Happy 125th Birthday Stanley Park!



Stanley Park is a 1,001-acre public park that borders the downtown of Vancouver,Canada, and which is almost entirely surrounded by waters of the Pacific Ocean. Its land was originally used by Aboriginal peoples before it became a military reserve in the mid-1800s, when British Columbia was colonized by the British in 1858. Shortly after, when the City of Vancouver was established in 1886, the land was passed to the city and turned into a park.

Designated a national historic site in 1988, much of the park remains as densely forested as it was in the late 1800s, with an estimated half million trees, some of which stand as tall as 76 metres (249 ft) and are as many as hundreds of years old.[1][2] However, many trees were lost in three major windstorms that took place in the past 100 years, the last in 2006.

Unlike other large urban parks, Stanley Park is not the product of a landscape architect, but has evolved into its present, mixed-use configuration.[3] Significant effort was put into constructing the now nearly century old Vancouver Seawall, which can draw up to thousands of residents and visitors to the park every day.[4] The park also features forest trails, beaches, lakes, children’s play areas, and the Vancouver Aquarium, among many other attractio

Forgotten places and legends[edit source | editbeta]

View of Siwash Rock, taken from the rock cliff above.

Aboriginal peoples made use of the park area for many generations prior to British Columbia’s colonization by the British. Archaeological evidence in the park suggests a human presence dating back more than 3,000 years.[5][6] The park area is the traditional territory of different tribes. From the Burrard Inlet and Howe Sound regions, Squamish First Nation had a large village in the park. From the lower Fraser River area, Musqueam First Nation used the area for resource gathering.[7]

Where Lumberman’s Arch is now, a large village once presided called Whoi Whoi, or Xwayxway, roughly meaning place of masks.[8] The dwellings traditionally used werelonghouses built from cedar poles and slabs. One longhouse was measured at 200 feet (61 m) long by 60 feet (18 m) wide.[9] These houses were occupied by large extended families living in different quadrants of the house. The larger houses were used for ceremonial potlatchs where a host would invite guests to witness and participate in ceremonies and the giving away of property.[10]

Another settlement was further west along the same shore, in a clearing where the land starts to slope up to present day Prospect Point.[11] This place was called Chaythoos, meaning high bank.[6][8] The site of Chaythoos is noted on a brass plaque placed on the low lands east of Prospect Point commemorating the park’s centennial.

The popular landmark Siwash Rock, located near present day Third Beach, was once called Slahkayulsh meaning he is standing up.[8] In the oral history, a fisherman was transformed into this rock by three powerful brothers as punishment for his immorality.[8]

In 2010, the Squamish Nation‘s Chief Ian Cambell proposed renaming Stanley Park as Xwayxway Park after the large village formerly located in the area.[12]

A portrait believed to depictGeorge Vancouver.

European exploration[edit source | editbeta]

The first European exploration of the peninsula occurred in 1791 and again in 1792, with Spanish Captain Jose Maria Narvaez and British Captain George Vancouver. In his A Voyage of Discovery, Vancouver describes the area as “an island … with a smaller island [Deadman Island] lying before it,” indicating that it was originally surrounded by water, at least at high tide.[13] Captain Vancouver also recorded the reception he received upon arriving:

Here we were met by about fifty Indians in canoes, who conducted themselves with great decorum and civility, presenting us with several fish cooked and undressed of a sort resembling smelt. These good people, finding we were inclined to make some return for their hospitality, showed much understanding in preferring iron to copper.

Speaking about this event later in a conversation with archivist Major MatthewsAndy Paull, whose family lived in the area, confirms the account given by Captain Vancouver:

As Vancouver came through the First Narrows, the [natives) in their canoes threw these feathers in great handfuls before him. They would of course rise in the air, drift along, and fall to the surface of the water, where they would rest for quite a time. It must have been a pretty scene, and duly impressed Captain Vancouver, for he speaks most highly of the reception he was accorded.[8]

No other contact with Aboriginal peoples in the area was recorded for decades, until around the time of the Crimean War when British admirals arranged with Chief Joe Capilano that in the case of an invasion, the British would defend the south shore of Burrard Inlet and the Squamish would defend the north.[14]According to Capilano’s daughter, the British gave him and his men 60 muskets. Although the attack anticipated by the British never came, the guns were used by the Squamish to repel an attack by an indigenous raid from the north. Stanley Park was not attacked but this was the beginning of it being considered a strategic military location by the British.[15]

Early uses of park land[edit source | editbeta]

A seagoing dugout canoe carved from a single cedar tree, made by coastal Aboriginal peoples using stone tools.

