Vancouver: From the Beginning
- Best of Vancouver and Victoria
- Vancouver Island: High Tea to Low Tide
- Vancouver’s Totem Poles
- Vancouver’s Best Hiking
- Family Fun in Vancouver & Victoria
- Focus on Vancouver and Victoria
- Vancouver Weekend Getaway
- Victoria Weekend Getaway
- A Tour Through Time
- Inside Passage Cruises
- Outdoor Adventures
- Winter Fun in Vancouver & Victoria
By 1860 a rough track had been carved through the wilderness between New Westminster and Burrard Inlet, where seams of coal had been reported. The government tried selling off the surrounding land, but with the coal deemed too expensive to extract, little interest was shown in the offer.
Although seams of coal did exist around Burrard Inlet, lumber formed the basis of Vancouver’s first industry. In 1863 a small sawmill was established at Moodyville, across Burrard Inlet to the north; then two years later another, owned by Captain Edward Stamp, began operation on the south side of the inlet. They were linked to each other by a steam-powered ferry and to New Westminster by a stagecoach trail. Both sawmill companies provided accommodation and board for single workers, and while most lumber was for export, married employees were given wood to build simple dwellings for themselves.
Slowly, two rough-and-tumble townships were carved out of the wilderness.
Gastown and Granville
Alcohol was banned from the company towns, so several saloons sprang up on their outskirts, including one west of Stamp’s Mill operated by infamous “Gassy Jack” Deighton. The smattering of buildings that quickly went up around Gassy Jack’s enterprise became known to early residents as Gastown. This small saloon, nothing more than a couple of planks lying across empty wooden barrels, protected from the elements by a canvas tent, was the embryo of what is today Vancouver.
In 1870, as Gassy Jack was selling liquor to thirsty sawmill workers, the government began selling off the land surrounding Gastown under the official name of Granville. Land was sold for $1 per acre, on the condition that the owner occupy his holding for a minimum of two years. The government also began establishing naval reserves at strategic locations throughout the region, and more trails were cut through the wilderness, including one that linked a reserve beside False Creek to New Westminster (along the route taken by the modern-day Kingsway). Settlers also began moving farther afield, establishing the first farms on the Fraser River delta.
The Coming of the Railway
In 1871, with the promise of a transcontinental railway, British Columbia officially became part of Canada. But it was to be another 15 years until the first train rolled into Vancouver. At this time Granville had boomed. The surrounding land was still densely forested, so in anticipation of the coming of the railway, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) employed William Hamilton to map streets out of the wilderness. He laid out a downtown core in a grid pattern, naming streets after CPR officials (and one after himself). The following year, on April 6, 1886, Granville, population 1,000, was officially incorporated as the City of Vancouver, in honor of the first Englishman to sail through the heads.
By the end of the 1880s, Vancouver had become “Terminal City,” Canada’s transportation gateway to the Orient. In the process, its population increased tenfold, to 10,000, eclipsing that of New Westminster. As well as port facilities at the end of the rail line, more sawmills were built to fill the never-ending demand for lumber, most of which was used for housing. Other industries also sprouted, including a floating cannery on Coal Harbour. Granville and Hastings Streets developed as commercial strips, with the former leading from the original Gastown through a large tract of CPR-owned land to False Creek. By 1890 other aspects of modern-day Vancouver had taken shape: 400 acres west of downtown had been set aside as Stanley Park; wealthy residents began building large houses in the West End; European workers built houses in Yaletown; and the thousands of Chinese workers that arrived to help build the railway settled at the head of False Creek near the southern end of present-day Carrall Street.
Vancouver continued to boom through the last decade of the 1800s, because of the city’s strategic location more than anything else, and by the turn of the 20th century, Vancouver’s population reached 24,000, having doubled yet again within the space of a decade, this time surpassing the population of Victoria, the provincial capital. With Vancouver developing as an important manufacturing and financial center, and with many mining developments in the southern interior in the early years of the 1900s, the young city experienced a population and real estate boom: In the first decade the population more than tripled to 80,000 by 1910.
After the Great Fire of 1886, stone and brick buildings replaced the burnt-out timber ones, and while many of Gastown’s buildings are from this era, it wasn’t until 1913 that the first skyscraper, the World Building, was completed. The onset of World War I saw a demand for new ships, and by 1918 shipbuilding had become Vancouver’s largest industry. By 1936, when the city celebrated its 50th birthday, the population had grown above 250,000.
The Changing Face of a City
After reaching the one million mark in 1966, Vancouver’s population began spreading east along the Fraser River Valley. Many remaining downtown industries were forced to relocate to outlying areas—and so the sawmills and industry around Burrard Inlet and False Creek closed, leaving an industrial wasteland. A farmers’ market in rejuvenated Gastown met with little success, so the concept was tried on False Creek’s government-owned Granville Island. The market opened in conjunction with an island-based arts school, small businesses such as boat building, and a variety of artistic endeavors, boutiques, and restaurants. At the same time, much of the rest of the land around False Creek was rezoned, allowing only residential developments that included large tracts of green space.
From what began just 120 years ago as a cluster of ramshackle buildings centered around a saloon, Vancouver has blossomed into one of the world’s greatest cities. While the city holds onto the largest port on North America’s west coast, boasting 20 specialized terminals that handle more tonnage than any other port in Canada, it is now a lot less reliant on its traditional economic heart for its growth. Even after the technology bust, the high-tech industry continues as the fastest-growing sector of Vancouver’s economy. Worth $5 billion in 2004, this knowledge-based industry has both revitalized the local economy and created a major shift in government thinking. Tourism contributes more than $5 billion annually to the local economy, with finance, real estate, insurance, and manufacturing also forming large slices of the local economic pie. Vancouver is also North America’s second-largest movie-making center. Worth $1 billion annually to the city, this exciting industry employs up to 35,000 people on as many as 30 simultaneous productions.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition