The Top Moments In Our History: Happy 128th Birthday, Vancouver!

Dec 19 2017, 10:12 am

Modern Vancouver on the traditional lands of the Coast Salish celebrates its 128th birthday today. Vancouver was incorporated into a city on April 6, 1886.

Here are some iconic moments in the history of the city – both the good and the bad:

1881 – Canadian Pacific Railway

The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was founded in 1881, connecting BC with Eastern Canada. The railway took four and a half years to construct and was finished in 1885, bringing in 17,000 Chinese labourers, because of a shortage of workers in the province. Majority of the work was performed by hand rather than the use of machinery, and required workers to live away from their families for an extensive period of time.

On July of 1886, the first train arrived in Vancouver from Montreal, and was Canada’s first transcontinental railway. That same train, Engine 374, now sits at a museum in Yaletown’s Roundhouse Community Centre.

Engine 374 Pavilion

1886 – Great Vancouver Fire

In the same year the City of Vancouver was incorporated, a major fire broke out on June 13. Construction workers from the CPR were clearing up land when the fire grew to a size that was uncontainable. The two-month old city lay in ashes within 45 minutes.

Image: Vancouver search archives
Image: City of Vancouver Archives

1887 – Vancouver Board of Trade

A year after the Great Vancouver Fire, a group of businessmen got together proposing the initiation of a business organization that could help rebuild the city. In September 1887, a meeting was called under the chairmanship of alderman R. Clark and the decision was made to initiate a Board of Trade. Following this, a Charter was established, which made the legally established the company and called it, The Vancouver Board of Trade. Meetings were held in order to decide what the city needed in order to develop and flourish. The board sat down and agreed on the following:

  1. Abolition of dual direct taxation (city and provincial) on personal property in the City of Vancouver.  Consultation with the Attorney General was requested.
  2. Appoint a judge
  3. Establish a Land Registry Office in the city.
  4. Form a court house in the city.
  5. Construction of a bridge to unite the north arm of Fraser River and a road to the city to transport produce to Vancouver.

These are a few of the mandates that were put in motion, amongst many more.

1888 – Stanley Park

With the development of the CPR and rapid growth of Burrard Inlet, the City of Vancouver decided to build a park conservation towards the west end of the peninsula. In 1886, Stanley Park acted as a marine base for the Royal Navy and in June of that year, the Great Vancouver Fire destroyed the southern tip of the park. The federal government surrendered over 400 hectares of forestland in order to be officially opened as Stanley Park in 1888.


1908 – Formation of the University of British Columbia

UBC was founded in 1908 bearing its first name, McGill University College of British Columbia. UBC is deemed the oldest institution of higher learning in British Columbia, and in 1920 the university imposed annual tuition fees of $40. In 1925, Point Grey was selected as the dedicated site for the UBC campus.

Image: UBC Archives

Image: UBC Archives

1910 – The Pacific National Exhibition

In August of 1910, Sir Wilfred Laurier opened the doors to the PNE to the public in Hastings Park. The park is spread out over six hectares of land, where the first Fair was called the Industrial Exhibition, which was later renamed to PNE.

The Fair was one of the largest of its kind in North America, second to the New York State Fair. In 1926, the name of the amusement park changed to Happy Land, and the in 1958 it was changed to Playland.

Today, nearly a million people attend the Fair each summer.


1914 – Komagata Maru

The Komagata Maru ship arrived in Vancouver on the 23rd of May in 1914 from Hong Kong carrying 376 passengers. The people aboard this ship had arrived with hopes of starting a new life as immigrants in Canada, however, were denied permission to disembark when officials stated that it had not arrived via direct passage from India and most of the passengers did not have the $200 required to enter British Columbia. Two months later, 300 individuals were forced to return to their homeland.

Image: Vancouver ArchivesImage: City of Vancouver Archives

1915 – Vancouver Millionaires Win Stanley Cup

In 1915, Vancouver hosted the Stanley Cup between the Millionaires and the Ottawa Senators. The finals were a best of five series: in the first game they scored 6-2 agains the Senators, the second game ended in another loss for the Senators with 8-3, and in the third game Vancouver scored 12 goals winning the Stanley Cup.

