Fur trading is an essential part of Vancouver Island’s history, and without it, places like Victoria may have never been settled to the extent they are today. Captain Cook stopped on the West Coast of Vancouver Island in 1778, traded for sea otter pelts with the locals, and with over 1500 pelts continued on his way. Once the news of the plentiful furs to be had on the island got out the next 25 years saw almost two hundred ships come from Europe and the USA to profit from the fur trade.
When fur trading began between the First Nations people and the Europeans the furs were trapped and processed by the First Nations. Though soon Europe’s demand for furs outstripped the First People’s ability to produce. This meant that the Europeans themselves started hunting and trapping fur animals. Even so, the First Nations Peoples’ role in this trade is not to be underestimated. Without their knowledge and cooperation fur trading would have been unable to flourish.
In 1843 Fort Victoria was founded as the Pacific Headquarters for the Hudson Bay Company. Sea otter hunting had become a huge industry and the demand was so high that by the time Fort Victoria was settled the sea otter was virtually extinct. At this point the fur traders moved onto another plentiful sea mammal – the fur seal. By the late 1800s almost 60 sealing schooners were operating out of Fort Victoria. These two-masted sailing vessels employed over 1200 people and ran a brisk business, especially in March when the animals migrated past Vancouver Island on their way to Alaska. Sealing created a huge boom that supported hotels, rooming house, saloons, restaurants and shops – basically any services needed by the large crews of the schooners.