PORT OF CAMOSACK: Roderick Finlayson fired a nine pound cannon ball at the Songhees chief’s lodge, south of Johnson Street, north of Fort Victoria

Johnson Street Bridge represents a fine example of Victoria’s early modern architectural engineering history and of its living transportation history, and is still, amazingly, endangered by a philistine Victoria City Council that doesn’t seem to get the basic rudiments of conservation philosophy applied to Victoria’s own internationally recognized and architecturally significant engineering heritage.

Victoria’s Inner Harbour precinct south of the present Joseph Strauss-designed bridge, and north of the site of the former Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Victoria, has long had a controversial and sometimes violent history, as these excerpts that follow from Monsignor Philip M. Hanley’s The Early History of the Catholic Church on Vancouver Island show.

Monsignor Hanley quotes Roderick Finlayson, the feckless H. B. C. stand-in for Chief Factor Sir James Douglas, describing how the Songhees people moved their village from Cadboro Bay to Victoria harbour, and hence, to their destiny as Victoria’s original outsiders.

 According to Roderick Finlayson, there was a skirmish where H. B. C. cattle were apparently stolen, shots were fired at the Fort from the Songhees-Cowichan village, Finlayson retaliated with a nine pound shot ‘with grape in’ from a cannon at the Chief’s lodge, somehow managing not to have killed anyone…

After that, a fire broke out ‘in the thick wood between the fort and Johnson Street’, which gave Finlayson the pretext he needed to move the Songhees to the other west side of the ‘Comoosin Inlet.’

[ Hanley’s narrative is indicated in italics…]

– ‘Goyo de la Rosa, Editor



Mr. Douglas, late Sir James, had command of the whole party.

We proceeded south and reached Victoria harbour (selected in the spring as the fort site), landed there on the first of June, 1843, and commenced building the fort with the forces from the abandoned stations named, consisting of about fifty men and three officers, one of whom, a Mr. C. Ross, trader, was appointed to the charge, with myself as second in command, the Beaver and Cadboro remaining as guard vessels until the fort was built.

Roderick Finlayson describes the move of the Songhees Indian people into Victoria harbour:

At this time there was a dense forest along the water of the harbour and Comoosin Inlet, as the “arm” was then called.

Where the fort was built there was an open glade with oak trees of large size, where a space of 150 yards was measured off, each way when the fort was built.

The natives for some time after our arrival kept aloof and would not come near.

Afterwards some of them came around gradually, and, finding them inclined to steal anthing they could, a watch was kept night and day, while we lived in tents before houses could be built.

The natives, however, soon got rid of their shyness [and] began to remove from their village on Cadboro Bay and erect house for themselves along the bank of the harbour as far as the present site of Johnson Street.

At the time there was no Indian village in the inner harbour:

The establishment of the fort altered their living patterns still more.

Large numbers moved into the Inner Harbour and formed two villages close to the fort; abandoning more or less completely their earlier winter sites […]

A second village was situated near the present site of the Parliament Buildings […]

Once the fort was built, encircled by cedar pickets eighteen feet high, horses and cattle were brought in from Fort Nisqually in Puget Sound and farming got under way.

Some of the men were employed clearing the land to raise vegetables and grains for the use of the fort.

In these operations the Indians played a part: “… got some of the young natives to assist, paying them in goods, and found them very useful as ox drivers in plowing the land.”

Roderick Finlayson explains that there was a change of management at Fort Victoria:

In the spring of 1844, poor Mr. Ross, who was left in charge by Mr. Douglas, was in poor health when he arrived here, and died, much regretted, in March, and was buried in the old burying ground near the gully, on Johnson Street now.

On the death of Mr. Ross being advised to headquarters, at Vancouver, on the Columbia River, I was appointed to the charge of Victoria, with his son, John Ross, as my assistant.

Under Mr. Finlayson things began smoothly enough in 1844 but problems arose with the Indians living near the fort.

The first confrontation, described by Mr. Finlayson, involved the killing of oxen feeding in the area:

I questioned the Songhees chief about this and demanded payment, as we could not allow our cattle to be killed in this way with impunity.

He went away in a rage, assembled some Cowichan Indians to his village, and the next move I found on their part was a shower of bullets fired at the fort, with great noise and demonstration on the part of the crowd assembled, threatening death and devastation to all the whites.

Finlayson sent an interpreter to tell the chief that he was going to fire a cannon at his house and to make sure everyone vacated the place:

I then fired a nine-pounder, with grape in, and pointed the gun to the lodge, which flew into the air in splinters like a bombshell. . . there was such howling that I thought a number were killed and was quite relieved when the interpreter came round and told me none were killed, but much frightened, not knowing that we had such destructive arms.

The chief, with some of his men, shortly after this, came to the gate and asked to see me.

I went, and assumed a warlike attitude and mentioned that unless the cattle killed were paid for I would demolish all their huts…

A second confrontation happened as a result of a grass fire:

… The belt of thick wood between the fort and Johnson Street, in front of which lodges were placed, took fire, and we had some difficulty in extinguishing it.

As it was gaining toward the fort, and this fire had been caused by the Indians, I wanted them to remove to the other side of the harbour, which they at first declined to do, saying the land was theirs, and after a great deal of angry parleying on both sides, it was agreed that if I allowed our men to assist them to remove they would go, to which I consented.

This was the origin of the present Indian reserve.

[Hanley, Monsignor Philip M., The Early History of the CATHOLIC CHURCH on Vancouver Island, Island Blue Print, Printorium Bookworks, Victoria, 2009, Pages 31 – 32]

CCC BLOG reprint by: ‘Goyo de la Rosa’


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