Image: NHL Canucks
Image: NHL Canucks

1927 – Orpheum Theatre opens

The Orpheum Theatre opened in 1927 as a vaudeville house with 3,000-seats before being converted into a cinema under the Famous Players operations in the 1930s. It was saved from demolition in 1974 when the municipal and federal government purchased the theatre and designated it a National Historic Site of Canada. Ever since, under municipal ownership and operations, it has been a mainstay for the local arts and cultural community.

Orpheum Theatre Vancouver

1932 – Burrard Bridge opens

Burrard Bridge opened on Canada Day 1932 with great public fanfare, providing a direct link across False Creek between Kitsilano and downtown Vancouver. It has since become one of the city’s most prominent and recognizable structures, due largely to its art deco, steel truss design.

burrard bridge
Image: City of Vancouver Archives

1936 – New Vancouver City Hall constructed

Vancouver City Hall relocated to a new building at West 12th Avenue and Cambie Street. Construction on the building was remarkably quick, with the first shovels going into the ground and opening day happening within 330-days. The building possesses a art deco style and was constructed with a budget of $1-million.

Vancouver City Hall
Image: Vancouver City Hall via Shutterstock

1938 – Lions Gate Bridge opens

The Lions Gate Bridge connected Vancouver with the North Shore and was built and funded by the Guinness family. The bridge opened to traffic on November 14, 1938 but was officially opened by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on May 29, 1939 during their royal visit to Canada.

Its design is similar to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, was the longest suspension span in the British Empire when it opened, and has since become one of Vancouver’s most iconic landmarks.

It might be difficult for younger generations to imagine this as a two-lane, tolled bridge. However, the bridge was arguably severely under-built for future population growth and underwent several makeovers.

The most significant upgrade was completed from 2000 and 2001 when the bridge deck was replaced: bridge sections were lowered to a barge while new sections were lifted into place. This was the first time a bridge deck had been completely replaced for a suspension bridge.

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1954 – British Empire and Commonwealth Games; Empire Stadium

The British Empire and Commonwealth Games (now simply known as the Commonwealth Games) were held in Vancouver in the summer of 1954. More than 600 athletes from 24 nations and colonies in the British Empire competed in these Games.

These Games were perhaps best known for the “Miracle Mile” that took place between Roger Bannister and John Landy at Empire Stadium on Hastings Park grounds.

It was at these Games that the “Miracle Mile” took place between Roger Bannister and John Landy at the 33,000-seat Empire Stadium, which became one of the events’ most enduring legacies until its demolition in 1993.

Empire Stadium Ski Jump Vancouver PNE Pacific National Exhibition
Image: City of Vancouver

1956 – Vancouver Aquarium opens at Stanley Park

The Vancouver Aquarium opened its doors on June 15, 1956 and became Canada’s first public aquarium. To this day, it is still the nation’s largest and is among the five largest in North America. It is home to nearly 300 species of fish, almost 30,000 invertebrates, 56 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 60 mammals and birds.

The Aquarium is currently undergoing a major expansion and renewal of its aging facilities.

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1958 – Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge collapse

On June 17, 1958, the Ironworkers Memorial bridge was still in the process of being built, but collapsed into the Burrard Inlet causing 18 deaths. The cause of the bridge’s collapse was due to tension placed on a loaded crane on the unfinished structure. The original name of the bridge was Second Narrows Crossing which was then renamed in 1994 to commemorate the lives lost in the collapse of the bridge in 1958.
Image: WorkSafe BC
Image: WorkSafe BC

1964 – BC Lions win their first Grey Cup

The Lions pulled a regular season record after defeating the Calgary Stampeers in the Western Conference Finals, which advanced them to the Grey Cup match against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium. With a score of 34-24, the Lions went on to win the Grey Cup for the first time in franchise history.

The Lions previously called Empire Stadium home, until 1983 when it relocated to BC Place in downtown Vancouver. Since the team’s inception, it has won six Grey Cup titles and played host to numerous Grey Cup events.

