British Columbia Ancestors: viHistory

If your ancestor resided on Vancouver Island, then you should check out viHistory, a website that teamed the University of Victoria and Vancouver Island University. There are over 100,000 records on the site, and it was last updated in 2015. The majority of the site is transcription, and not original digital documents. However, it is well sourced, so you can follow back to the original document to verify.

This page will take you right to the search fields of the following specific record sets:

  • Census
  • Directories
  • Tax Assessment Rolls
You can also search by other unique ways:
  • Global Name Search- allows you to search for a name in all three of the above record sets at once
  • Site Search- allows you to search through the other information on the site using key words. It intentionally filters out anything from the census, directory and tax rolls. I tried using words such as \”McDonald\”, \”factory\”, \”carpenter\”, \”miner\”, and \”insurance\”, and got no results. When I typed in \”maps\” it took me to their map page.
  • Annotation Search- This will let you search for user submitted notes. I typed in \”McDonald\” and got two hits. One was a family researcher adding in additional information about the family of Albert McDonald in the 1891 census. The second was a note that Kate McDonald was transcribed as a house hold servant in the 1891 census, but on the \”manuscript census\” she was enumerated as a housemaid.
  • Other Search Options: Here you can search for occupations and religions in the census. Or you can search for occupations or employer names in the city directories. You can also search for a specific Indian Band name in the 1881 census of Vancouver Island here. Lastly, if you wanted to find out about the census districts and sub districts of Vancouver Island\’s 1881 and 1891 censuses, this is where you can look them up.
This tab will let you look at various census transcriptions for Vancouver Island from 1871-1911. You can search all the census records available at once by name, occupation, or religion. Or you can search specific census sets:
  • 1871 Victoria Municipal Census: Only heads of household are named, but everyone is counted. An interesting side note to this one is that people were also counted by race (White, Chinese, Native or Coloured)
  • 1881 Vancouver Island Census
  • 1891 Vancouver Island Census
  • 1891 Victoria Municipal Check Census: This is a rather interesting one. The civic leaders of Victoria were positive that this area was under counted in the federal census of April 1891. So they did another census of the area in September 1891, and came out with about 7,000 more people. The federal government did not accept the new numbers, but if you have a Victoria ancestor in 1891, it\’s a unique record set that people don\’t usually have.
  • 1901 City of Victoria and Vancouver Island Census
  • 1911 City of Victoria Census
  • 1911 Alberni and Port Alberni Census
Now, I tried several times to use \”McDonald\” in the general census search function, and it kept giving me error messages. Those of us with McDonald heritage know that you can find a McDonald in just about any Canadian record set. We\’re everywhere. So I went census by census, and found McDonalds in each one. Do take note though that you will have to use \”fuzzy search\” and name variations. I had to type in \”MacDonald\” to get hits in some years.The transcriptions are pretty good, including information that you don\’t usually see in indexes and transcriptions. As well, you can get general information on each census if you click on an individual census year. 
Here you can do a general search of all directories by name, occupation, or employer. You can also search by specific directory sets:
  • 1882 Directories for Nanaimo and Victoria
  • 1892 Directories for Nanaimo and Victoria
  • 1902 Victoria Directory
  • British Columbia City Directories 1860-1940
Set up the same way as the census section, you will get transcriptions of the first three groups. They show name, residence, occupation, employer, and employer address. Not all entries have all information, only what is taken from that particular directory
The last set of British Columbia City Directories is supposed to take you to digital images of them through the Vancouver Public Library. However, I got the dreaded \”404\” error when I clicked on it.
This is an interesting one. You can search the tax assessments of Nanaimo (1881,1891) or Victoria (1901). Here you\’ll get the location and dimensions of a particular owner\’s property. The nice thing is that if your ancestor owned more than one property, then all of them will come up on a name search. In Nanaimo in 1881, there were 8 properties owned by a McDonald. Seven of the eight were owned by a WJ McDonald. He must have either passed away or fell on hard times though, because in 1891 he didn\’t own any. 
You can also search the Victoria Building Construction Documents, 1877-1921. This database documents building construction in Victoria. It takes information from building permits and historic newspapers. You can search by street name, applicant name, and/or permit year. I typed in McDonald and among the results, I found a J.T. McDonald that was rather industrious in 1912. In May he built a 1 story frame garage on McGregor Street for a cost of $250. In August he built 2 frame dwellings at Oak Bay and Verrinder Streets. They were both 1 1/2 stories, and a total of 14 rooms. They were built at a cost of $5,600. Then, in September, he built a brick building designed for stores and apartments. It also had a total of 14 rooms and cost $11,000.
This tab leads you an eclectic mix of record sets.
  • Biographies and Profiles c.1890
Biographical sketches of business men, factories and firms of both Victoria and Nanaimo. It\’s labelled as a work in progress so keep checking back if you don\’t find someone at first. There are source citations from the books they are taken from, so you will know what book to track down to see the original write up.
  • Population Figures
Here you can get a break down of population numbers for all of British Columbia in 1901. They are broken down by electoral district, federal district, ethnic origin, and nationality. The ethnic origin can also be further broken down. British origin is further broken down by English, Irish, Manx, Scottish, and Welsh.
Next they\’ve broken down Chinese, Japanese, and Indians by district.
A fun one is sexes and conjugal condition. 52 males were listed as divorced, but only 37 females. 
The next one shows polling information from the 1900 elections, broken down by electoral division.
Lastly, there are breakdowns on religion. There is a huge range of religions listed here. As to be expected, the largest numbers are from Church of England, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic. But I did notice that 3 people identified as fire worshipers, and 1 person stated that they were a Reincarnationalist.
  • Divisions and Boundaries of Victoria
Here you can follow the growth of Victoria through By Laws and Acts from 1873 to 1892.
  • Changes to Street names in Early 20th Century
This one will come in handy. There are two tables. The first is the current name of  a street, and then its previous name, location, and neighbourhood name. They also have included extra notes if the name has changed more than once. For instance, part of Dowler used to be called Second, and part of that section is now the Blanshard Elemntary School grounds.  The second table shows the old street name first, then the new name.
This tab will take you to links to explore maps of Victoria, Nanaimo, and Vancouver Island that cover the years 1884-1953. However, there is a warning at the top of the page that they are having technical difficulties with the map display system. I tried varous ones and couldn\’t get any that I clicked on to work. Hopefully they get it fixed soon, because it looks like a fun one to play with.
Here you can find links to various Archives\’ websites and Digital Newspapers. There\’s also a link to the BC GenWeb and some historical sites. I tried all of them and the only broken link was to the British Columbia City Directories I mentioned earlier.
This will take you to an information page giving you a brief background on the website, and the contributors. 
The last tab gives you detailed instructions on using the various databases. This is also where you can submit any annotations on information given. If you find any inconsistencies or errors, you can also notify those who maintain the site here.

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