Early Victorians took advantage of the natural resources of the area, including the seas teeming with different species. The sealing industry was well established and driven by the European demand for seal pelts. In 1889, 32 sealers left Victoria and brought back pelts valued at $247,170. The entire sealing industry was Victoria-controlled.
Coincidentally, sealers’ wages were a main source of revenue for hotels, rooming houses, eating houses, saloon and the retail trade. City ship chandlers fitted out not only Victoria-based sealers but also those from Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and U. S. Pacific ports which chased the seals to Alaska.
The 1901 census listed sealers, the majority of which were young single men. By 1905, the industry was in decline largely due to a drop in the price for sealskins in 1897 largely due to over harvesting. The Americans were alarmed at the drop in the seal population and took action to decrease the catch. The May 7, 1907 Victoria Daily Colonist reported that the sealing fleet had returned from its coast cruise and noted that the catch was a very low one. There were only 9 ships with “1,039 skins which at their present value will be worth about $25,000.” The heyday of the sealing industry was over for Victoria.
When the Americans declared the entire Bering Sea to be their territorial waters and limited the sealing season, the Victoria and British vessels could not operate profitably, so left the majority of the business to the Japanese and Russians. The seals still continued to decline in numbers as those countries took too many . The result was the 1911 Pelagic Sealing Treaty where the U. S., Russia, and Japan agreed to limit hunting and to turn over a share of the sale proceeds to Canada in return for a complete abstention of Canadian vessels from sealing.
This Hallmark Society project has been funded by the HBC Foundation and the BC150-Heritage Legacy Fund
Project manager and researcher: Helen Edwards
Principal Photography & Consultant: Ron Bukta, West Ventures Photography