Prior to becoming a park, the area went through a succession of uses. For many generations, the peninsula had been a rich resource for gathering food and materials. Indigenous people “cut down large cedar trees in Stanley Park for making canoesand other purposes” utilizing “nothing but stone chisels and a big round stone for a hammer.”[7]

Where Second Beach is now was a place called Staitwouk where they would gather “a clay material or muddy substance formally obtained right in the bed of a small creek… which, when rolled into loaves, as (my people) did it, and heated or roasted before a fire, turned into a white like chalk”[16] This material was used in the making of mountain goat wool and dog wool blankets. The original Aboriginal name references this material.

Settlement in Coal Harbour (1897). The center house is a traditional longhouse style of the Squamish people.

Coal Harbour was known as a fishing spot for herring. August Jack, a local historian and celebrated dual chief of the Squamish and Musqueam, who once lived at Chaythoos, remembered his early days when he and his brother were “fish-raking in Coal Harbor” and “got lots of herring in (the) canoe”.[10]

Almost two decades before Vancouver became a city, a number of Portuguese, Scots, Aboriginal peoples, and others made their home on the Coal Harbour side of Brockton Point, starting in as early as 1860. “Portuguese Joe” Silvey was the first European to settle in the future park.[17]

Springboard notched stumps in the park attest to pre-park activities in the late 1800s.

Despite the growing number of homes, the Stanley Park peninsula was designated as a military reserve in the early 1860s in a survey conducted by the Royal Engineers. It was again considered a strategic point in case Americans might attempt an invasion and launch an attack on New Westminster (then the colonial capital) via Burrard Inlet. The area was selectively logged by six different companies between the 1860s and 1880s, but the military designation saved the land from extensive development.[18] Most of today’s trails in Stanley Park got their start from the old skid roads.[5]

Deadman Island (properly called Deadman Island on official charts and maps) located in Coal Harbour was once used as a burial site. In 1865, newcomer John Morton changed his mind about purchasing the island after finding coffins in the trees.[19] This practice was formerly commonly used to protect remains of important indigenous persons from disturbances by wild animals.[11] During the 1860s to early 1880s, early European settlers along Burrard Inlet also used the island, along with Brockton Point, as a burial ground and cemetery. Burials ceased when the Mountain View Cemetery opened in 1887, just after Vancouver had become a city. During a smallpox outbreak in the late 1880s, Deadman Island became a “pest house” for quarantined victims of the disease and burial site for those who did not survive.[20]

Near the end of the 1800s, the city’s principal reservoir was established in the area south of Prospect Point that is now a playing field and picnic area.[21] Despite the reservoir’s demolition in the 1950s, there is still a “Reservoir Trail” at that location.

Leasing the land[edit source | editbeta]

In 1886, as its first order of business, Vancouver’s City Council voted to petition the Dominion to lease the reserve for use as a park. To manage their new acquisition, city council appointed a six man park committee, which was replaced with the Vancouver Park Board in 1890 that was to be elected rather than appointed (a rarity in North American cities). The Vancouver Park Board manages 192 parks on over 3,160 acres of land, but Stanley Park remains by far the largest.[22]

In 1908, twenty years after the first petition for the lease, the federal government renewed the lease of Stanley Park to Vancouver for ninety-nine years, renewable in 2007 (and rolled over in 2008).[23]

1887 map showing the area of the proposed park.

Opening and dedication[edit source | editbeta]

On September 27, 1888, the park was officially opened, with the exception of the adjacent Deadman Island, which was retained for military purposes. The park was named after Lord Stanley, who was Governor General of Canada at the time (and who is perhaps best known today for having donated the Stanley Cup that was later handed down to the National Hockey League).[24] Mayor David Oppenheimer gave a formal speech opening the park to the public and delivering authority for its management to the park committee.[25][26]

A statue of Lord Stanley at the quoted moment.

