Vancouver Was Awesome: Where it all began

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If you’ve not yet heard the news (of course you have), Vancouver is turning 125 this year.

Part of that celebration includes the revival of VIA‘s history section, “Vancouver Was Awesome,” which will be a weekly look at awesome places, people, animals, minerals, and vegetables — anything that tells a story about how the Vancouver we know and love came to be.

Here Vancouver Began

Pop quiz: Where is this plaque? Probably Gastown, right?

Well, not quite. It’s true that Gassy Jack‘s Globe Saloon dates to 1867 — almost 20 years before “Vancouver” was named after the island (we’re the end of the CPR line, the terminal city, the closest port to Vancouver Island). The map below (click here for large view), which is available as an e-Book through the VPL, shows that in the 1860s, big-mouthed Jack’s “Gastown” was still known as Luck-Lucky (“Luk’Luk’i.”)

Vancouver in the 1860s

Vancouver in the 1860s — Part of a map from Vancouver: A Visual History, by Bruce Macdonald.

At Water and Carrall, a statue of Mr. Gassy Jack Deighton still commemorates Vancouver’s imbibing pioneer — and you can still find plenty of places to drink nearby. But you don’t have to chase ghosts with your whiskey if you’re looking to trace Vancouver’s earliest immigrant history. Far more adventurous options could lead you to:

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a) Bike around the Coal Harbour seawall, where a visible coal seam got things rolling with developers and land investors in 1859;

b) Cruise down Kingsway to re-trace the 1860 military trail linking False Creek to New West;

c) Head over to the site of Stamp’s lumber mill, built in 1865 at the foot of Dunlevy;

d) Across town, in Point Grey, visit the Hastings Mill Store, which was Stamp’s originally and changed ownership and name in 1870, and changed location 50 years after that. It is now a museum not far from where Jerry Rogers started logging in 1867 — Jerry’s Cove, a.k.a. Jericho.

But to truly walk through the earliest “Vancouver,” you need to head east, towards the PNE, and take in the sea-kissed mountain view from New Brighton Park (bring your dog!)

New Brighton Park 1968 plaque, and in 1886

“It was the most fashionable watering place in British Columbia,” the plaque (left) reads. Where Vancouver began: New Brighton Park, a.k.a. the Hastings townsite. (Vancouver Archives)

A plaque, laid down in 1968 (and still here), says New Brighton Park is where it all began in 1865: The first post office, dock, customs, bridge, road, ferry*, stable, playing field, CPR office, and museum(!) were all located at the “Hastings Townsite.”

Jack Fannin (right, rear) stands in front of his cottage at the Hastings townsite in 1886. He turned the cottage into the first provincial museum, and became the first provincial curator. Photo sourced from: The Highland Echo, Oct. 15, 1986.

But honestly — is that really it? Was Vancouver a LotusLand to start with? A playground and retreat for the well-carriaged New Westminster set, who made the trip up Douglas Road to frolic all summer at the inlet?

That’s one way of seeing it. The other way of seeing it is to remember that people have been living in “Vancouver” for at least 3,000 years.**

The Musqueam Nation is perhaps the largest and longest-lived settlement within Vancouver city boundaries. And there’s records of other large settlements and important landmarks all over Khatsahlano, Point Grey, the Fraser River, False Creek, Stanley Park — everywhere.

Vancouver in the 1850s - From Vancouver: A Visual History, by Bruce Macdonald.

Click here for the enlargement. Vancouver in the 1850s – From Vancouver: A Visual History, by Bruce Macdonald. Check out the publisher (Talon Books) or the Vancouver Public Library, which offers this title as an e-book.

If you take a close look at this partial map of Vancouver in the 1850s, you can see an alternate name for the area of New Brighton Park: it is called “Khahnamoot,” with a translation of “appear, be born.” Like the plaque there today says.

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Kinda neat.

Happy upcoming birthday, Vancouver. I know where I’ll be celebrating.

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*Up until 1867, the “first ferry” was a dude with a rowboat, named “Navvy Jack” (the dude, not the rowboat.)

**Before the most recent people lived here, a glacier covered everything out to Vancouver Island. It began melting about 13,000 to 15,000 years ago.