The area enclosed in the Victoria Migratory Bird Sanctuary delineated in green.

Victoria Harbour Bird Sanctuary, the first migratory bird sanctuary on the Pacific coast of Canada, was established on October 27, 1923.

It was created to control hunting – particularly market hunting of wintering Pacific Black Brant, a favourite Christmas meal for early settlers who often ate them at Victoria, Vancouver and Seattle restaurants. As of this writing (2016) wintering Brant are rare in Victoria although they were common 100 years ago. The Sanctuary was also prompted by market hunters who caused the extinction in 2014 of the Passenger Pigeon. That led to a 1916 agreement with the US called the Migratory Bird Convention. The Canadian Migratory Bird Convention Act followed in 1917, and soon all Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in Canada.

Victoria Migratory Bird Sanctuary map

The area enclosed in the Victoria Migratory Bird Sanctuary delineated in green.

Market hunting and fishing in Victoria were rooted in Gold Rush history after 1858, when all of a sudden lots of people had to be fed. Some wild foods from Victoria (e.g. herring, salmon) were even exported to Barkerville.

In later decades, with relatively low bird numbers, pollution, urbanization and industrialization, the sanctuary was forgotten and ignored. Some suggested it be left to languish.

Today, after three decades of cleaning, ecological restoration and rewilding by an army of volunteers, several NGOs, private enterprises and governments, Victoria and Esquimalt harbours have not been this clean in 60 years and wildlife is staying or recovering. Up to $2 billion is expected to be spent on the project by 2020 on this huge, untold success story.

At present, the sanctuary nurtures valued urban wildlife – and a lot more than birds. Whales, seals, fishes, otters, molluscs, rare plants, and much more now populate the area, including several species at risk such as Olympia oysters, Marbled Murrelets and Victoria Owl-clover.
In fact, Greater Victoria altogether features the best coastal and marine wildlife in urban Canada and Victoria Harbour Bird Sanctuary is in the very centre of it all. We have amazing wildlife in the city and in our working harbour.

As noted, VHBS is a lot more than the harbour. It extends from Portage Inlet to Ten Mile Point, covering 1840 hectares below the high-water mark. It is also one of three historic Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in Greater Victoria along with Shoal Harbour and Esquimalt Lagoon (map below).

Last but not least, a herring recovery program in this region will likely bring back a lot of wildlife. Herring has been overfished in recent decades.



The Times Colonist

Environment and Cimate Change Canada