Thousands of years before European settlers arrived in 1860, the Coast Salish People lived a rich and varied life on the Saanich Peninsula, enjoying the many gifts of land and sea. Sadly, a series of smallpox epidemics prior to and after the settlers arrived decimated the local population.
Many of the early settlers were prospectors on their way to the Fraser River in search of gold. In 1892, land was designated as a town site to be called Sidney after an adjacent island. The area grew rapidly and was quickly served by three railways and several ferries. Both brought local farmers and Victoria residents to Sidney and the railways stimulated a real estate boom. Although the railroads closed many years ago, Sidney still serves as a transportation hub with BC and Washington State ferries and Victoria International Airport all close at hand.
Before the 1920’s, Sidney’s economy was largely based on agriculture, food processing, and a few manufacturing operations. During this time, local pirates made good use of motorboats. The introduction of prohibition in the USA encouraged rum running, which led to a murder at sea and the execution of those found guilty.
Sidney played a key role in both World Wars. During WWI, a military camp served as a holding area for regiments before deployment. The airport was initially built for the military to provide training and home defense. More than 10,000 aircrew were trained there during WWII.
In 1945 regular commercial flights started. In 1953, Fairey Aviation developed a plane servicing operation, the only one between Alaska and San Francisco. Martin Mars water bombers were also built there. Airport lands are presently home to multiple manufacturing and service enterprises.
Today Sidney is largely a tourism and retirement destination. Its boutique shops, varied services, events and cultural assets help make Sidney the vibrant, friendly place it is—with a rich and interesting past.