History of Vancouver, British Columbia
The 118-year-old city was once a wild, densely forested and mountainous coastal area inhabited only by First Nations people and wildlife. Many events have combined to transform the once wild setting into the thriving cultural and business centre it is today. Yet the city retains its natural beauty, now set around a diverse urban core. And to think it all began with a couple of explorers who recognized the bountiful resources and spectacular potential of the area.
Before the white tide of fishermen
When British explorer Captain James Cook first arrived here in 1778, the natives in Nootka Sound mistook the captain and his raggedy crew for a boatful of strange, transformed salmon. It’s no wonder, really; the First Nations had lived undisturbed for thousands of years. The region’s temperate climate, coastal location and excellent food supply made it an ideal place for natives to subsist comfortably for most of the year. Many, including the Musqueam, Kwantlen and Squamish lived and thrived along the shorelines of Burrard Inlet. But then the white European settlers came and claimed the land as their own, altering years of relatively peaceful living.
A British chap and Spanish explorer met up one day
The city’s transformation began with explorers seeking the Northwest Passage, a sea route through northern America. In 1791, Spanish explorer Jose Maria Narvaez came through the waters but decided not to go ashore. In June of the following year, two more explorers showed up. England’s Captain George Vancouver led his ship, the sloop H.M.S. Discovery, into Burrard Inlet and later went on to chart the area’s waters. He exchanged information with Spanish explorer Dionisio Alcala Galiano, who showed Captain Vancouver maps he had already made of the area.
Though the British controlled the area, it wasn’t until 1808 that they sent Simon Fraser to set up trading posts in the region. The fur trade, which was followed by gold rush mania, would forever alter the region.
A few ambitious settlers and a chatty bar owner
Settlers thrived on fish, lumber, fur and farming. In 1858, gold was discovered on the Fraser River and, within weeks, nearly 30,000 Americans had flocked to the area in search of bounty. Fearing a takeover by the Americans, the British declared the mainland a British colony, thereby keeping the prosperity under its control. In 1859, New Westminster (once called Sapperton because British sappers were stationed there) was incorporated and declared the capital of the province.
Meanwhile, a talkative gentleman named John Deighton pulled his canoe into Burrard Inlet and decided to capitalize on the area’s industry. The village he founded was eventually named Gastown after him, the name derived from his loquacious nickname: “Gassy Jack.” Deighton opened up a successful saloon, serving hundreds of thirsty mill workers and prospectors in the budding town. Gastown began to fill up with small shops and services. Deighton was more than just a notorious saloon owner, though. Some historians say he was the founding father of Vancouver because he had faith in its potential before anyone else did.
As the population grew, people moved outward to settle in areas now known as Burnaby and Delta. The first newspaper went to the presses in 1861, and the first hospital was built the following year. In 1865, the first telegraph lines reached here, and the first message to travel along its wires announced the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Other urban staples appeared including a rudimentary postal system and a stagecoach line for transportation. Extensive logging soon cleared the area.
Canada was confederated in 1867, and the sweeping effects of this change were felt almost immediately in Vancouver. One of the pivotal moments in the history of the city was the extension of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1884. The railroad now reached clear across the country and brought thousands of people to the area to do business and settle. Rapid development began, and the population grew from 400 to 13,000 in four years.
Arduous beginnings and renewal
In 1886, the city of Vancouverpopulation 1,000was officially incorporated. Two months later, the Great Fire of 1886, driven by strong winds, destroyed virtually the entire downtown area in just 20 minutes. That same day, after the smoke had cleared, with just half-a-dozen buildings left standing, the citizens of Vancouver began to rebuild. Buildings erected that year still stand today. One of the most significant changes brought by the fire was the transformation of the town’s military reserve into the now famous Stanley Park, the city’s oasis. The opening of the Panama Canal, which facilitated travel, imports and exports to and from Europe, spurred growth of the city’s port, located in one of the world’s finest natural, year-round harbors.
Overzealous mayors, two world wars and the Canucks
By 1928, the Lower Mainland’s population had reached more than 150,000. Many memorable mayors governed the growing city; these included Gerry McGreer. McGreer was an enthusiastic politician who came into office in the 1930s with election guns blazing. He promised to eradicate gambling, white slavery, corruption and other issues important to the city’s wealthy residents. He promised the impossible, but he did succeed in building the Art Deco Vancouver City Hall in 1936.
Like everywhere else, the Great Depression took a toll on the city. Some growth, however, did occur in the 1930s, including the creation of the Vancouver Art Gallery and opening of a steel plant in Burnaby.
World War Two pulled the city out of its economic lull: shipyards, factories, parts exporting and real estate boomed. Human rights also got a positive injection when East Indian and Chinese-Canadian citizens finally got the provincial vote in 1947. Japanese-Canadians and First Nations people, however, had to wait until 1949 for the same right.
The 1950s was an era of rapid growth and prosperity, including the extensive development of suburban Vancouver. The population rose to 800,000 by 1961. The 1960s saw many additions to the city’s physical and cultural portfolio: the B.C. Lion’s won the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup, the Vancouver Canucks debuted in the National Hockey League, and Simon Fraser University, the Second Narrows Bridge, 401 Freeway, and the world-class Whistler Ski Resort were built.
This young cosmopolitan city has a brief but exciting history. Many weird and wonderful events have shaped its urban personality, from the local raiding of the biggest LSD factory in the world to our newfound reputation as “Hollywood North.” The city has become the third largest in the country, with an international reputation as one of the best places in the world to live and visit.