The 1843 Observations of the Lekwungen People by Jean Baptiste Zacharie Bolduc.

During the first visits of Hudson’s Bay Company officials to Victoria Harbour—William McNeil in 1837 and McNeil with John Work and John McLoughlin in 1839—there was no information recorded about the Indigenous Lekwungen peoples of the area. (Keddie 2003)

The first information was recorded in 1842 during the visit of the company’s James Douglas to settle on the location of the future Fort Camosun—later Fort Victoria. It was during Douglas’s second visit in 1843 that he brought along the Québécois Jesuit Jean Baptiste Zacharie Bolduc, a missionary who was part of the Quebec Mission to the Pacific Northwest (fig. 1).

Figure 1. Jean-Baptiste-Zacharie Bolduc. Courtesy of Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. P560,S2,D1,P109.

The accounts of the Bolduc provide some of the most important observations of the Indigenous peoples in the Victoria region, more so than those of Douglas at that time. It is important in this regard to be familiar with the different versions of the Bolduc accounts that have been presented in the literature and used by various researchers.

One difference in the accounts that is significant is Bolduc’s observation of 525 people at Cadboro Bay—the only village observed and visited in 1843. Unfortunately, anthropologist Wilson Duff, in his study of the Victoria Treaties (Duff 1969), used a reference that did not have this account. One wonders what different conclusions Duff may have come to if he was familiar with Bolduc’s original writings.

To understand the context of what Bolduc documented it is important to know where he was during his visit and more precisely what he said. In examining the information from Bolduc, I referred to and compared published accounts in French and their various English translations when considering statements such as the number of 525 people identified by Bolduc at Cadboro Bay on March 17, 1843. I consider Bolduc’s statements about the number of people he observed to be accurate estimates.  My conclusions were based on the original published documents of Bolduc, his propensity to record accurate information and statements he made of the circumstances of his visit.

What is crucial here is that there are translations of Bolduc’s work that do not mention the 525 people at Cadboro Bay, as well as other important details. The reference pertaining to Cadboro Bay that I used was Bolduc’s original 1844 account, translated by Landerholm (1956), which is similar to that of a later editor/translator, Kowrach (1979). The latter author used the English translations of Landerholm and others in his French to English translation. Both of the latter translators used the French language documents in the collections of the Oregon Historical Society as well as earlier English translations.

The incomplete English translation of De Smet that casts doubt on Bolduc’s statement regarding the count of 525 people at Cadboro Bay is an earlier 1847 English translation by Father De Smet: “Oregon Missions and Travels over the Rocky Mountains in 1845-46, Edward Dunigan, New York.”  This does not mention the count of 525 people at the Cadboro Bay village. The missing figure is also absent from De Smet’s earlier, French-language version, “Colombie. Extract d’une letter do M. Bolduc, Missionaire apostolique, a M. Cayene, Cowlitze, le 15 fevrier 1844” (1845).

However, what is significant is that De Smet’s French-language publication was not a direct copy from French to French, but extracts and paraphrasing of Bolduc’s documents. De Smet simply left out material that he did not think was important or that did not present Bolduc in a favourable manner, such as his complaint about having to shake so many hands at Cadboro Bay. The count of 525 people at Cadboro Bay was included in Bolduc (1845).

De Smet’s 1847 English translation was from the altered and incomplete French version. The reference was simply left out by De Smet. Wilson Duff, in writing about the Victoria Treaties, used the information from historian Kaye Lamb (1943), who also obtained his information from De Smet’s incomplete writings.

The Best Published French Language Source

The best published source in the French language of Bolduc’s trip to Vancouver Island is the 1845 publication of Bolduc’s Journal and letters: “Mission De La Columbie. Deuxieme Lettre et Journal of M. J.-B.-Z. Bolduc, Missionnaire A La Columbie. Quebec: De L’imprimerie De J.-B. Frechette, Pere, Imprimeur-Labraire, No. 13, Rue Lamontagne,” under the subtitle: “A Vant-Propos. Suite Du Journal De M. Bolduc, Missionnaire A La Columbie” is the “Exrait du Canadian du 19 fevrier, 1845”. Within this are two letters, the second on 28 pages being the one of concern here, entitled: “Extrait Du Journal De M. Bolduc” – “Adreese a M. C…… T……. Cawlitz, 15 fevrie 1844”.  Both of the 1843 and 1845 journal documents contained in this larger document and written in French (RBCM Archives N.W. 970.7 B687m; old manuscript MS-0580) were translated into English by Tess Jennings (1937). Jennings’s translation is from the Bolduc 1845 French-language copy in the RBCM Archives (NW970.7 B687m). The 1843  journal of Bolduc does not contain information on southern Vancouver Island.

