Here, in a nutshell, are some of the highlights of Vancouver’s sometimes oddball history.
16,000 to 11,000 BC: Segments of the Coast Salish people-the ancestors of the Squamish, Burrard, Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam (Xw’muthk’i’um), Tsawwassen, Coquitlam (Kwayhquitlam), Katzie and Semiahmoo Indian bands-arrive from Asia. They seem to be quite satisfied with the beaches teeming with seafood-they named English Bay Ayyulshun, which means ‘soft under feet’. And they liked the forests teaming with wildlife. Not to mention that nearby is the mouth of a big river emptying into a vast ocean where big, fat, silvery salmon swam by six months out of every year.
1592 – 1774 AD: The Spaniards cruised by as part of their exploration of Canada’s west coast. Spain claimed the west coast of North America by virtue of the Treaty of Tordesillas, which occurred in 1494. Their presence is still felt today even though the Spanish felt Friendly Cove at the entrance to Nootka Sound was a better place for a town. The City of Vancouver has a number of streets named after Spaniards: Cordova, Cardero, Valdez and Narvaez (Galiano Street in Coquitlam.)
1792: Captain George Vancouver arrived. He spent one day here, which was long enough to discover the Spanish had already claimed the place and headed off again. During the day British Captain Vancouver met with Spanish captains Valdez and Galiano and one of Vancouver’s best beaches, Spanish Banks is named for the meeting place. That’s also the same reason English Bay got its name. Note however, that the Bay is bigger than the Banks and there are a ton more streets in Vancouver named after the British. (There is a Vancouver Street but it’s, um, in New Westminster.)
1808: Simon Fraser, an explorer and fur trader arrived here following an overland route from Eastern Canada by a river he thought was the Columbia. Even though he was wrong about his travel plan the river was still named for him.
1827: Hudson’s Bay Company built a trading post on Fraser River. It was the first permanent non-native settlement in the Vancouver area. Since 1893 the company has occupied a prime location at the corner of Georgia and Granville in Vancouver’s downtown core and they’re still trading.
1858: The news there was gold on the banks of the Fraser raised a bit of interest. About 25,000 prospectors dropped in to have a look.
1860: Three English who should have stayed out of the sun built a brickyard. The business flopped amid much guffawing and “I told you so’s” from the local population. They were called the “Three Greenhorns”; the area is now known as the West End, one of the most populated places in North America. And there’s no shortage of brickwork in the surrounding buildings.
1867: A talkative chap nicknamed “Gassy Jack” opened a saloon for forestry workers on the shore of Burrard Inlet. It became so popular a community built up around the place and called itself Gastown.
1870: Gastown is incorporated as the town of Granville.
1884: The Canadian Pacific Railway moved its terminal from the head of Burrard Inlet to the area of Granville, now known as Coal Harbour. Port Moody was miffed but Granville grew like Topsy. That same year the vessel Robert Kerr left England with Seraphim Fortes aboard. Seraphim, from Barbados who had been living in Liverpool working as a bath attendant and swimming instructor, was heading for Victoria when the ship foundered. It was towed into English Bay and ‘Joe’ Fortes thought well, what the heck, I might as well stay and do the same kind of work here.
1886: Granville incorporated as the City of Vancouver: now that it had about 1,000 people. The first mayor was realtor M.A. McLean. On June 13 a brush fire got away and burnt the city to the ground in less than 30 minutes. McLean knowing the value of real estate got rebuilding going in a matter of days.
1887: The CPR’s first train arrived; the final stop of the first transcontinental trip.
1888: The last body is buried in Pioneer Cemetery, the graveyard of many of Vancouver’s earliest citizens. The cemetery stretched from Brockton Point to the Nine o’clock Gun. Why no more? Well: 1888 was when the road that would eventually wind around Stanley Park was first constructed in the Brockton Point area. The first perimeter road around Stanley Park was paved with the shells from native middens (refuse heaps) in the park.
1889: The first Granville Street bridge is completed. There was another one built in 1909. The one that’s there now is the third built in 1954.
1889: The original Capilano Suspension Bridge was built.
1890: The first lighthouse is built at Brockton Point. Electric streetcars began operating this year.
1891: The city’s first tram-based public transit system, the Interurban starts up.
1898: Sand is added to English Bay Beach. Up to that time you had to walk through bushes to get to it. A large rock on the beach separated men and women bathers (no peeking!) The Nine o’clock Gun is placed at Brockton point. People still set their watches by it.
1900: Vancouver surpasses the provincial capital of Victoria in size. Did they immediately move the capital to Vancouver? No.