The following year, Lord Stanley became the first governor general to visit British Columbia when he officially dedicated the park. Mayor Oppenheimer led a procession of vehicles around Brockton Point along the newly-completed Park Road to the clearing at Chaythoos. An observer at the event wrote:

Lord Stanley threw his arms to the heavens, as though embracing within them the whole of one thousand acres of primeval forest, and dedicated it ‘to the use and enjoyment of peoples of all colours, creeds, and customs, for all time. I name thee, Stanley Park.[27]

Eviction of pre-park residents[edit source | editbeta]

When Lord Stanley made his declaration, there were still a number of homes on lands he had claimed for the park. Some, who had built their homes less than twenty years earlier, would continue to live on the land for years. Most were evicted by the park board in 1931, but the last resident, Tim Cummings, lived at Brockton Point until his death in 1958.[28]

Most of the dwellings at Xwayxway were reported as vacant by 1899, and in 1900, two of such houses were purchased by the Park Board for $25 each and burned. One Squamish family, “Howe Sound Jack” and Sexwalia “Aunt Sally” Kulkalem, continued to live at Xwayxway until Sally’s died in 1923. Sally’s ownership of the property surrounding her home was accepted by authorities in the 1920s, and following her death, the property was purchased from her heir, Mariah Kulkalem, for $15,500 and resold to the federal government.[21]

Nine O’Clock Gun[edit source | editbeta]

The oldest man-made landmark in the park is an 1816 naval cannon installed near Brockton Point. The Nine O’Clock Gun, as it is known today, was fired for the first time in 1898, a tradition that has continued for more than 100 years.[29] The 21:00 firing was established as atime signal for the general population and to allow the chronometers of ships in port to be accurately set. The cannon was originally detonated with a stick of dynamite, but is now activated automatically with an electronic trigger. After a 1969 prank by University of British Columbia Engineering students, the cannon was surrounded by a stone and metal enclosure.

Zoo and Children’s Farmyard[edit source | editbeta]

A caged black bear in Stanley Park Zoo, which closed permanently in the 1990s.

From the very beginning, the park kept and exibited animals after the first park superintendent (aka park ranger), Henry Avison, captured an orphaned black bear cub and chained it to a stump for safety in 1888.

In 1905 a large number of animals were donated that included a monkey, a large seal, four grass parakeets, a racoon, a canary, and a black bear. Avison was subsequently named city pound keeper, and his collection of animals formed the basis for the original zoo, which eventually housed over 50 animals, including snakeswolvesemusbuffalokangaroos,monkeys, and Humboldt penguins.[30]

By the 1970s, the zoo with its new polar bear exhibit had become the park’s main attraction. In 1994, when plans were developed to upgrade Stanley Park’s zoo, Vancouver voters instead decided to phase it out when the question was posed in a referendum. The zoo was shut down in 1996 and the animals were either moved to the petting zoo area, the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Abbotsford, or to other facilities.

The Stanley Park Zoo closed completely in December 1997 after the last remaining animal, a polar bear named Tuk, died at age 36. He had remained after the other animals had left because of his old age. The polar bear pit, often criticised by animal rights activists, was to be converted into a demonstration salmon spawning hatchery.[31] Domestic animals and a few reptiles and birds continued to be kept at the Children’s Farmyard, until it was closed as a result of budget cutbacks in January 2011.

Seawall[edit source | editbeta]

Construction of the 8.8-kilometre (5.5 mi) seawall and walkway around the park began in 1914, but did not finish until decades later.[32]The original idea for the seawall is attributed to park board superintendent, W. S. Rawlings, who conveyed his vision in 1918:

It is not difficult to imagine what the realization of such an undertaking would mean to the attractions of the park and personally I doubt if there exists anywhere on this continent such possibilities of a combined park and marine walk as we have in Stanley Park.[33]

James “Jimmy” Cunningham, a master mason, dedicated 32 years of his life to the construction of the seawall from 1931 until his retirement in 1963. Cunningham continued to return to monitor the wall’s progress until his death at 85.[33]

The walkway has been extended several times and is currently 22 kilometres (14 mi) from end to end, making it the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront walkway.[34] The Stanley Park portion is just under half of the entire length, which starts at Canada Place in the downtown core, runs around Stanley Park, along English Bay, around False Creek, and finally to Kitsilano Beach. From there, a trail continues 600 metres to the west, connecting to an additional 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) of beaches and pathways which terminate at the mouth of the Fraser River.