Bolduc’s Reliability as an Observer

In the 1845 publication of Bolduc, the editor/printer Pere Frechette comments in the preface, as translated by Jennings: As in the first Journal, we do not wish to change in any way the form in which it was written.”

There are five volumes entitled “Missions de Quebec” in the library of the Oregon Historical Society (Landerholm 1956). One of the seven reports translated by Landerholm is entitled “Mission de la Colombie. Notice No. 6,” dated July 1845. The latter includes Bolduc’s travels to Puget Sound and Vancouver Island. These documents provide a view of how careful Bolduc was in documenting numbers of various Indigenous groups and numbers of converts. This was originally published as a report of the Missions of the Quebec Diocese. On page 2, is the translation of a letter of Bolduc’s entitled “Mission of the Cowletz River, March, 1843. On page 4 is the translated statement of Bolduc:

“I am also going to keep a journal of my northern trip, and try to assemble reliable facts concerning these nations of faraway places.”

In this report of March 6, 1843, Bolduc regularly provides estimates of the numbers of people in the many groups he visits. He shows interest in leaning the names of individual communities and his keen interest in languages is shown in his writing of a dictionary of the Chinook language.  Bolduc was clearly an experienced observer. His statements about population numbers can be considered accurate. Bolduc’s statement about the numbers of Indigenous people he observed in the Victoria area in 1843 cannot be dismissed as unreliable.

Figure 2. Portion of the 1842 Adolphus Lee Lewis map showing the village location at Cadboro Bay and the proposed location of Fort Victoria. Courtesy of the Hudson Bay Company Archives. Provincial Archives of Manitoba. Map Collection G.2/25(T11146).

Cadboro Bay Commentary of Bolduc

Some additional commentary is necessary regarding the missing pieces of the Landerholm translation of Bolduc, which goes as follows:

“We headed for the southern point of Vancouver Island. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when we arrived there. At first we saw only two canoes, but, having discharged two cannon shots, the aborigines left their retreats and surrounded the steamboat. The following day canoes arrived from all sides. Seeing that there was no danger, I landed with the commander of the expedition and the captain. Yet it was only after several days… that I went to their village, situated at six miles from the harbor [from Victoria harbour] at the base of a charming little bay [Cadboro Bay]. Like almost all of the surrounding tribes, this one possesses a stockade fort of about 150 feet square. They fortify themselves thus to provide shelter from the Yougletas [Lekwiltok], a powerful and warlike tribe… These ferocious enemies fall, usually at night, on the villages they wish to destroy, kill and massacre as many of the men as they can, and take the women and children as slaves. On top of posts in the fort one sees many human heads sculptured in red or black, and occasionally both colors together. On my arrival the whole village, men, women and children, arranged themselves in two lines to shake hands with me, a ceremony which they would not omit for a great deal. I counted 525 individuals, apart from absent ones. I assembled them all in the largest lodge, the chiefs’.”

In his 1845 French publication, Bolduc notes on page 12: “Je comptai 525 individus, et plusieurs etaient absents.” Jennings’s translation of this is the same as that of Kowrach (1979:108): “I counted five hundred twenty-five individuals and many were absent.” Landerholm (1956:193) translates the French as: “I counted 525 individuals, apart from absent ones.”. I thought it was more likely that the end of Bolduc’s sentence would be correct as: “and several were absent.”

I consulted with French teacher Deni St. Clair of Victoria in regard to Jennings’s English interpretation of the statement about the number count in Cadboro Bay. St. Clair pointed out that “plusieurs” is properly spelt as “plusiers” and noted that: “The potential problem I see here is that the dictionary meaning of plusiers is “several” not “many” (St. Clair, personal communication, December 21, 2014).

The interpretation that “several were absent” makes sense in the context of Bolduc’s observation in “the following days” when he made a journey to where Indigenous people were cutting posts for the fort. Here Bolduc notes: “I baptized three more children who were absent the day of solemn baptism.” The latter “solemn baptism” is referring to the baptism of children on March 17 at Cadboro Bay.

James Douglas makes reference the day before to the activities of cutting posts mentioned by Bolduc:

“Spoke to the Samose today and informed them of our intention of building in this place which appeared to please them very much and they immediately offered their services in procuring pickets for the establishment.” Douglas had offered to give them a 2 1/2 point blanket for every 40 pickets of 22ft. by 36in (Douglas 1843).

