Vancouver's Interesting History

Posted by Jhan Dudley on

Vancouver has changed quite a bit from its early days as a lumber town. Vancouver's history, from small-town sawmill community to a world-renowned destination, is quite interesting.

April 6, 1886 - Vancouver Incorporated

Vancouver was originally a small sawmill settlement called Granville. But in April of 1886, it was incorporated as the City of Vancouver, with a population of 1,000 residents.

Granville Island
Photo credit Granville Island

June 13, 1886 - Vancouver Burns Down

However, when the new city of Vancouver was barely two months old, a small brush fire broke out.  In just 30 minutes, it had burned the city to the ground. Members of the local Squamish Nation, who had previously been evicted and relocated to what is now North Vancouver, came to the aid of survivors floundering in the water. But many lives were lost in the fire, as well as an estimated $1.3 million in destroyed property. The only structures not destroyed were a stone building in the West End, the Hastings Mill Store, and a few structures on the banks of False Creek. But Vancouver's first mayor, M.A. McLean, understanding the value of the region's real estate, spurred on new development. Within four days, new buildings began to appear.

In those days, Vancouver had but one constable, John Stewart. With the addition of Jackson Abray, V.W. Haywood, and John McLaren, the city's first police force was formed. Their badges were made from American silver dollars, with one side smoothed down and engraved, 'Vancouver City Police'.

September 27, 1888 - Stanley Park Opens

One of the city's most cherished hallmarks, Stanley Park, was officially opened in September of 1888. With its public aquarium, beautiful forested parklands, and surrounded by stunning seawall, the park occupies 400 hectares of the downtown peninsula. Nowadays, the city boasts many parks, including the VanDusen Botanical Garden, and Queen Elizabeth Park, named in 1939 for the Queen Mother. Not to mention Cypress and Mount Seymour provincial parks on the nearby 'north shore'.

1890’s - The City Flourishes

Vancouver experienced a huge boom as the Klondike Gold Rush brought people and trade through the city’s ports. By the 1890's, the city had grown to a population of 14,000 people. Investments in technology and transportation saw the arrival of electric streetcars and the CPR Empress Line of ocean liners.

1911 - Canada's First Indoor Ice Rink

In 1911, Canada's first artificial ice rink, the Arena, opened at the corner of Denman and Georgia. At the time it was the largest indoor ice rink in the world! Around the same time, the Vancouver Millionaires, the city's first hockey team, was formed.

August 2, 1917 - Canada's First General Strike

The first general strike in Canadian history happened in Vancouver on August 2, 1917. Workers went on strike to protests the war drafting, as well as the killing of draft-evader, Albert Goodwin. Fueling resentment for the strike was the realization that capitalists were actually profiting from the war at the expense of laborers and constricted soldiers.

1925 - UBC Goes Home

In 1907, the Endowment Lands trust was formed to raise capital to create the University of British Columbia. The first public lots were auctioned in 1925, and the money raised enabled the university to move from its original location at Fairview Slopes to its present location in Point Grey. To date, nearly 700 acres have since been subdivided and sold to the public.

1937 - New City Hall Opens

After being elected mayor in 1934, Gerry McGeer appointed a three-man committee to select the location for a new city hall. Possible sites included the former Central School site at Victory Square, as well as Strathcona Park at the corner of Cambie and West 12th Avenue. The Strathcona Park site won out, making Vancouver the first major Canadian city to locate its city hall outside its downtown district. Construction began in 1936. Upon completion, an eight-foot statue of Capt. George Vancouver, carved by Charles Marega, was placed at the front of the building. On January 2, 1937, after winning the civic election, George Clark Miller became the first mayor to occupy the new city hall .