Lost Lagoon fountain in 1936, the year it was installed. It was later restored for theExpo 86 world’s fair.

Lost Lagoon and the Stanley Park Causeway[edit source | editbeta]

Lost Lagoon lake was created in 1916 out of necessity due to the construction of a causewayinto the park, a project that was not without its detractors. Until then, Lost Lagoon was a shallow part of Coal Harbour and access to the park from Georgia Street was over a wooden bridge. The first phase of the Stanley Park causeway was built between 1913 and 1916.

The next phase in the lake’s development came in 1929, when the saltwater pipes entering from Coal Harbour were shut off, turning it into a freshwater lake. Today, the lake features a lit fountain that was erected to commemorate the city’s golden jubilee. The fountain, installed in 1936, was purchased from Chicago, a leftover from that city’s world fair.[29]

The causeway was extended through the center of the park in the 1930s, to coincide with the construction of the Lions Gate Bridge, which connects downtown to the North Shore. At the same time, a pedestrian subway with an overhead road was added to the original causeway at the foot of Georgia Street.

Aquarium[edit source | editbeta]

In 1939, Vancouver’s first public aquarium opened next to the park in English Bay. (The manager was an American named Ivar Haglund, who later moved to Seattle and started Ivar’s Acres of Clams restaurant, which became a successful chain.[29]) The aquarium opened at its present location in June of 1956 after the Vancouver Public Aquarium Association was founded in 1951. The popular children’s song, “Baby Beluga“, was inspired by one of the whales at the facility. In 1964, the Vancouver Aquarium captured the first killer whale ever to be studied alive in captivity.[29]

In 2006, the park board approved an $80 million expansion of the facility, following considerable public debate and despite a vocal opposition concerned about animal rights and the loss of park trees required by the expansion.[35]

Map of the coast of Vancouver British Columbia showing the locations of World War II coastal defence forts

Map showing the location of WWIIdefence forts operated by the 15th Field Regiment, including Ferguson Point (Stanley Park).[36][37]

The park in wartime[edit source | editbeta]

In World War I, a small temporary gun battery was established above Siwash Rock to protect Vancouver from possible attacks from German merchant raiders. This was removed prior to the end of the war. Then in 1936, when Japan moved into Manchuria, the perceived Japanese threat resulted in fortifications being erected in Stanley Park, amongst other areas, most notably at Tower Beach in Point Grey where submarine watch towers still stand as relics.[38]

The military temporarily expanded its use of the park in 1940 by closing the area around Ferguson Point, where it had established barracks for a battery detachment and was providing a training area at Third Beach for the Canadian Women’s Army Corps.[39][40] What is now the Teahouse restaurant, was originally built as an officers’ mess.[29]

With the threat of an attack high on peoples’ minds, a gun battery with two guns were emplaced at Ferguson Point. Remains of the emplacement can still be seen, but its bunkerwas buried. In addition to the coastal defence fort at Ferguson Point, a searchlight tower was built on the cliff above Siwash Rock and remains intact as an observation deck that is accessed from the trails above. Also, an examination area was set up where ships requesting entrance to the harbour had to stop and submit to an inspection by the Royal Canadian Navy.[41][42]

Storms and loss of landmark trees[edit source | editbeta]

Vancouver Province photo of debris left by 1934-35 storms and warning of the fire hazard if not cleaned up.

