Victoria (BC)

Victoria, BC, incorporated as a city in 1862, population 80 017 (2011c), 78 057 (2006c). The capital of British Columbia, the City of Victoria is situated on the southern tip of VANCOUVER ISLAND, about 100 km south of Vancouver. Occupying a peninsular site, Victorians view the bordering JUAN DE FUCA and Haro straits, backed by the Olympic Mountains of Washington to the south and the San Juan Islands to the east, with the majestic, volcanic peak of Mount Baker in the distance. The metropolitan area is characterized by a number of low hills interspersed with relatively flat areas, and is bordered on the west by the fjord-like Saanich Inlet and the richly forested higher elevations of Malahat Ridge and the Sooke Hills.

Greater Victoria lies within the Capital Regional District (CRD), a federation comprising the following incorporated areas: the cities of Victoria, COLWOOD and Langford; the towns of SIDNEY and VIEW ROYAL; and the municipalities of SAANICH, OAK BAY, ESQUIMALT, CENTRAL SAANICH, NORTH SAANICH, Sooke, Metchosin and Highlands. The CRD also includes the electoral areas of Juan de Fuca, the Southern GULF ISLANDS and SALTSPRING ISLAND. The population of Greater Victoria is 345 000; the population of the CRD is 360 000.

Settlement

The site of Victoria was chosen for settlement in 1843 by James DOUGLAS, a chief factor at the HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY [HBC] at Fort Vancouver (Vancouver, Wash), near the mouth of the Columbia River. A boundary settlement between the US and BRITISH NORTH AMERICA was anticipated, and in the event that the 49th parallel was extended to the Pacific, which did occur in 1846, the HBC wanted an alternative fur trading headquarters site under development.

The smaller harbour of Camosack (Victoria Harbour) was chosen over that of Esquimalt for the establishment of FORT VICTORIA (named after Queen VICTORIA) because it was bordered by extensive tracts of level to gently sloping land suitable for agriculture. Originally the area was occupied by Lekwungen (now called Songhees) Aboriginal people who fished and harvested camas bulbs and cherry bark here. The place was associated with the Songhees legend of a wilful girl named Camossung who was turned to stone by Haylas, the mystical transformer. There were also benign spirits. A promontory on the harbour was a sacred site where cradles for infant children were blessed in pre-contact times.

Victoria became a seat of government in 1849 when the colony of VANCOUVER ISLAND was created. Douglas, having succeeded Richard Blanshard as governor, concluded 11 treaties with local Aboriginal groups between 1850 and 1854 to secure title to land in the vicinity of Victoria. By the terms of the Douglas Treaties, the Crown recognized existing Aboriginal village sites and acknowledged traditional Aboriginal hunting and fishing rights; in exchange, for cash and trade goods, Aboriginal leaders ceded title of their territories to the Crown. The treaties have featured in several LAND CLAIMS disputes in Victoria and nearby communities in recent years.

Development

Victoria remained a small community of less than 1000 population until it burgeoned as the supply centre and jumping-off point for the FRASER RIVER GOLD RUSH of 1858. It was the entrepôt for the CARIBOO GOLD RUSH when incorporated as a city in 1862. The commodious Esquimalt Harbour nearby was designated as a naval base by the British Admiralty in 1865 and still performs this role today as CFB Esquimalt. Victoria's political capital function remained through the successive stages as capital of the colony of Vancouver Island, then of the amalgamated colony of British Columbia (1866) and province of BRITISH COLUMBIA (1871).

As the metropolitan centre of BC, Victoria was unchallenged until the rise of VANCOUVER following the arrival of the CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY (CPR) at Burrard Inlet in 1886. Although it was a terminus of the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway (1886), an important regional line, Victoria's relative economic position declined. By the turn of the 20th century, Vancouver had taken over many of the shipping, commercial and manufacturing functions of Victoria, and the capital city gradually settled into its modern role as a government, naval, tourist and retirement centre.

Cityscape

The narrow, doglegged Victoria Harbour and its long extension, The Gorge, constitute a picturesque, human-scaled focus for the city. In Songhees legend, the large rock beneath the tidal rapids on The Gorge waterway is the unfortunate Camossung. The inner harbour is flanked by the impressive provincial legislative buildings completed in 1898 and the Empress Hotel (1908). Recent planning developments have capitalized on the unique, old-world charm of this area by establishing an extensive public walkway along much of the harbour front. Since 2002, port facilities and amenities have been regulated by the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.

The rehabilitation of Old Town, the late 19th century commercial core around Bastion Square, began in the 1980s. Victoria's Chinatown, the oldest in Canada, was also revitalized then and is now graced by the colourful and decorative Gate of Harmonious Interest. Still, several heritage buildings have been replaced by modern, highrise structures in the city centre, as downtown businesses struggle to compete with commercial and residential developments in neighbouring Saanich, Langford and Colwood. A consequence of this suburban growth is aggravated traffic congestion known as the "Colwood crawl" on the approaches to Victoria.

Population

Compared with other large Canadian cities, Victoria's metropolitan area population is older and more strongly of British origin, despite the infusion of other ethnic groups over the last 50 years. In 2006, both the city and metropolitan area had the highest proportion of population over the age of 80 and the third-highest over the age of 65 among their Canadian counterparts. The mother tongue of Victorians is overwhelmingly English, followed by Chinese, French and German. In the city of Victoria, 12% of residents were classified as visible minorities, the most prominent being Chinese, South Asians and Blacks. In the larger metropolitan area, visible minorities made up 10% of the population, with Chinese, South Asians and Filipinos being prominent constituents. Aboriginal people comprise nearly 4% of the population, the largest groups being the Tsawout and Tsartlip on the Saanich Peninsula, and the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations closer to the city centre. A majority of Victorians profess a religious faith, Christianity having most adherents. Protestants outnumber Roman Catholics by a ratio of 2:1.

The city has a significant and growing homeless population. The city operates several emergency and transitional shelters, and has purchased former motels and downtown rooming houses in an effort to accommodate this population.

Economy and Labour Force

The prominence of government and tourism in Victoria's economy means a high proportion of the labour force being engaged in public administration, personal services and retail trade. The lack of a well-populated hinterland on the narrow southern tip of Vancouver Island has constricted the growth of wholesale trade, and Victoria's isolation from major mainland markets has discouraged manufacturing. Some industries have shifted to the mainland in recent years, but others, particularly in the research and development of high technology, have moved into the area. Companies affiliated with the Victoria Advanced Technology Council (established in 1989) employ more than 13 000 people.

Communications

There are 8 radio stations, including the student-run radio stations at the University of Victoria and at Camosun College. Victorians also receive a wide variety of radio broadcasts from Vancouver and Seattle. There are 2 local television stations, one affiliated with a national network, the other independently owned by employees and local investors.

The only daily newspaper is the Victoria Times-Colonist, but there are also several weekly free newspapers, which enjoy a large readership. Several small publishing houses are in Victoria, some of which cater to fine literature, but most of which are commercial in nature. Victoria's community "freenet" claims to have been the first such Internet service in Canada.

Transportation

Ferry connections with the mainland have always been of the utmost importance to Victorians. The CPR steamship service from Vancouver to Victoria was replaced in 1960 by the provincially-owned BC Ferries operating from Swartz Bay, north of Victoria, to Tsawwassen, south of Vancouver. BC Ferries, which is headquartered in Victoria, has operated independently of the provincial government since 2003. Other motor vehicle conveyances are the Washington State Ferries from Sidney to Anacortes and Black Ball ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, Washington. There is also a passenger-only high-speed catamaran service from Victoria to Seattle.

Air transportation further mitigates geographic isolation of island life through Victoria International Airport, located 22 km north of the city, while seaplanes provide regular service from mainland points to Victoria Harbour. As a shipping port, Victoria has declined in importance, but as a maritime destination, it has grown substantially, with more than 100 luxurious cruise ships visiting its Ogden Point pier every year. Local shipyards have expanded to refit these large vessels.

Government and Politics

Administratively, Greater Victoria is the most fractured metropolitan area in Canada, having over a dozen cities, towns and municipalities, each with its own mayor and elected councillors. The area is covered by 3 school districts, and protected by a dozen municipal and voluntary fire departments. Greater Victoria is served by 4 different police departments and several RCMP detachments. Efforts by the provincial government to amalgamate police services have been resisted by local jurisdictions, as have efforts to amalgamate regional municipal governments and school boards. However, functions relating to regional parks, water supply and waste disposal are coordinated by the CRD.

Cultural Life

Victoria is well endowed with educational and fine arts institutions. The UNIVERSITY OF VICTORIA (founded in 1963) grew out of Victoria College (1903), which was originally affiliated with McGill University and subsequently with the University of British Columbia. Other institutions include the Victoria Conservatory of Music (1964) and Camosun College (1971). In 1995, the former Royal Roads Military College was restructured as Royal Roads University, and in 2005 one of Canada's first private for-profit universities, University Canada West, opened in the city.

The Royal British Columbia Museum and Butchart Gardens (20 km northwest) are leading attractions for visitors. The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the Victoria Symphony Orchestra, Pacific Opera Victoria and annual music and dramatic festivals have enhanced the city's reputation in the arts. Canada's first artificial ice rink was built in Victoria in 1911 (see SPORTS FACILITIES). Since then, from time to time, the city has supported professional hockey, along with pro and semi-pro baseball and lacrosse. Victoria played host to the COMMONWEALTH GAMES in 1994 and the annual Royal Victoria Marathon (1979) is one of the premier competitions in Canada.