Historian calls for archaeological survey of Victoria’s Kanaka Row

Historian calls for archaeological survey of Victoria's Kanaka Row

Along Douglas Street in Victoria, excavators are now working on what will become a brand new building for hundreds of Telus employees in 2024.

Historian Chris Hannah says that in the 1850s, 50 years before the Fairmont Empress Hotel was built across the street, the site of the project housed part of a community known as Kanaka Row.

“It’s significant because it’s one of only two settlements of Hawaiians in Canada,” Hannah told CHEK News.

To be able to own property and vote, Hawaiians moved to Victoria in the mid-1800s and lived in mud flats along the original Inner Harbour, according to Hannah.

Then Chinese immigrants moved in and built homes and businesses, and it was also an important meeting spot for First Nations.

Retired curator of archaeology at Royal BC Museum Grant Keddie calls this area “significant.”

“They were the most dominant people working at the Hudson’s Bay Company,” said Keddie. “Many of them married Indigenous women, so there are Indigenous people in Victoria today who are part Hawaiian islanders.”

But all of this history is too recent to be protected under B.C.’s Heritage Conservation Act. While anything before 1846 is covered, Keddie says Kanaka Row came after that.

“It’s a big mystery what’s there, but it’s important to find out, and protect this material. And there really needs to be a change in the law.  That defines what kinds of things we should be protecting after 1846,” he added.

Telus issued a statement regarding Kanaka Row:

“TELUS acknowledges the deep history of Kanaka Row, and our developer partners are taking culturally informed precautions as we move forward with the construction of TELUS Ocean. In 2019, we engaged the B.C. Archaeological Branch to complete an assessment, and they determined this site has low potential for archaeology findings.”

Telus continued, “Although the risk was deemed to be low, we have implemented protocols in the event we encounter an archeological find. We have also engaged the Esquimalt First Nation and assembled a team of archeology monitors that will be present on site at all times throughout the excavation process. Construction is in its early stages, and to date no artifacts have been found.”

Hannah says there should still be some way to uncover Victoria’s most culturally diverse neighbourhood.

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