Vancouver Island History


150 Million Years BCE –  Volcanic activity pushes folded and faulted volcanic and sedimentary rock upwards from the ocean floor to form a rugged island landscape.

40,000 BCE – An early approximate date (according to the “long chronology theory”) for the arrival of the first Eurasian migrants to North America across the Bering Sea land bridge.  

12,000 BCE – Retreating glaciers allow the Pacific Ocean to flood into what is now the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Salish Sea. 

5850 BCE – First currently known site of human habitation on Vancouver Island as discovered in an archeological dig at Bear Cove in Port Hardy. Indigenous peoples included the Kwakwaka’wakw on the Island’s north end, the Nuu-chah-nulth on the Pacific coast, and Coast Salish in the southeast.  

377 CE – Oldest-known tree on Vancouver Island – a yellow cedar (chamaecyparis nootkatensis) – first takes root. 

1774 – The Spanish frigate Santiago under the command of Juan Perez anchors in Nootka Sound and initiates European contact with the Nuu-chah-nulth peoples. 

1778 – English explorer James Cook arrives in Nootka Sound on March 29 with his ships the Resolution and Discovery. A resultant trade in seal and otter pelts brings  hundreds of European and North American traders to the area over the next 40 years, nearly eradicating sea otters in the process. 

1792/95 – British Royal Navy officer Captain George Vancouver maps and circumnavigates the Island as part of his expedition to chart North America’s Pacific northwestern coastline. The Island was originally known to Europeans as “Quadra and Vancouver Island” in reference to the friendly meetings between Capt. Vancouver and his Spanish counterpart, Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra. 

1795 – Spanish withdraw from Nootka Sound and the region. 

1840s – Humpback, gray, blue and minke whales are hunted for their oils, and killed in such high numbers that it takes less than a century to put the species near extinction.

1843 – Fort Victoria is built by the Hudson Bay Company under the direction of fur trader James Douglas. 

1846 – The 49th parallel latitude north (i.e., Ladysmith) is established as the southern boundary between Canada and the U.S. with the signing of the Oregon Treaty. Southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, however, remain under British control. 

1849 – Vancouver Island becomes a Crown Colony of Great Britain and is leased to the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) for seven shillings a year under the condition that it encourage colonization. Richard Blanshard is named as the colony’s first governor. Captain Walter Grant becomes the area’s first independent settler when he establishes a homestead in Sooke (and later introduces Scotch broom to the Island). 

1851/52 – James Douglas succeeds Blanshard. A townsite is established around Fort Victoria, and the name is changed to Victoria. 

1853 – The Nanaimo Bastion is built by the HBC and its employee Robert Dunsmuir (who upon his death in 1889 had become the richest man in BC with an estate valued at $15 million) establishes coal mines in the Nanaimo harbour area. 

1854 – The British Royal Navy relocates its Pacific fleet from Chile to Esquimalt following the outbreak of the Crimean War. 

1856 – Establishment of the Island’s first legislative assembly with seven elected members and a council appointed by Douglas. 

1858 – Arrival in Victoria of the region’s first Gold Rush prospectors, miners and merchants from the U.S., China and Europe en route to the Fraser Valley and Barkerville in the Cariboo district.  James Douglas is additionally named governor of the newly created mainland colony of British Columbia, roles he continues until his retirement six years later. 

1859 – The HBC lease expires and control of Vancouver Island reverts to the British. 

1860 – The West Coast’s first export sawmill opens in Port Alberni. 

1862 – William Chalmers Duncan and settlers aboard the H.M.S. Hecate arrive in Cowichan Bay. 

1862/63 – Smallpox outbreaks and other European diseases devastate the Island’s indigenous population. 

1866 – The colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia are merged into the United Colony of British Columbia with its capital in Victoria and a legislative assembly based in New Westminster on the mainland. 

1867 – The Dominion of Canada is established by the British North America Act

1871 – British Columbia joins the Dominion on July 20 in becoming the new nation’s  sixth province. Emily Carr, one of Canada’s most iconic painters and writers, is born in Victoria. 

1874 – First European settlers, many from Scotland’s Orkney Islands, arrive on Denman Island. 

1881 – Vancouver Island’s population is 17,292 according to Canada’s first official census. 

1886 – Opening of the Provincial Museum of Natural History and Anthropology in Victoria (later to become the Royal British Columbia Museum). The Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway (E&N) is completed. 

1886 – The Canadian Pacific Railway’s last spike is driven into mainland soil, precipitating an economic shift that sees Vancouver overtake Victoria as the province’s leading port and commercial centre.

1890 – Parksville is named after its first postmaster, Nelson Parks.  

1891 – BC’s first paper mill opens on the Alberni Inlet. 

