The Township of Esquimalt is a municipality at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Canada. It is bordered to the east by the provincial capital, Victoria, to the south by the Strait of Juan de Fuca, to the west by Esquimalt Harbour and Royal Roads, to the northwest by the New Songhees IR No. 1A Indian reserve and the town of View Royal, and to the north by a narrow inlet of water called the Gorge, across which is the district municipality of Saanich. It is part of Greater Victoria & the Capital Regional District.
History of Esquimalt
The region now known as Esquimalt was settled by First Nations people approximately 400 years before the arrival of Europeans. The treaties of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), signed in 1843, refer to these people as the Kosampsom group, though they are now known as the Esquimalt Nation. The word Esquimalt is a transliteration of "Ess-whoy-malth," a phrase usually translated as "place of the shoaling waters." The Songhees people (then called Songish), who now have a reserve in Esquimalt, were originally located on the western shore of what is now Victoria Harbour, but were relocated in 1911. Both nations spoke a North Straits Salish dialect called Lekwungen (which is also an alternate name for the Songhees).
The first Europeans to reach Esquimalt were the Spanish expedition of Manuel Quimper in the Princesa Real in 1790, with Gonzalo López de Haro and Juan Carrasco as pilotos (equivalent to master). Quimper entered and carefully mapped Esquimalt Harbour, which his first mate named Puerto de Córdova after the 46th viceroy of New Spain. Quimper claimed the region for Spain and placed a wooden cross on a hill. When the Spanish returned later that summer the cross had vanished. In 1792 Captain George Vancouver extensively explored the region. Following resolution of the Nootka Crisis, control of the region went to the British and the British owned Hudson's Bay Company.
In 1843, near the height of the Oregon question, the HBC was looking for a new location for its Pacific base of operations. John McLoughlin the company's chief factor at Fort Vancouver ordered James Douglas to build a new fort on Vancouver Island. Douglas liked Esquimalt Harbour, but rejected it as a site for a fort because there were too many trees there. Douglas chose a spot on the eastern shore of Victoria Harbour at the mouth of the Gorge Inlet. He called it Fort Camosun, after the Lekwungen name for the Gorge, Camossung, but later renamed it Fort Victoria in honour of the British queen.
However, ships continued to use Esquimalt Harbour to load and offload passengers and supplies. In 1852, sailors from a British naval ship, HMS Thetis, built a trail through the forest linking the harbour with Victoria Harbour and the fort. This trail, since paved over, is now one of Esquimalt's main streets, Old Esquimalt Road.
Meanwhile, the Hudson's Bay Company decided to try its hand at farming. Douglas leased all of Vancouver Island for seven shillings a year from Great Britain, and had a division of the HBC, the Puget Sound Agricultural Company, come in to develop the land. The Viewfield farm was the first in 1850, with the Constance Cove farm and Craigflower farms added later. The Craigflower farmhouse still exists as a heritage site, as does the Craigflower schoolhouse built to serve the settlers' children. Thomas Mackenzie, the bailiff in charge of the farm, named it for the ancestral home of one of his superiors, in an attempt at flattery. By the mid-1860s, the farms were considered failures and abandoned, and the property sold off in small parcels.
In 1855, the British Royal Navy constructed three hospital buildings on the harbour to treat casualties of the Crimean War. A small settlement grew up on the water's edge near the naval installation. But in 1858, the discovery of gold on the Fraser River triggered a massive influx of people, who came to Fort Victoria to buy permits and supplies before setting out for the mainland. Many of these ships landed in Esquimalt Harbour. Some of these people stayed in the area, including a few who opened up pubs, as well as some less-than-successful gold miners. With the growing population came the area's first building boom.
Even after the Oregon Treaty of 1846, the boundary between the British Gulf Islands and the U.S. islands in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound was not fully defined. An incident, involving an American settler shooting a HBC farm pig on San Juan Island led to the Pig War with the USA in 1859.
In 1865, the British Royal Navy relocated the headquarters of its Pacific fleet from Valparaíso, Chile, to the Esquimalt Harbour. In 1887, a military base was located at Work Point. In 1905, the Royal Navy abandoned the area, but the Pacific base of the new Royal Canadian Navy replaced it in 1910. Gradually, naval life and shipbuilding came to dominate the region's sense of identity. In 1887, the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway was built through the centre of town.
In June 2010, the Royal Canadian Navy celebrated its 100th anniversary with a Fleet Review in the waters off of Greater Victoria, by Canada's Governor General Michaëlle Jean. The review was attended by warships from Canada, France, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, the United States and US and Canadian Coast Guard vessels.