Were there people other than Lekwungen at Cadboro Bay?

One might speculate that Bolduc may have brought outside Indigenous people with him on his first visit to Cadboro Bay on March 17. There is no evidence to support the idea that large numbers of people accompanied Bolduc on his first trip to Cadboro Bay. Bolduc does not mention anyone going with him on his first trip, but he does mention people accompanying him on his second trip to Cadboro Bay from Victoria Harbour.

As Bolduc is writing about the events of March 17, 1843, after they occurred, the wording he uses suggests that the other groups came after hearing about his visit to Cadboro Bay and began arriving in Victoria Harbour the day before or the morning of the day he set up his outdoor chapel in Victoria Harbour. After telling the Songhees that he would return on Sunday, Bolduc states (1845:13): “Cependant le bruit de mon arrive s’etant repandu dans le voisinage, plusieurs nations arriverent en masse.”

Jennings’s translation of this is: “But the sound of my coming is being widespread in the neighborhood, many nations arrived en masse.”  Landerholm’s (1956:194) English translation is: “Meanwhile the rumor of my arrival having spread, several neighboring tribes came en masse.” There is no information to suggest that other tribes or Lekwungen from other villages were present during Bolduc’s visit on March 17 to Cadboro Bay. The quotation referred to is related to a time frame after Bolduc’s visit to Cadboro Bay. Based on Bolduc’s information we can conclude that the 525 people at Cadboro Bay were likely all Lekwungen who primarily lived at Cadboro Bay and did not include outside populations.

Here is Landerholm’s version of the events after Bolduc told the Lekwungen that he would return to Cadboro Bay on the 19th to baptise the children:

“Meanwhile the rumor of my arrival having spread, several neighbouring tribes came en masse. The 18th being Sunday, I employed it for constructing a temporary alter [near Victoria Harbour] for celebrating on land the Lord’s day. On Sunday early in the morning, more than 1,200 natives from three great tribes, Kawitshins, Klalams, and Tsamishes, [Cowichan, Klallam and Songhees], assembled around the modest temple… That day being the one I had set for the baptism of children, I went to the principal village [Cadboro Bay] accompanied by a Canadian named Gobin and all the crowd that had been present at the divine service. On arrival, I had again to submit to the terrible ceremony of shaking hands with more than 600 persons. The children were placed in two lines at the seaside. I distributed to each one a holy name on a bit of paper, and I began the ceremony. It may have been about ten o’clock, and when I had finished it was almost nightfall; then I counted the new Christens and found 102 of them. On top of that I had to go more than two leagues on foot to return to the steamboat.”

The Location of the Boats’ Anchorage

There has been some confusion regarding the specific location where the Beaver was anchored and where some Indigenous people were coming from during the start of Bolduc’s March 15 visit.

I would interpret the anchorage of the steamship Beaver to be inside Shoal Point at the west end of Victoria’s Inner Harbour, either at what is now the Fishermans’ Wharf location or just east of Laurel Point. The latter we know was the anchorage during the 1839 visit (Keddie 2003).

There are several details of translation that need to be discussed pertaining to the Landerholm translation regarding the first observations at the expeditions arrival.

The translation: “At first we saw only two canoes” leaves out the activity of fishing. Bolduc’s “Nous ne vimes d’abord que deux canots occupes a’ pecher” should say: “We at first only saw two canoes occupied in fishing”.

The translation: “but, having discharged two cannon shots, the aborigines left their retreats and surrounded the steamboat. The following day canoes arrived from all sides”. This could be interpreted to say that Indigenous people came immediately in large numbers shortly after the boat arrived in the harbour, but: “Mais bientot le canon fit sortir les indigenes de leurs retraites” should be translated as: But the canon soon made the natives leave their retreats and “Cependant, comme il se fesait déjà tard, nous n’en vimes que peu ce jour-la.” becomes:  However, as it was already late, we saw but few that day.

“Mais le lendemain de bon matin, il fallait voir les canots arriver do [de NOT DO] tout cote et entourer le steam boat.”  [But], The next morning it was possible to see canoes arrive from every side and surround the steamboat. From this observation it appears that only one canoe with two people fishing was seen in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. It was not until the next day that more people came in canoes from elsewhere.

Bolduc writes: “Seeing that there was no danger, I landed with the commander of the expedition and the captain”. This fits with Douglas statement, that after a night on the Beaver he went out the next morning to examine “the wood of the north shore of the harbor.” This clearly indicates that the Beaver was not anchored off Clover Point but was in a harbour with forest on the north shore.