The park lost some of its oldest trees through major storms twice in the last century and then again in 2006. The first was a combination of an October windstorm in 1934 and a subsequent snowstorm the following January that felled thousands of trees, primarily between Beaver Lake and Prospect Point.[43]

Another storm in October 1962, the remnants of Typhoon Freda, cleared a 6-acre virgin tract behind the children’s zoo, which opened an area for a new miniature railway that replaced a smaller version built in the 1940s. In total, approximately 3,000 trees were lost in that storm.[44]

One stand of tall trees in the center of the park did not survive beyond the 1960s after becoming a popular tourist attraction. The “Seven Sisters” are memorialized by a plaque and young replacement trees in the same location along Lovers Walk, a forest trail that connects Beaver Lake with Second Beach. “They were so popular that people basically killed them by walking on their roots,” says historian John Atkin.[28]

The National GeographicWestern Red cedar before it uprooted after being ravaged by the 2006 Hanukkah Eve Windstorm.

The death of the distinctive fir tree atop Siwash Rock has also been memorialized with a replacement. The original died in the dry summer of 1965, and through the persistent efforts of park staff, a replacement finally took root in 1968.[45][46]

Another major windstorm ravaged the park on December 15, 2006, with 115 kilometres per hour (71 mph) winds (Hanukkah Eve Windstorm). Over 60% of the western edge was damaged; the worst part was the area around Prospect Point.[47] In total, about 40% of the forest was affected, with an estimated 3,000 trees damaged. Large sections of the seawall were also destabilized by the storm, and many areas of the park were closed to the public pending restoration. The cost of restoration has been estimated at $9 million, which will be covered by contributions from all three levels of government and private and corporate donations.[48]

Trees growing out of stumps show the regeneration of the park forest.

Two landmark trees were affected. One tree that has achieved a lot of fame is the National Geographic Tree, so named because it appeared in the magazine’s October 1978 issue. With a circumference of 13.5 m (44½ ft), it was once one of the more impressive big Western Red cedars of the park. It diminished over time, ravaged by storms, a lightning strike, and topped by park staff to a height of 39.6 metres (130 ft) before being uprooted in October 2007.[49][50][51]

The park lost some of its oldest trees through major storms twice in the last century and then again in 2006.

The Hollow Tree was probably the most photographed park element in bygone years, an obligatory stop for locals, tourists and dignitaries alike, and a professional photographer was on hand to capture the visit for a fee. The tree was saved from road widening in 1910 through the lobbying efforts of the photographer who made his living at the tree.[52] Automobiles and horse-drawn carriages would frequently be backed into the hollow, demonstrating the immensity of the tree for posterity. While the remaining 700–800 year-old stump still draws viewers and is commemorated with a plaque, it is no longer alive and has shrunk considerably over the years, from a circumference of 18.3 metres (60 ft) many decades ago, to a more recent 17.1 metres (56 ft).[49][50] Damaged by the December 2006 windstorm and leaning forward at a dangerous angle, on March 31, 2008, the tree was targeted by the Vancouver Park Board for removal due to potential safety hazards.[53] However, on January 19, 2009, the Board accepted a proposal to save the tree by realigning and stabilizing it at a cost of $250,000, funded entirely by private donations.[54]

Today[edit source | editbeta]

The forest continues to give the park a more natural character than most other urban parks, leading many to call it an urban oasis.[55] It consists of primarily second and third growth and contains many huge Douglas firWestern Red cedarWestern Hemlock, and Sitka Spruce trees. Since 1992, the tallest trees have been topped and otherwise pruned by park staff for safety reasons.

While it is not the largest of its kind, Stanley Park today is more than 10 percent larger than New York City’s Central Park and almost half the size of London’s Richmond Park.[56] It contains numerous natural and man-made attractions that draw about eight million people to the park every year, including locals and tourists.[24] Recreational facilities are especially abundant in the park, having long co-existed, albeit uneasily, with the aesthetic and more natural park features preferred by those looking to the park as an enclave of nature in the city.[57]

Attractions[edit source | editbeta]

Vancouver Seawall. The 2006 windstorm subjected portions of the seawall to mudslides and falling debris, forcing park staff to temporarily close it for repairs.[58]

The Vancouver Seawall is a popular destination for walkingrunningcyclinginline skating, and even fishing (with a licence). There are two paths, one for inline skaters and cyclists and the other for pedestrians. The section around the outside of the park is one-way for cyclists and inline skaters, running counter-clockwise.[33]

There are also more than 27 kilometres (17 mi) of forest trails inside the park.[59] Forest trails are patrolled by members of the Vancouver Police Department on horseback.[60] The stables(open to the public) are located in the service yards of Stanley Park near the Rose Gardens at 605 Pipeline Road.

miniature railroad was built in an area leveled by Typhoon Freda in the 1960s, and is especially popular as seasonal “Halloween Trains” and “Christmas Trains”.

