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History of Esquimalt

Native people of the Coast Salish linguistic group used Esquimalt for 400 years before the advent of a European settlement.  The Victoria treaties signed in 1843 between the Hudson Bay Company and local native leaders indicate that at that time the Esquimalt Peninsula was the territory of the Kosampsom group.  There has long been a village near Ashe Head on the eastern shore of Esquimalt Harbour and this is where the Esquimalt Band makes its home today.  Another group, the Songhees, has a reserve nearby established in 1911.

The first European to enter Esquimalt Harbour was the Spanish explorer Don Manuel Quimper, who arrived in 1790 and gave it the name “Puerto de Cordova”.  Hudson Bay Company Chief Factor, James Douglas (later Governor of the Crown Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia) visited Esquimalt Harbour in 1843 on a mission to seek a new site for the HBC’s operations north of the 49th parallel.  He saw the agricultural potential of the land that is now Esquimalt.  After signing a series of treaties with local native people to acquire the area for the HBC, Douglas established three farms here to supply Fort Victoria and other HBC forts in the northwest with agricultural products.

Esquimalt possesses one of the finest natural harbours on the west coast of the Americas, and this fact was not lost upon the representatives of the Royal Navy who established its headquarters in Esquimalt Harbour in 1865.  In 1887 the naval dockyard was completed, giving the Royal Navy a state-of-the-art repair and refitting site on Canadian soil.  Thus began Esquimalt’s long and close association with Maritime Forces.  Originally the small settlement that began to grow in the shadow of Signal Hill with its wharf and shops supplied the naval personnel with basic necessities.  When Crown lands from the original Esquimalt townsite to the western boundaries of the Puget’s Sound farms were sold off between 1856 and 1858 the buyers included many of British Columbia’s most prominent early citizens such as Roderick Finlayson and Dr. Helmcken.

In 1886 the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway was constructed through the centre of Esquimalt and in 1887 a military base was established at Work Point.  As the naval presence began to dominate the town’s social life, Esquimalt became an attractive place for Victoria’s wealthy business people to build their substantial homes.

Although the naval base was abandoned by the Royal Navy in 1905, it was revived when the Royal Canadian Navy was created in 1910.  Although the Third Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry are no longer garrisoned at Work Point, Esquimalt is still the home of the Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt which is the support base for the ships of the Maritime Forces Pacific (HMCS Naden).

26 May 1886 The last stone is laid in the "First Graving Dock" Esquimalt


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