Rock Bay is rich in history and culture. In the early 1800’s aboriginal cultures lived and hunted within the area. In the mid 1800’s Rock Bay was encroached upon by the growth of the downtown core. As a consequence Rock Bay is no longer the bay that it once was. At one point in time it was approximately twice the size it is today, and contained many islets for which it was named. Up until the 1920’s it was actually large enough to interrupted the present day government street and a bridge was built to provide continuity for the northern and southern regions during the city expansion.

Aboriginal Cultures 1800 – 1862

The Lost Creek 1800-1888

The Rock Bay Bridge 1887- 1920’s

Industry In Rock Bay 1820’s to Present

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Aboriginal Cultures 1800 - 1862

For thousand of years before Europeans came, aboriginal cultures lived and adapted to changing environmental surroundings. The Esquimalt and Songhees nations shared the shores of Victoria Harbour and provided a visiting camp for other nations in Rock Bay. For instance the Callum, from the south side of Juan de Fuca Straight, had relatives among the Songhees and originally used Rock Bay as a visiting camp. Later on they moved to the east side of Laurel Point, and the white people referred to the area encompassing Rock Bay as the ‘Old Camp’.

In 1850 representatives of the Kosampsom Tribe of the Songhees Nation signed a treaty with an “X” for fifty-two pounds and ten shillings sterling that surrendered Rock Bay and the surrounding area to the Hudson’s Bay Company. During this period of signing the treaty the village sites were allowed to stay and hunting and fishing in the area continued.

During the gold rush of 1858 many aboriginal visitors came to Victoria for trading and employment and visiting camps along Rock Bay included people from BellaBella, Sitkine, Tlingit, Haida, Cowichan and Tsimshian. Around 1862 a smallpox epidemic emerged to plague many of the visiting aboriginal groups that were not immunized. Shortly after this time industry began to play a larger role in Rock Bay.

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The Lost Creek ( early 1800 – 1888)

During the mid 1800’s, Fernwood contained a swampy marshland, and Hillside Farms was founded in the Hillside area. A creek visibly connected all these areas reaching from the once swampy marshlands in Fernwood to discharge into Rock Bay. Click here for map

The natural occurring creek collected surface water as it journeyed to its discharge point. Around 1888 the creek was filled in, and the natural watercourse was eventually replaced with enclosing pipes or bricks to provide a direct route to hustle the water underground. The pipes serve the purpose of directing the run-off directly to Rock Bay, preventing floods in the expanding paved streets of Victoria, and concealing the contents of the piped water from the residents, and wildlife living in the neighbourhoods.

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The Rock Bay Bridge (1887 – 1920’2)

By 1887 and during the lifespan of the obscure creek, a second wooden bridge known as Rock Bay Bridge connected the north and south shores of Rock Bay, allowing people to pass the rich and relatively clean waters. The Rock Bay Bridge originally connected Bridge Street and Constance Street; around 1903 the approach to Rock Bay Bridge had been switched along the southern shore to Store Street. Sometime during the 1920’s the Rock Bay Bridge was dismantled while the eastern indent of Rock Bay was simultaneously being in filled to the west side of Government Street. Progressive shoreline changes continued until the late 1950s. Now the area of Rock Bay is much smaller and the pollution much larger.

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Industry in Rock Bay (1820’s to Present)

Historical activities along the shores of Rock Bay have included: a tannery, sawmills, a coal gasification plant, an asphalt plant, a propane tank farm, and a concrete batch plant. At one time BC Hydro stored or buried capacitors that released PCB’s into the surrounding environment, and were forced to conduct remedial excavation of the Special Waste in 1993. These industries all played a role in infecting Rock Bay with persistent pollutants overwhelming the area with contamination that persists today.

As early as the 1820’s coal gasification plants were producing gas for lighting, heating and industrial processes in urban centres throughout Canada. In 1862 the Victoria Gas Company was established along Rock Bay to serve Victoria’s downtown core with a two-storey coal gas manufacturing plant and a 25,000 cubic foot holding tank. The Victoria Gas Company supplied gas for almost 100 years, until 1952. During the 1950’s with the introduction of natural gas and pipelines most gasification plants were demolished, abandoned, or converted to other industries. During this time little concern was given for pollution and its potential effects. Common practice saw industrial wastes stored on site in underground containers, in open sludge ponds, or in the case of Rock Bay, used as fill. Heavy contamination is often associated with these sites including petrochemicals and coal tar comprised of PAH’s (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons), phenolics, light aromatics, nitrogen and sulphur compounds, as well as trace metals.

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