1902: The first meeting of the Vancouver Information & Tourist Association was held on June 25, 1902. Today, the organization celebrates more than 100 years of operation and is now known as Tourism Vancouver.
1905: Johann and Anna Breitenbach arrive in Vancouver from Brisbane, Australia aboard the Aorangi. They were two of hundreds of new immigrants to Vancouver as the flood of people moved through to settle the Prairies. The Breitenbachs stayed and their descendants are still in Vancouver. The trip took a month; they travelled in steerage the whole way. They brought their ten kids with them. And you think commuting today is tough.
1909: The Dominion Trust Building, the city’s first skyscraper opens at Hastings and Cambie. It’s still there but looking kind of puny. The same year the second Granville Street Bridge opens.
1911: Canada’s first artificial ice rink, the Arena, opened. People immediately begin skating around the edge counter-clockwise. It was at 1805 West Georgia at the corner of Denman. At the time it was the largest indoor ice rink in the world. The Vancouver Millionaires, the city’s first hockey team, was built out of players swiped from the National Hockey League.
The 1914-15 season: The Millionaires become Stanley Cup champions.
1915: The first lighthouse at Brockton Point is torn down and the current one is built. You notice the arch at the bottom of the current lighthouse? That was going to be part of a boathouse until somebody noticed that the ocean current right there would make it easier to not store boats there.
The University of British Columbia (UBC) opens for business. A few bleary-eyed students show up. There are now more than 46,000 students at the verdant waterfront campus. UBC opens at a temporary headquarters at the former McGill University College facilities adjacent to Vancouver General Hospital (nicknamed the Fairview “shacks” after the surrounding neighbourhood).
1920: Vancouver grows bigger than Winnipeg, which was the main city of western Canada. For its next trick the city’s population turned out in droves to watch Houdini suspend himself from the top of the Sun Tower. He chose that building because that’s where The Vancouver Sun’s offices were located at the time.
1922: ‘Joe’ Fortes dies of pneumonia. The City paid for his funeral and thousands of people, many of whom learned how to swim with Joe’s meaty hands holding them up in the lukewarm waters of English Bay, lined Granville and Hastings Streets to say goodbye.
UBC students organize a province-wide publicity campaign to persuade the government to complete the Point Grey campus. The “Build the University” campaign climaxes in a parade (the “Great Trek”) from downtown Vancouver to Point Grey, and the presentation of a petition with 56,000 signatures to the Speaker of the Legislature in Victoria. The government authorizes a $1.5 million loan to resume construction. The campaign marks the beginning of active student involvement in the University’s development.
1925: The first Second Narrows Bridge connects the city with North Vancouver. The one that’s there now is the second one.
1927: In Alexandra Park, a small drinking fountain, just the right size for kids, was built to commemorate ‘Joe’ Fortes; it was near where he lived in a shack that the City had saved for him when it tore down all the squatters shacks on English Bay Beach years earlier. The inscription on the drinking fountain reads: “Little children loved him.”
1931: The English Bay bathhouse was constructed out of concrete replacing the first bathhouse, which was made of wood.
1936: The new City Hall at 12th Avenue and Cambie is dedicated. It still looks like it ought to be in Gotham City. The same year the Denman arena was destroyed by fire.
1938: The Lions Gate Bridge is completed so a real estate company can at last sell the property it bought on the North Shore. It was engineered to last about 50 years.
1939: The landmark Hotel Vancouver is completed.
1954: The British Empire and Commonwealth Games Association of Canada donated the flag after the name change was voted on in 1952, and it was used for the first time at the 5th British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver in 1954. The games featured the Miracle Mile, in which two runners-Roger Bannister and John Landy-both broke the 4:00 minute mark for the mile, the first sports event televised to all North America.
1957: Elvis Presley sings a half dozen songs and leaves the stage after 15 minutes. The audience paid $2 per ticket and were pretty cheesed by being short-changed.
1959: A busy year. The city’s first shopping mall, the Oakridge Centre, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and the Vancouver Maritime Museum all open. That year they also sunk the George Massey Tunnel-most people still call it the Deas Island Tunnel. Fortunately, sinking it was the right thing to do because it goes under the Fraser River.
1964: For the first time the BC Lions won the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup.
1970: The Vancouver Canucks played their first game in the National Hockey League. They played the Los Angeles Kings (and lost.)
1974: The locomotive Royal Hudson logs its inaugural run since being rebuilt. People are steamed today, not because the famous loco plied the Squamish run for so many years, but because it’s now toast. Efforts however are currently underway to rehabilitate the Royal Hudson and hopefully it will soon be making its picturesque journey.
