Like most corners of Vancouver Island, the Saanich Peninsula has been occupied for thousands of years by Aboriginal peoples.
In the Sidney area, it was the Salish First Nation that had arrived as early as 10,000 years ago. Today the Tseycum, Pauquachin, Taswout and Tsartlip Bands live on Peninsula reserves.
Sidney's written history begins in 1859, when the northern end of the Saanich Peninsula was explored by the Royal Navy survey vessel HMS Plumper. Its captain surveyed Sidney Island and Sidney Channel, naming both after Lt Frederick William Sidney of the Royal Navy. Only a year later, the Hudson's Bay Company was selling 100 parcels of farmland for $1 per 0.4ha/1ac.
When the Sidney town site was established in 1891, the settlement logically assumed the name.
To this day, the Sidney coat-of-arms comes centered with an image of the sloop HMS Plumper. The arrowhead on the crest represented the Salish First Nation, which inhabited the Saanich Peninsula. The crest's clasped hands represented the friendship between the settlers and First Nations. Much later, a bufflehead duck and arbutus leaf would be added to the design to represent natural splendour.
Cannery buildings lined the early waterfront and processed millions of tons of oysters, clams, blackberries, pears and peaches. The Hotel Sidney was built in 1891 at the corner of Beacon Ave and First Street. The hotel, by all accounts a raucous place, burned down in 1948 and was rebuilt in 1952. Where the old canneries stood, a new Cannery Building contains a hotel, restaurant, shops and services.
Sidney Historical Museum
By the turn of the century, Sidney was a thriving farm community. No fewer than three local museums salute this colourful era: The Sidney Historical Museum salutes the lives of Sidney and North Saanich pioneers through artifacts, displays and vintage photography.
Saanich Pioneers Society Museum & Archives
The Saanich Pioneers Society Museum & Archives in Saanichton is a log cabin containing a significant collection of artifacts from both First Nations and pioneer cultures in the 19th century. It's open weekends, on weekdays by appointment.
A portrait of pioneer life on the Saanich Peninsula comes together from buildings and artifacts on display at Heritage Acres on Lochside Drive, Saanichton. Relocated, restored and replica buildings constitute a typical farm village circa 1900. Bring a camera and take a hop in time.
BC Aviation Museum
The BC Aviation Museum near the airport preserves Canada's aviation heritage via hangar displays of vintage aircraft, engines, models and aircraft under restoration. A must for airplane and history buffs, the Memorial Room features Canadians at war in the skies, as members of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force. Volunteer tour guides with tales stand at the ready.
Centre of the Universe aka Dominion Astrophysical Observatory
Visit the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory for knockout views of the Cosmos and Victoria. Check out the amazing 1.8m/5.9ft Plaskett Telescope. Tour the constellations in the Starlab Planetarium. Head for the theatre to take in the Falling Asteroid Blues or the Backbacker's Guide to the Universe.
Sidney, never overdeveloped, never in a hurry, is a bucolic seaside community with a distinct island sensibility. Its quality of life is plain to see in its friendly streets, low-rise architecture, oceanside promenade, walking trails, bike paths, sports fields, picnic areas and beaches.