Before the gold rush, Fort Victoria was sparsely inhabited by Hudson’s Bay Company employees. As Alfred Waddington wrote, “there was no noise, no bustle, no gamblers or speculators…as to business, there was none.”
All of that changed when word got out about the Fraser River gold rush. So many gold seekers arrived at once from San Francisco that many had to spend their nights sleeping in the bush or makeshift tents. The town also crowded with Haidas, Bella Bellas, Tsimshians, Kwakiutl, Coast Salish and others.
By June 1858, the Colony had established a Land Office and was selling lots near the Fort for $50 at a rate faster than they could be surveyed. Within a week, the price went up to $100. Not surprisingly, this attracted land speculators who bought many of these lots and were selling them for up to $5,000.
Because the government only sold parcels of land of 20 acres each, town lots were sold by the Hudson’s Bay Company and private owners.
According to Alfred Waddington:
“One half a fifty dollar corner lot, the whole of which had been offered successively for $250, $500, and $1000 and finally sold for $1,100, was resold a fortnight afterwards, that is to say the half of it, for $5000. Old town lots, well situated, brought any price, and [retail] frontages of 20 and 50 feet, by 60 deep, rented from $250 to $400 a month.”
Wrote a correspondent from the Times of San Francisco: “(Victoria) is the San Francisco of 1849 reproduced…The same hurry-scurry, hurley burley, dust, inconvenience, bad living, cheating, and lying. The sudden metamorphosis of a quiet little hamlet of scarcely 400 souls to a huge hive of 6000 or 7000 brigands…”
The ensuing building boom also brought demands from the public for improvements and infrastructure.