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First Nations in the City
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This is a photograph of people, standing on a dock in New Westminster by a First Nations canoe ready for mail delivery to Victoria.
First Nations people were employed to take express mail by canoe to and from Victoria; New Westminster, 1864.
Frances George Claudet, BC Archives HP087822, E-07739.
In 1858, 20,000 people came through Victoria from California on their way to the gold rush on the mainland. New businesses sprang up, and many foreigners stayed and settled in the region. For the first time, local First Nations did not comprise the majority of the population.

Many northern aboriginal people visited or moved to Victoria for commercial purposes, their camps stretching along the Inner Harbour. For example, in April 1859, there were 2,835 First Nations people camped near the city. Of these, approximately 600 were Songhees. The rest included Haida (405 people), Tsimshian (574), Stikine River Tlingit (223), Duncan Cowichan (111), Heiltsuk (126), Pacheedaht (62) and Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw (44). Victoria was also a commercial centre for large numbers of First Nations people from Washington State.

The smallpox virus arrived in Victoria in 1862, carried by a man on a steamer from San Francisco. Most of the Songhees had been vaccinated, but the disease was devastating for the First Peoples visiting from the north coast. Police commissioner Joseph Pemberton ordered the removal of all aboriginal people in Victoria, except for those "employed by whites," and people returning home took the disease with them, along the coast and up the rivers to the interior, causing annihilation in village after village. Eventually, smaller numbers of northerners returned to Victoria, but the extent of their influence on the local society and economy was never the same.

Haida encampment on the Songhees Reserve, 1864. BC Archives 97976, H-1497.
This is a black and white photograph of a Haida encampment on the Songhees Reserve with ocean in the background.
Victoria remained a First Nations centre, however. Important potlatches that took place on the Songhees Reserve brought hundreds of people to Victoria from the 1860s into the twentieth century.
People gathered outside Ches-lum George's house, Songhees Reserve, for Sxwayxwey dances and the distribution of blankets during his big potlatch of 1895. RBCM PN X120.
This is a black and white photograph of people gathered outside Ches-lum George's house on the Songhees Reserve, canoes in foreground.
Memorial potlatch for Ida Jackson, daughter of Jacob and Sarah Chipps of Clo-oose (Ditidaht), Songhees Reserve, 1908. RBCM PN 8929.
This is a black and white photograph of a memorial potlatch for Ida Jackson at Songhees Reserve in1908.
Large numbers of First Nations people camped at Victoria on their way to and from seasonal work in the canneries on the Fraser River and the hop fields in Washington.
First Nations fishing boats returning from the Fraser River fishery, Victoria's Inner Harbour, ca. 1901-04.RBCM PN 6820.
This is a black and white photograph of First Nations fishing boats with sails up in Victoria's Inner Harbour.
Saanich people camped at the old public market in Victoria, September 1904, on their way home from picking hops in Washington. RBCM PN 1433.
This is a black and white photograph of Saanich people camped, with tents, at the old public market in Victoria, buildings in the background.
Visitors camping at Hope Point, Songhees Reserve, ca. 1907. RBCM PN 8929.
This is a black and white photograph of visitors camping at Hope Point, on the Songhees Reserve.
First Nations in the City -