First settlers on the land
Long before Captain James Cook became the first non-aboriginal man to set foot on Vancouver Island in 1778, Victoria's rugged yet pristine wilderness had been home to First Nations people.
Many aboriginal families lived on Southern Vancouver Island, each referring to themselves by distinct family group names. These peoples could be separated into three groups that spoke different dialects of the North Straits Salish or Lekwungaynung language and became known as the Songhees, the Saanich and the Sooke First Nations peoples. Each had their permanent winter villages in the area.
These traditional territories included:
- Teechamitsa (the western boundary; its most southern coastal points were at Albert Head/Parry Bay (now Metchosin) and about ten miles inland “to the range of mountains on the Sanitch arm.”
- Kosapsum (Esquimalt).
- Whyuwmilth (which extended north from the mouth of Millstream, in the Esquimalt Harbour, to the mountains near Goldstream).
- Swengwhung (roughly the James Bay neighbourhood of what is now Victoria).
- Chlicowitch (roughly the Fairfield neighbourhood of what is now Victoria).
- Cheko’nein (eastern territory included Point Gonzales and Mount Douglas).
The Hudson's Bay Company & Fort Victoria
In 1843, James Douglas chose Victoria (then known as Camosack), as a Hudson Bay Company trading post. The post was eventually renamed Fort Victoria, in honour of Queen Victoria. Between 1850 and 1854, Governor James Douglas negotiated fourteen treaties with Coast Salish peoples on Vancouver Island. The Lekwungen were then relocated to reserves, one of which was overlooking Victoria's Inner Harbour. Reserve land was later moved west to Esquimalt.
Today, the Esquimalt Nation is a small nation with approximately 150 members living on reserve and another 100 living off reserve. Off reserve members live in Victoria, in other parts of Vancouver Island and BC, Alberta, and in a number of communities in Washington State.