Early water woes in Victoria

When the Hudson’s Bay Company post of Victoria suddenly became a “full-grown town” in 1858, it lacked most civic amenities, including street lights and drinking water.

By late 1861, the Fraser Canyon gold rush had lost its lustre and the Cariboo gold rush had not galvanized the masses of goldseekers. Supplies in Victoria were still quite expensive.

Annie Harvey wrote in her memoirs:

“…what would we say to paying 25 cents for an egg? That was what my uncle paid for the eggs used in the first Christmas pudding we enjoyed in British Columbia. As to needles, my mother needed a few extra large ones, and upon going to a shop to purchase them, the man held up a package, inquiring, ‘How many do you want? They are four for 25 cents.”

Victoria was over ten years away from getting gas for street lights. There was only coal oil, paraffin and camphene lamps to light homes, stores and other buildings. The streets were dark at night.

Incredibly, drinking water was scarce. Unless one had a well, it was necessary to buy water from water carriers who sold water stored in barrels on horse drawn carts.

Harvey wrote: “At one house…we were obliged to rely on tanks of rainwater, buying all the water we drank, and if the water in the tanks ran short we were obliged to buy for all purposes…The summer did away with that trouble when the boys could take their daily swim [in the ocean] clad only in nature’s garb.”