Victoria has 12 neighbourhoods, but the oldest of these boast rich heritage value and distinct character, and are places worthy of a visit.
Victoria first started in the Inner Harbour with the arrival of the fur trade and expanded from there, making James Bay, downtown, and Fernwood some of Victoria’s original neighbourhoods.
James Bay is a charming neighbourhood peninsula bordered east by Beacon Hill Park and downtown’s Inner Harbour on the west. It’s the oldest residential neighbourhood on the west coast of North America, north of San Francisco.
The name comes from the shallow tidal inlet extending from the Inner Harbour, named after Sir James Douglas, the first governor of the Colony of B.C. Today, the Royal BC Museum occupies the place where Douglas’ home once stood.
Historic homes and beautiful gardens of Victoria’s founding families remain: find beloved Canadian artist Emily Carr’s childhood home built in 1863, the grand Pendray residence on Belleville Street which is now the elegant Pendray Inn and Tea House, or the pink Pinehurst built in 1889 on Battery Street.
From the luxurious Fairmont Empress Hotel – a National Historic Site – stroll down Belleville Street for the Parliament plus restaurants with a beautiful Inner Harbour view. Below is the James Way Causeway, built in 1903, with the colourful murals of The Unity Wall.
Further south, Fisherman’s Wharf, a colourful community of over 30 float homes, food kiosks, shops, and eco-tour adventures shows the evolution of the neighbourhood.
At Ogden Point Breakwater, the history of coastal Salish nations, who occupied the land until they transferred it to Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in 1840, is depicted in colourful murals.
Continue on to Beacon Hill Park, one of Victoria’s best-loved green spaces since the 1950s. The Lekwungen deemed the hill a sacred place that translated roughly to “warmed by the sun.”
Fairfield and Gonzales
Some of Victoria’s most prestigious neighbourhoods all started when Sir James Douglas landed at Clover Point in 1842 in search of an HBC trading-post site.
James founded an Inner Harbour fort in the 1850s and soon after bought a 418-acre property between Fort Street and Clover Point which he called Fairfield Farm. Large tracts were leased to tenants and things began to flourish.
In 1861, civil engineer Joseph Trutch built a house at 601 Trutch St. and went on to become the first lieutenant-governor of B.C. in 1871.
Fairfield, which was quite a swamp, remained largely undeveloped until the arrival of the electric street car line during Victoria’s largest building boom from 1907-1913.
If you’re looking for whispers of history, look no further than the Ross Bay Villa museum, a Gothic-Revival style home built in 1865, or the 150-year-old Ross Bay Cemetery with some of the areas oldest trees.
Clover Point is now a park where you’ll find views of Washington State’s Olympic Mountains, Mount Baker and soaring paragliders.
And though Emily Carr in her Book of Small recalls Cook and Pakington being used as a garbage dump until 1907, today Cook Street Village is a trendy collection of shops and cafes.
A neighbourhood of mansions, Rocklands is where you’ll find the Government House – residence of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia – and the Craigdarroch Castle, a 25,000-square-foot manor, built by a Scottish coal baron in the Victorian-era.
Part of Victoria’s Downtown and James Bay make up one of the largest historic areas in B.C.: Old Town.
Designated as a conservation area by the City of Victoria and preserved through design guidelines, there are three areas of distinct character in Old Town: the old commercial district, a collection of commercial heritage buildings constructed in the late 1800s; Chinatown; and the waterfront area with old warehouse buildings and hotels.
Explore Canada’s oldest Chinatown which is marked by the grand Gate of Harmonious Interest. Down Fisgard Street, you’ll find ornate buildings including restaurants, a Buddhist temple, the Chinese Public School, and other vibrant shops.
We’ve only just touched on some of the amazing local neighbourhood history in Victoria. For more, visit victoriaheritagefoundation.ca.