The windstorm of 2006 revealed traces of a long-forgotten rock garden, which had once been one of the park’s star attractions and one of its largest man-made objects by area.[61][62] Since its discovery, a large section that encircles the Stanley Park Pavilion has been restored (the 1920s’ version extended from Pipeline Road to Coal Harbour).[63]

“Royal” lily pads on Beaver Lake.

Beaver Lake is a restful space nestled among the trees. The lake is almost completely covered with water lilies (introduced for the Queen’s Jubilee in 1938) and home to beaversfish, and water birds. As of 1997, its surface area was just short of 10 acres, but the lake is slowly shrinking in size.[64] One of Vancouver’s few remaining free-flowing streams, Beaver Creek, joins Beaver Lake to the Pacific Ocean and is one of two streams in Vancouver where salmonstill return to spawn each year.[64][65]

The Vancouver Aquarium is the largest in Canada and houses a collection of marine life that includes dolphinsbelugassea lionsHarbour seals, and sea otters. In total, there are approximately 300 species of fish, 30,000 invertebrates, 56 species of amphibians and reptiles, and around 60 mammals and birds.[66]

Lost Lagoon looking north.

Lost Lagoon, the captive 41-acre freshwater lake near the Georgia Street entrance to the park, is a nesting ground to many bird species, including swansCanada geese, and ducks.

Numerous varieties of other animals live in the park, including 200 bird species, such aspeacocks descended from the old zoo, as well as other non-native species. A large great blue heron colony took up digs in a grove of trees near the Park Board Administration Office in 2002. The heronry has continued to grow, with more than 170 active nests recorded last year which are expected to fledge over 200 chicks in a normal season.[67] Mammals include a largeraccoon population, coyotesskunksbeaversrabbits descended from discarded pets, and a thriving grey squirrel population (descended from eight pairs acquired from New York’s Central Park in 1909).[55][49]

The park also contains rose and rhododendron gardenstennis courts, an 18-hole pitch and putt golf course, a seaside swimming pool at Second Beach, and the Brockton Oval for track sports, rugby, and cricket. For entertainment, there are events throughout the year, especially in summer, and the open-air summer theatre Malkin Bowl (rebuilt after a fire in the 1980s), which is home to the localTheatre Under the Stars.[56]

Monuments[edit source | editbeta]

Girl in a Wetsuit, which is a take on theThe Little Mermaid bronze in Copenhagen.

Stanley Park has accumulated a large collection of monuments, including statues, plaques, and gardens. Among these are a memorial to writer Pauline Johnson where her ashes are buried; statues of Lord Stanley, poet Robert BurnsOlympic runner Harry Jerome, and 29th U.S. president, Warren Harding; plaques commemorating the wreck of the SS Beaver, the sinking of the Chehalis (a tugboat that collided with the MV Princess Victoria off Stanley Park), and the Salvation Army; a replica of the RMS Empress of Japan figurehead; a bronze statue of a Girl in a Wetsuit by Elek Imredy; and a timber-and-stump archway that replaced the original Lumbermen’s Arch built by lumber workers for a visit by the Duke of Connaught, which ultimately succumbed to rot.

Reflecting the view that the park should be kept in a more natural state and is already saturated, the park board has banned the erection of any further memorials. In what some have considered an exception to the ban, the park board agreed in 2006 to build a new playground at Ceperley Meadows near Second Beach honouring the victims of the Air India Flight 182bombing. The federal government spent approximately $800,000 to build the playground, which was completed in the summer of 2007.[68]A local historian has also suggested the appropriateness of memorials marking the sites of communities that were displaced in the making of the park at Lumbermen’s Arch (Whoi Whoi, or Xwayxway), Prospect Point (Chaythoos), Brockton Point, and Kanaka Rancherie (at the foot of Denman Street), although a formal proposal has not been put forth.[69] Just west of the Nine O’Clock Gun there is a plaque commemorating these communities.


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