour.


James Deans, who Dr. Grant Keddie calls “Victoria’s first notable archaeological enthusiast,” counted twenty-three cairns on the sides and the summit of Beacon Hill in 1857. Deans stated the cairns were visible for the next twenty years, until 1877, but when he revisited the “ancient cemetery” in 1897, many of the surface boulders of the cairns were moved or completely gone. White immigrants were responsible for removing the boulders.

“Victoria in 1857 was a little hamlet of a few hundred souls.” The discovery of gold in the Fraser River was about to drastically change the “sleepy little backwoods trading post”. (Scholefield, p. 557, 562)

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