The history of immigration facilities at the port of Victoria, British Columbia, extends from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. However, Victoria’s role was marginalized by the emergence of Vancouver as a key port of entry in the 1920s. The development, operation, and diminution of the city’s immigration facilities reflected changing immigration policies and practices. First, Victoria’s economic and social role in British Columbia and in Canada changed substantially, which also changed the nature and scope of immigration to the city. Second, public health interests often overwhelmed - and sometimes completely displaced - the implementation of civil immigration policy. Finally, Victoria’s immigration facility history reflects periods of cooperation and conflict between the provincial and federal governments. In addition to shedding light on Victoria’s role in immigration history, an examination of these three factors provides some useful information on the development of Canada’s early national immigration structures.

In the summer of 1955, the Canadian government took the “bold step” of admitting displaced Palestinian refugees from the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. The government approved the resettlement of 100 skilled workers and their families. Canadian officials believed that alleviating the refugee problem in the Middle East would help in furthering regional stability. The resettlement scheme remained a politically sensitive issue as Arab governments protested against what they perceived as a Zionist plot to remove Palestinians from their ancestral land. For Canada, the admission of Palestinian refugees in 1956 served as an important “experiment” for the future selection and resettlement of non-European refugees.

On 24 June 1604, French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed through the Bay of Fundy to the mouth of the Saint John River. His expedition is considered the earliest written record about the port of Saint John. It was not until the American Revolution that the area became heavily populated with settlers. In May 1783, some 3,500 displaced Loyalists from the United States were offered free land and chose to resettle in the area. Two years later, Saint John became the first incorporated city in British North America (BNA). In the early nineteenth century, lumber and shipping increased significantly due to demand throughout Great Britain. Saint John became the largest shipbuilding city in BNA and the fourth largest in the British Empire. By the 1850s, a wharf was built at Reed’s Point (now a part of Lower Cove Terminal) for a steam ferry service operating between both sides of the harbour. The wharf also served steamships carrying transatlantic passengers. The emergence of steel-hulled shipbuilding – which replaced wooden ships – and the rise of westward expansion across BNA increased railway links while passenger travel brought people and trade to the city’s port area.