The sale of Hudson Bay Company Fort Victoria

early map of Victoria Harbour and Fort Victoria

early map of Victoria Harbour and Hudson Bay Company Fort Victoria (site of Empress Hotel for reference)

On June 4, 1861, the site of the Hudson’s Bay Fort Victoria and adjoining lots were scheduled to be sold by auction.

At the eleventh hour, the citizens of Victoria rallied when they discovered that the Hudson Bay Company was planning to sell over 3,000 acres of land including the fort site, property at Beacon Hill, and much of the town site.

Just days before the auction was to take place, a court injunction was filed.

“The sale of the property of the Hudson Bay Company Fort Site and adjoining lots is postponed! until further notice” read an announcement from the auctioneer.

A few weeks later, on June 19, 1861, Judge Cameron (brother-in-law of Governor James Douglas) decided that the injunction to prevent the HBC from selling the land was not valid and should not have been granted. His reason was the land was in litigation before the Privy Council and the court should not interfere.

“So far as the sale of the waterfront is concerned, the injunction is refused till interrogatories are answered by the Company as to the parties to whom they sold the lots.”

As the land was assessed at $500,000, citizens requested the elected officials hand over the funds of any such sale to the Colony:

“Their constituents may struggle along under the heavy taxes laid upon them; and every year to come many find their taxes increased to a point barely endurable…enough funds could be had from the settlement of the Hudson Bay Company affairs to exempt the colony from taxes for the next five years.”

As the debate wore on, more fingers were pointed at the elected officials and the influence of the Hudson Bay Company over the town’s affairs. The Company was accused of previously selling a public square and pocketing the profit.

At the close of 1861, the issue showed no signs of abating. If anything, the citizens were becoming increasingly riled up by newspaper accounts of election fraud and the ‘plundering of the Treasury’.