In 1927 there was a discussion among local historians regarding the locations of the 1842 and 1843 visits of James Douglas. In regard to the 1842 visit C.C. Pemberton mentions in a letter of October 19 to historian Kaye Lamb and to Judge Howay that Walbran (who had a considerable knowledge about the origin of place names but mistakenly referred to the “1841” Douglas survey): “remarks that Sir James’ grandson had informed him that Sir James made his first landing from the Beaver at Clover Point, . . . and . . . party then walked through the area of Beacon Hill Park to the Gorge” but Pemberton knew nothing about it.  “I believe that when Sir James made his survey in 1842, he came in the Cadboro, and in 1843 he landed from the Beaver at Shoal Point…. I think I have a faint remembrance of hearing, when I was a boy, of this landing, and naming of Clover Point.”

Pemberton, in a another letter to Judge Howay, on November 2, pertaining to the 1842 visit, noted that: “D. H. McNeill. . . says that he knows that his grandfather, Capt. Wm. McNeill, landed Sir James and party at Clover Point, and then went around to Victoria Harbour and anchored, waiting for them to return to the Beaver.”(Pemberton 1927).


Bolduc’s writings have suffered from problems of translation, but his work is significant in providing a glimpse of Lekwungen peoples as they were in the spring of 1843.


Bolduc, Jean Baptiste. 1844. Letter of M. Bolduc to M.C. of February 15. In: Notices & Voyages of the Famed Quebec Mission to the Pacific Northwest, pp. 189-198. Oregon Historical Society. 1956.

Bolduc, Jean-Baptisite Zacharie. 1845. “Extrait Du Journal De M. Bolduc” “Adreese a M. C…… T……. Cawlitz, 15 fevrie 1844]. (RBCM Archives N.W. 970.7 B687m – old manuscript MS-0580).

De Smet, Pierre-Jean. 1844. Voyages aux Montagnes Rogcheuses et Une Annee de Sejour. Chez Les Tribes Indiennes Du Vaste Territoire De L-Oregon, Dependant, Des Etats-Unis D’Amerique, Par le R. P. Pierre De Smet, Missionarie De La Compagne De Jesus. Malines. P.J. Hanicq, Imprinmeur De Saint Siege, De La Sacree Congregation De La Propagande et De L’archevech De Malines.

De Smet, Piere-Jean. 1845. Annals De La Propagation De La F01 Recueil Periodique. Tome Dix-Septieme, A Lyon. Copy in the Royal B.C. Museum Archives (NW 282 A614, Vol. 17).

Douglas, James. 1851. In: Private Papers of Sir James Douglas, RBCM Archives B20/1853.

Douglas, James. 1843. Diary of a Trip to Victoria, March 1–21, 1843. RBCM Archives, Ms A/B/40/D75.4.

Douglas, James. 1850.  Letter of September 1, in Fort Victoria Letters 1846-1851. The Hudson’s Bay Record Society, Vol. XXXII, p. 115–118.

Douglas, James. Diary of a Trip to Victoria. March 1-21, 1843. RBCM Archives A/B/40/D75.4a.

Duff, Wilson. 1969. The Fort Victoria Treaties, BC Studies 3:3-57.

Jennings, Tess.  1937. (Translator). “Mission of the Columbia. Second Letter and Journal of Father J. –B. Z. Bolduc. Missionary of the Columbia”. Works Progress Administration, Project 4185, Frederick E. Bolton, Sponsor and Project 5606, J.S. Richards, Sponsor. Seattle, Washington, (RBCM N.W. 970.7 B687d).

Keddie, Grant. 2003. Songhees Pictorial. A History of the Songhees People as seen by Outsiders, 1790-1912. Royal B.C. Museum, Victoria.

Kowrach, Edward J. 1979. (Editor and translator) Mission of the Columbia. Jean Baptisite Zacharie Bolduc. Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield, Washington.

Lamb, W. Kaye. 1943. The Founding of Fort Victoria. British Columbia Historical Quarterly, Vol. VII, no. 2, April.

Lamb, Kaye. 1943. The Founding of Victoria. The Beaver, Outfit 273, March, 1943:3-8.

Landerholm, Carl (Translator. 1956. Letter of M. Bolduc to M.C. of February 15. In: Notices & Voyages of the Famed Quebec Mission to the Pacific Northwest, pp.189-198. Oregon Historical Society.

Pemberton, C.C. 1927. Add. Mss.0522; letter to Kaye Lamb E D P361.9; letter to Judge Howay, Oct. 19, 1927.