1979: The Vancouver Whitecaps won the North American Soccer League championship.
1983: BC Place Stadium inflates and becomes the world’s largest air-supported dome. It has 60,000 seats. Let’s put that in perspective. If you put all the residents of Vancouver in it when the city was incorporated 97 years earlier, you would have 59,000 empty seats.
1985: SkyTrain starts up mid-December. The initial route, from Vancouver to New Westminster, retraces in part one of Vancouver’s original Interurban lines.
1986: Vancouver’s centennial is marked by the highly successful six-month fair Expo 86 on the north shore of False Creek. It was the largest special category World Exposition ever staged in North America -the category was Transportation.
1985: Vancouver holds its first Vancouver Sun Run, a 10 kilometre run through downtown streets and spectacular Stanley Park. Now an annual, very popular event, first year’s participants were 3200 – by 2003 there were approximately 49,000 runners – a true reflection of the love of sport in the outdoors!
1988: The first ever Vancouver Gay Pride Festival. Now also an annual, week long event, it includes a parade and a variety of celebrations and parties throughout the city.
1990: The 1990s began with a roar as the first “Indy” race took place on the downtown Vancouver track, winding through tight corners, past apartment complexes, False Creek and Science World. It was an annual event held each summer, however 2004 was the final year that it took place in Vancouver.
1993: Woodward’s department store, a Canadian retail institution dating back to 1903, goes bankrupt and closes its doors. Over the following years, debate regarding reuse of the landmark building or redevelopment of its property has ranged from the creation of affordable housing to a downtown parking complex to various retail options. Today, there are several housing options still being reviewed.
1994: The Vancouver Canucks reach the Stanley Cup finals but lose in the final moments of the final game. The BC Lions football team won the Grey Cup for the second time in their history.
1995: The new Vancouver Public Library building opens and is a landmark within the downtown core. Interestingly, initial designs had the building facing the opposite direction, with the main entrance facing Georgia. As they finalized construction plans, someone noticed that by flipping the design, the main plaza would face the sun rather than being in the shadow of the main building!
General Motors Place (currently Rogers Arena) for hockey, basketball and musical performances, opens and is nicknamed ‘The Garage’.
The spiffy Ford Centre for the Performing Arts opens for what turned out to be for three years before it reopened as The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts, and today offers large-scale theatrical productions several times a year.
1996: Estimates show the central city’s population had increased by more than 107,000 since 1981-a 26 per cent jump!
The Vancouver Grizzlies joined the NBA, along with the Toronto Raptors, as part of the league’s two-pronged expansion into Canada. They are the first non-U.S. cities to join the league since 1946-47. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies were sold in 2001, so Vancouver only got to enjoy their NBA team for 5 years.
1997: The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts opens at the University of British Columbia, offering year round performance by University programs, touring companies and local performers.
1999: Vancouver creates the 2010 Olympic Bid team to organize the proposal to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. By July, 2004, Vancouver is selected!
2000: The annual Polar Bear Swim, started in 1920 by a local restaurant owner, Peter Pantages, reaches a record of 2,128 swimmers.
2001: It is estimated that 200 movie and television productions are filmed in Vancouver. Each year, this list grows more and more substantial, as estimates from 1981 show only 11 productions! Earning its nickname of ‘Hollywood North’, celebrity spotting is everywhere – they’re out and about on Vancouver streets, browsing in shops and relaxing in local restaurants and spas.
2002: The Economist magazine’s Intelligence Unit ties Vancouver and Melbourne as the World’s Top City to live in.
2003: Mercer Human Resource Consulting rates Vancouver as top city in North America for quality of life.
July 1 – Canada Day – 2003, Vancouver is selected as the Host City for 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Rogers Arena broadcasts the announcement live to a sold out crowd, while celebrations take place across the city.
2004: The hosting of the first large outdoor public arts show on the streets of Vancouver called ‘Orcas in the City’ by the BC Lions Society.
2009: A major expansion to the Vancouver Convention Centre opens, tripling the capacity of the original Canada Place venue. The green, grass-roofed West Building is Canada’s largest waterfront convention centre.
2010: The region enthusiastically hosts the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Para-lympic Winter Games in February and March. More than 2.5 billion people around the world tune in to watch 2,600 athletes from 82 nations compete. The highlight for Canadians? Winning the men’s hockey gold medal.
2011: Vancouver celebrates its 125th birthday with a year-long party of events and performances taking place throughout the city.