According to the Courtenay Museum and Paleontology Centre, Sir Francis Drake visited this area in 1579. This assertion is based on research by Samuel Bawlf, who in The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake, 1577–1580 suggests that Drake's reference to landing in what he called New Albion (the name of the region of North America explored by Drake) was, in fact, what is now known as Comox. This conclusion is not shared, however, by other historians such as Jules Verne and Samuel Johnson. What does not appear to be contested is the assertion made in the online version of the Canadian Encyclopedia that first contact in Comox between the original First Nations inhabitants and the first European visitors occurred in 1792 when HMS Discovery anchored in Comox Harbour.
The first European colonists arrived in the spring of 1861 intending to start farms. At that time, Governor James Douglas was encouraging settlers arriving in the Colony of Vancouver Island to establish themselves in the Cowichan Valley and the Comox Valley rather than the gold fields of the mainland as these were the two areas that had agricultural potential on the island. The first settlers were Nanaimo coal miners and Hudson's Bay Company employees, John and William Biggs, Thomas Dignan, Edwin Gough, Adam Grant Horne, Thomas Jones, Alexander McFarlane, George Mitchell, Thomas Williams and Charles York all of whom had arrived on Vancouver Island before the 1858 gold rush. Of these, only Mitchell remained by 1862 when the Grappler arrived with the Comox Expedition. Dignan went to Gabriola Island. Horne and most of the others went to Nanaimo. A small pox epidemic in 1862 decimated the native population. There were three groups of indigenous people, the Comox, the Pentlatch (who were then nearly extinct), and the Lekwiltok, in the valley when the European settlers arrived. In 1862, Surveyor General Pemberton secured funding from the colonial government in Victoria to construct the first road into the Comox area from Nanaimo. When it became clear that a 15-foot (4.6 m) wide wagon road would be too expensive, a bridle path with some bridges was built instead. Flooding and tree falls made maintenance of this road impossible. Until the mid-1890s, access to the area was by sea. In 1874 the 1,015-foot (309 m) government wharf and the first bridge over the Courtenay River were constructed.
During the 1990s, the region was one of the fastest growing in British Columbia, although the growth rate between 2001 and 2006 has averaged just 2.0% annually. Its growth is mostly due to a building boom in Courtenay,iginal research?] but other parts of the area are being suggested for development, including Cumberland and Union Bay. The growth industries are tourism and construction, with the Canadian Forces in the form of CFB Comox having long provided significant economic stability since the decline of logging and mining in the region after the 1960s and fishing in the 1990s. The service sector accounts for over 50% of employment.
Originally developed as an agricultural settlement in the 1860s in the wake of the Fraser Gold Rush, the area became the centre of one of the British Empire's largest private railway concerns, the Comox Logging & Railway Company. Comox Logging owned Block 29, one of the world's best stands of Douglas Fir timber, stretching from south of Courtenay well to the north of Campbell River. This stand is now owned by TimberWest and is being cut for the second time. For a number of years, logging provided the largest single paycheque in the community, but since most workers in the industry commuted to camps and logging operations further north on the Island or the mainland Coast, the Field lumber mill in Courtenay was disassembled in the fall of 2006. The legacy of forestry in Comox Valley is scattered amongst small woodlots on individual farms, or in isolated parks.
Today, a number of music and arts festivals are undertaken in the region, including through the Comox Valley Youth Music Centre, which draws students from around the world. The community also has a number of volunteer and non-profit organizations devoted to cultural pursuits. With air service direct to Calgary and points south and east, as well as Edmonton, Albertans have in recent years become a major driver of the real estate and population boom.
In 2007 the area was designated one of Canada's "Cultural Capitals" by Canadian Heritage.
The Valley is known as "The Valley of Festivals". Events include the Art & Bloom Festival, North Island Hot Jazz Festival, Comox Valley Shellfish Festival, About Town!, Marina Park Main Event, CYMC Summer School & Festival, Vancouver Island MusicFest, Hornby Island Festival, Filberg Festival, Comox Nautical Days, Showcase Festival, Comox Valley Exhibition Fall Fair and the Big Time Out.