November 14, 1938 - Lions Gate Bridge

With the building of the Lions Gate Bridge, and the development of the British Properties, The Guiness family has made their indelible mark on Vancouver history. In 1931, the Guinness family purchased a 4,000 acre parcel of land from the municipality of West Vancouver. What is now known as the British Properties, they purchased the land for only $75,000, with a promise of an additional $1 million for infrastructure improvements. Needing access to their property holdings, the Guinness family built the two-lane Lions Gate Bridge in 1938. Up until then, West Vancouver had been a sleepy, ferry-access only, 'beach resort'. Even as recently as the 1990's, prospective purchasers were restricted to by-laws excluding anyone of African, Asian, or Jewish decent.

1954 - Granville St Bridge #3

A new Granville Street Bridge — the third bridge built at that site, opened in 1954. Significantly, the same woman who was first to drive over the second bridge when it was new in 1909, was the first one over. Both times she was at the wheel of a brand-new Cadillac.

October 9, 1970 - Canuck's 1st Game

The Vancouver Canucks play their first game in the NHL against the Los Angeles Kings, losing 3-1.

September 21, 1980 - Seawall Completed

After more than six decades of planning and construction, the city's illustrious 'Seawall' is completed. The city's most popular recreational site, this glorious, uninterrupted pathway, extends from the Vancouver Convention Centre, around Stanley Part, to Spanish Banks, some 28 km.

The 28 km Seawall is an uninterrupted pathway, including the Stanley Park Seawall, that extends from the Vancouver Convention Centre to Spanish Banks Park. Perfect for a walk, cycle, or jog, it is the most popular recreational spot in the city.


June 19, 1983 - BC Place Opens

 BC Place officially opens, in preparation for the 1986 World’s Fair. The first-ever event at BC Place was on June 20 - a match between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Seattle Sounders.

Photo credit BC Place

1986 - The Skytrain and Expo '86

Arguably Vancouver's most pivotal year, 1986 heralded the opening of the Skytrain, and Expo ’86. Expo '86, which ran from May to October, really announced Vancouver to the world, and put the city 'on the map'. The SkyTrain, the world's oldest fully-automated and driverless transit system, was the figurehead of the 'World in Motion – World in Touch' theme of Expo '86. Several important Vancouver landmarks, including BC Place Stadium, Canada Place, the Plaza of Nations, and Science World, were all constructed as part of the event. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, along with Prince Charles and Princess Diana in attendance, open the fair on May 2, 1986.

And importantly, 1986 was the centennial year for the city of Vancouver so this was a very significant event in Vancouver history. Perhaps more importantly, the sale of the Expo lands to Hong Kong developer, Li Ka Shing, set the stage for the ensuing massive condo developments and high intensity of interest in the city from Asian markets.

1995 - Two Important City Landmarks Open

The Vancouver Public Library's Central Branch opened on Georgia Street on May 26, 1995. It was the largest capital project ever made by the City of Vancouver, at a cost of $106.8 million. The building, largely styled after Rome's Coliseum, incorporates motifs in the 'Art Deco' style.

Originally named General Motors Place after the major sponsor, the now 'Rogers Arena' opened on September 21, as the new home of the Vancouver Canucks and the Vancouver Grizzlies. Curiously, many still affectionaly refer to it by its original nickname, 'The Garage.'

February 12, 2010 - 2010 Winter Olympics

The 2010 Winter Olympics kicked off in Vancouver with 60,000 people in attendance for an elaborate Opening Ceremony at BC Place. The 2 week-long event brought 2,566 athletes to Vancouver and Whistler, and was watched by billions of people worldwide. The highlight for Canadians... winning the men’s hockey Olympic gold medal.

June 15, 2011 - The Vancouver Riots

The Vancouver Canucks host the Boston Bruins at Rogers Arena for game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Canucks ultimately lost the game 4-0, and fans' disappointment sparked a riot in the downtown core, causing 140 injuries and more than $5 million in property damage. It was one of the darkest days in Vancouver history, played out on a world stage. 

March 17, 2014 - Ted Talks

The now annual TED Conference came to Vancouver for the first time in 2014, bringing some of the world’s biggest influencers, smartest people, and the richest business elite to the city.

These are some of the major historical events that have contributed to the Vancouver we all love today. And the city continues to have a major impact on the art I create, as well. Have a look...

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