Central Saanich History
The lands, seas, and peoples of Central Saanich have a rich and remarkable history, stretching back to the W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations, through first contact and European settlement, the District’s incorporation, and the evolution of the community we all share today. This history continues to influence and inspire the region, as the District and the Tsartlip and Tsawout First Nations grow and strive to honour our past, embrace the present, and prepare for the future.
In the menu below you will find a summary of our region’s history through different stages and eras. While only an overview of a complex and bountiful history, this summary provides a glimpse into our past to better understand our present.
If you’re interested in learning more and seeing our preserved past for yourself, please see the Related Pages section.
The Tsartlip and Tsawout First Nations have a rich and vital history in the region. To learn more, visit the First Nations page here.
In the 18th century, Spanish and British expeditions navigated the coastline of Vancouver Island looking to expand their colonial possessions. In 1843, Fort Victoria was established by the Hudson Bay Company as a trading post under James Douglas. In 1851, the lands of Vancouver Island were granted to the Hudson Bay Company for settlement as a Crown Colony.
The Crown entered treaty relationships with the W̱SÁNEĆ peoples in 1852 through the signing of the North and South Saanich Douglas Treaties. While the written text of this treaty documents the transfer of land, the preservation of W̱SÁNEĆ village sites and enclosed fields, and the protection of W̱SÁNEĆ people’s right to fish and hunt, the W̱SÁNEĆ people’s oral histories describe it differently.
Under W̱SÁNEĆ oral history, the Douglas Treaties – often referred to as Douglas’ Word – signified a “new beginning” between the Nation and the European settlers. The desire to meet to negotiate a treaty came as the result of a series of historical disputes, including W̱SÁNEĆ efforts to stop timber extraction by James Douglas near the village of ȾEL,IȽĆE (Cordova Bay), the shooting of a W̱SÁNEĆ messenger boy by a settler near Mount Tolmie, and threats W̱SÁNEĆ people had made against Douglas and Fort Victoria in response. At this meeting, Douglas acknowledged the extent of the W̱SÁNEĆ homelands and recognized W̱SÁNEĆ rights and responsibilities to the land, and the parties agreed that the W̱SÁNEĆ and settlers would live on these lands in a peaceful relationship with one another. Under W̱SÁNEĆ oral history, W̱SÁNEĆ people did not sell W̱SÁNEĆ land.
The complications that have arisen because of the differing accounts of this historical event are still emerging today.
Only 10 years after the signing of the Douglas Treaty, colonist settlers who arrived by ship to Victoria brought along with them the destructive smallpox infection. Estimates have shown over 30,000 Indigenous people died the following year, representing approximately 60 per cent of their population at the time. Paired with the residential school system and the ban on the potlatch, Indigenous communities were rendered devastated and depopulated.
Following the Douglas Treaties, the first European settlers arrived in what is now Central Saanich in 1855. The first three families were the Lidgates, the McPhails, and the Thomsons. The Lidgates (1858) and Bannockburn (1869) cabins are still standing today. In fact, their construction at the base of Mt. Newton led to a roadway connecting East and West Saanich roads.
The early settlers were mostly farmers who utilized the land's fertile soil to grow hops, fruit, hay, grains, and berries. They also engaged in some logging and fishing. In the early days of settlement, the journey to Victoria was a four-day canoe trip around the Peninsula.
Robert Pim and Jennie Butchart opened a large limestone quarry and cement plant in 1904. The BC Cement plant supplied international markets with cement by way of a barge from Tod Inlet around the Saanich Peninsula and into Victoria's Inner Harbour. The factory closed in 1916, but tiles and pots continued to be manufactured on the site until 1950. Following the closure of plant, Mrs. Butchart started her ambitious beautification of the property with the Sunken Garden (originally the limestone quarry) and Butchart Gardens bloomed from there, soon to become an international destination for tourists. Today, it is a National Historic Site of Canada.
In 1950, Central Saanich separated from the Municipality of Saanich to protect its rural heritage. The Corporation of the District of Central Saanich was incorporated on December 12, 1950, and the Central Saanich Fire Department and Municipal Police Department were added in 1951. In 1956, a Zoning Bylaw was introduced to regulate land uses.
SȾÁUTW̱ (Tsawout) and W̱JOȽEȽP (Tsartlip) First Nations are part of the Corporation of the District of Central Saanich Letters Patent, the document giving legal status to the municipality, a unique inclusion within British Columbia and Canada.
The District adopted its first Official Community Plan (OCP) in 1979, following the creation of the Agricultural Land Reserve in 1973.
Each subsequent Central Saanich OCPs in 1979, 1985, 1990, and 2008 established policies to support a compact community with pedestrian-oriented settlement, protect agricultural areas and rural character, provide a range of housing for all income and age groups, and develop a base of industrial employment. They have focused on protecting the District's marine shorelines, inland wetlands, creeks and streams, and wildlife habitat, and the importance of making land use decisions based on the natural features and capabilities of the land. Improved public transit, safe and convenient systems for pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians, and a road system which minimizes the impact of auto travel on the community have also been key tenets of past OCPs.
Preceding the 1990 plan, changes to the Municipal Act allowed the District to designate certain areas of the municipality as "Development Permit Areas," because of their environmental sensitivity or for reasons related to the "form and character" of multi-family, commercial, and industrial areas.
Building on this, the 1999 plan set out to establish a long-term vision for Central Saanich, including a fundamental philosophy and a companion series of 16 principles based on the Community Goals of the 1990 plan. The plan further differentiated from its predecessors by addressing economic development through policies related to continued diversification from the area’s agricultural roots. It also tackled social well-being, through policies related to fostering 'complete' and diverse communities that ensure housing affordability and choice, along with a range of community support services.
The current 2008 plan explicitly addresses the concepts of sustainability and climate change, and focuses on several other key issues including housing affordability, an aging population, the capacity for new residential growth, protecting biodiversity, the importance of agricultural lands and local food systems, social diversity, and relationships with First Nations.
In recent years, the District has been working on a range of projects related to an update of the OCP, including the Residential Infill and Densification Study, Active Transportation Plan, Climate Leadership Plan, and Saanichton Village Design Plan. These initiatives and the needs and ideas of our residents are important building blocks for the revised OCP, and the District is committed to making sure our community is starting out on the right foot as we head into the future.
For more information on the Official Community Plan and its review click here.