Metchosin, British Columbia, incorporated as a district municipality in 1984, population 4,708 (2016 census), 4,803 (2011 census). The District of Metchosin is located on Vancouver Island. It overlooks the Juan de Fuca Strait. Metchosin is part of the Greater Victoria area. From the late 1800s to 1958, a quarantine station operated at William Head in Metchosin. Many immigrants arriving to Canada by ship were quarantined at William Head before being allowed to enter the country. This was done in an effort to prevent the spread of infectious diseases common on overcrowded ships. In addition, from 1924 to 1956, there was a leper colony on nearby Bentinck Island.
History and Settlement
The origin of the name Metchosin is a Straits Salish word, smets-shosin. The term means “place of stinking fish” or “place smelling of fish oil.” The name arose perhaps after a dead whale washed up on the beach. Sir James Douglas, a Hudson’s Bay Company trader and later governor of Vancouver Island, referred to the area as “Metchosin.” This spelling is used today.
Farmers came to the area in the early 1850s. They planted vegetables and fruit trees and raised dairy cattle, pigs and sheep. The expansion of Victoria after the Second World War led Metchosin residents to seek incorporation as a district municipality in order to maintain their way of life.
In 1883, a quarantine station was built at Albert Head in Metchosin. At the time, quarantine was the best-known defense against the spread of infectious diseases such as typhus, yellow fever and cholera. Passengers arriving on ships were inspected and quarantined for these and other infectious diseases before entering the country. When the quarantine station at Albert Head was deemed inadequate it was replaced by a station at nearby William Head. The first report of a quarantine at William Head was in 1894.
During the First World War, 84,473 Chinese men passed through William Head on their way from China to France and Belgium. They were members of the Chinese Labour Corps. Britain recruited the Chinese Labour Corps to work behind the front lines, performing such tasks as cleaning battlefields, building roads and digging trenches. From William Head they were transported to Vancouver, where they boarded trains to Halifax. From Halifax they travelled by ship to France.
Prisoners of war, returning home from Japan during the Second World War, were also briefly quarantined at William Head before re-entering the country. The quarantine station closed in 1958. In 1959, the government opened the William Head Institute, a federal minimum-security prison.
Bentinck Island Leper Colony
There was a leper colony on Bentinck Island between 1924 and 1956. Bentinck Island is just south of Metchosin and the William Head quarantine station, in the Juan de Fuca Strait. The Bentinck Island leper colony replaced one that had operated on D’Arcy Island, north of Victoria, since 1891.
Metchosin still strives to maintain its rural character and development is pursued conservatively. Market gardens have replaced the original farms.
Metchosin Day is celebrated annually on the Sunday after Labour Day. The celebrations include contests, a pet show, and other events for the community. The local Pioneer Museum and School Museum offer exhibits on pioneer history in the area. Other local cultural institutions include the Metchosin Arts and Cultural Centre and the monthly publication the Metchosin Muse. The renowned Pearson College UWC, an international school, is located in the municipality.