1896 – Campbell River receives its first international attention when Sir Richard Musgrave writes about local salmon fishing in the British magazine The Field

1898 – The principal British Columbia Parliament Buildings near Victoria’s Inner Harbour are completed by architect Francis Rattenbury. 

1902 – Sointula on Malcolm Island is settled by a group of Finnish socialists seeking to establish a utopian place of harmony. 

1904 – Jennie Butchart begins transforming a limestone quarry owned by her cement-manufacturer husband into one of the world’s best-known public gardens. 

1905 – The Canadian Pacific Railway begins construction of the Empress Hotel, another landmark Rattenbury design adjacent to the BC Legislature. 

1907 – Work begins on the West Coast Lifesaving Trail as an emergency measure to aid sailors shipwrecked in the Juan de Fuca Strait. 

1910 – The Canadian Royal Navy’s Pacific fleet joins its British counterpart anchored in the Esquimalt harbour. 

1911 – Strathcona Provincial Park becomes Vancouver Island’s first provincial park and wilderness preserve. 

1912 – Telegraph Cove is founded as a telegraph station connecting Campbell River with the north end of the Island. 

1914 – The E&N Railway is extended north to Courtenay. 

1917 – Women win the right to vote in BC.

1920 – The Kinsol Trestle, the highest railway trestle bridge in the British Commonwealth, is erected above the Koksilah River near Shawnigan Lake. 

1925 – Victoria Cougars win the Stanley Cup.  Creation of the Tyee Club in Campbell River to honour and protect the “Tyee-large” Spring and Chinook salmon.

1926 – Establishment of the McLean Mill steam-powered sawmill in the Alberni Valley.  

1938 – Painters’ Lodge opens on the site of its current location north of Campbell River facing Quadra Island. Salmon-fishing guests include such Hollywood celebrities as Bing Crosby, John Wayne and Bob Hope. 

1942 – Japanese Canadians are relocated from the Island and Gulf Islands to internment camps in the BC interior during the Second World War. 

1947 – Establishment of MacMillian Provincial Park, home to the old-growth forest at Cathedral Grove. 

1952 – Fort Rupert-born Kwakwaka’wakw artist Mungo Martin becomes resident carver at the provincial museum in Victoria. 

1958 – The destruction of Ripple Rock, a nautical hazard north of Campbell River, is the then-largest man-made, non-nuclear explosion in history

1960 – BC Ferries, established as a crown corporation by W.A.C. Bennett’s provincial government, begins providing service between Swartz Bay south of Victoria and Tsawwassen on the mainland. 

1962 – Geoff Courtnell, the highest-scoring Vancouver Island native in National Hockey League history (just ahead of his brother Russ and Comox’s Cam Neeley), is born in Duncan. 

1964 – Port Alberni is hit by pair of tsunamis that wash away 55 homes and damage hundreds more following a massive Alaskan earthquake. Grammy award-winning jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall is born in Nanaimo. 

1967 – First annual Nanaimo Bathtub Race sees 47 of 200 competitors succeed in crossing the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver in motorized bathtubs. 

1969 – The West Coast Trail, a 77km hiking route between Port Renfrew and Bamfield, is created along the path of the former West Coast Lifesaving Trail. 

1970 – Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is established to protect a stretch of coastline from Tofino south to Port Renfrew. 

1974 – The Islands Trust is formed to regulate development of the Gulf Islands. Eight-time National Basketball Association all-star Steve Nash is born in Victoria.

1979 – Highway 19, the first paved road from Campbell River north to Port Hardy, is completed.  BC’s first planned ski resort opens on Mount Washington. 

1980 – U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay opens with its remarkable collection of Kwakwaka’wakw potlatch artifacts reclaimed from international museums. 

1982 – First of dozens of wall-sized murals depicting local historical events are unveiled in the Cowichan Valley sawmill port of Chemainus. 

1983 – Construction begins on a new $1.2 billion multi-lane highway connecting Nanaimo and Victoria. 

1985 – First of many totem poles erected in Duncan, now known as the “City of Totems.” 

1994 – Victoria hosts the Commonwealth Games. 

1995 – Opening of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail hiking route west of Sooke between China and Botanical beaches. 

2000 – UNESCO adds Mount Arrowsmith to its World Network of Biosphere Reserves. 

2003 – Gulf Islands National Park Reserve established safeguard islands and islets in the ecologically sensitive southern Gulf Islands. 

2008 – Opening of the North Coast Trail hiking route in Cape Scott Provincial Park. 

2011 – The first two sections of the BC Marine Trails Network are mapped and officially opened – one leading ocean kayakers through the southern Gulf Islands, the other focusing on the coastline between Port Hardy and Tofino. 

(Sources:; Encyclopedia of British Columbia, Daniel Francis editor; Victoria & Vancouver Island: An Altitude SuperGuide by Dan Klinglesmith; online research)

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