1968 – Canucks play their first game in the Pacific Coliseum

The 16,000+ seat Pacific Coliseum (PC) was completed in 1968 on the grounds of Hastings Park, which was the first home to the Canucks from 1970-1995. PC hosted its first NHL game in October 1970 between the L.A. Kings and the Canucks, which loss 3-1. During their first ever season in the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks scored a record of 26 wins, 46 losses, and 8 ties for 56 points.

Image: Vancouver Archives
Image: Vancouver Archives

1983 – BC Place Stadium roof inflated, open for business

The 60,000-seat BC Place Stadium opened for business on June 19, 1983 and became the new home of CFL BC Lions and NASL Vancouver Whitecaps. It gave the city and province the capability to attract and host massive sporting events, conventions, trade shows, and concerts.

The marshmallow roof was air supported and was replaced in 2010/2011 following its role as the venue for the Olympic Opening, Closing and Medal Ceremonies. A tensile retractable roof was installed into the stadium as part of a massive $528-million overhaul which included new and wider seats, upgraded food and beverage services, improved aesthetics, and new video board and sound systems. The old air supported fabric roof had to be replaced as it had passed its 25-year expiration date.

In the summer of 2015, BC Place will be one of the primary venues of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. It will also play host to the gold medal game.

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1985 – First SkyTrain line opens for service

SkyTrain’s origins in the Metro Vancouver region first began as a 1-km long demonstration project from what we refer today as Main Street-Science World Station. The demonstration line was completed in 1983, and the remaining full span from Waterfront to New Westminster – a total length of 21.4-kms – was completed in 1985 in time for Expo.

It introduced rapid transit rail to Vancouver, changing the region’s development and transportation patterns forever. Subsequent extensions of the Expo Line to Surrey and additional lines/routes eventually made SkyTrain the world’s longest fully automated rapid transit system for decades – a title that will be reclaimed upon the completion of the Evergreen Line in 2016.

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1986 – Expo World’s Fair

The Expo World’s Fair was originally named, “Transpo ’86,” reflecting a transportation theme, which was later changed to “Expo ’86” and communication added to the theme, “World in Motion – World in Touch.”

The City of Vancouver celebrated its 100th anniversary during the six month Expo that began on May 2 and ended on October 13 with approximately 50 participating countries. During the event, all transportation was made free of cost and a 5.4 km monorail was built on the World’s Fair site at False Creek, formerly home to rail yards and industrial lands.

Expo brought us the Expo SkyTrain line, the first rapid transit rail system in Vancouver, BC Place, Science World (formerly Expo Pavilion), and Canada Place (which was built for the Canada Pavilion). It was a major urban development, economic and tourism growth catalyst for not just the Metro Vancouver region but all of B.C.

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Image: Ion Magazine
Image: Ion Magazine

1990 – Symphony of Fire / Celebration of Light

Vancouver’s first summer fireworks competition kicked off in 1990, ushering a new and lasting annual tradition that continues to this very day. It has become one of Vancouver’s key community celebrations, attracting well over a million people to the beaches and parks that surround English Bay every year.

The event was known as the Benson & Hedges Symphony of Fire until 2000 when federal government legislation forbid tobacco advertising. Funding for the festival became precarious in the years that followed, and it was renamed to the Celebration of Light. HSBC was the event’s first title sponsor under the new name, which was followed by Honda in recent years.

In 2012, one night was cut from the festival, making it a 3-night festival in an effort to reduce costs.

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1990 – Molson Indy Vancouver

The Molson Indy Vancouver was a champ car race held at an 2.865-km long urban track in downtown Vancouver. It wrapped around BC Place, Pacific Boulevard, Quebec Street, and the sites today that are known as the Concord Pacific Lands and Olympic Village.

Like the Celebration of Light, the Molson Indy was a flagship event for Vancouver and attracted nearly 200,000 spectators every year. However, it held its last race in 2004 due to new development, including the Olympic Village, and complaints by local residents over the noise and temporary disruptions.

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1994 – Stanley Cup Finals and Riot

The Vancouver Canucks played against the New York Rangers for their second Stanley Cup Finals appearance in franchise history. They came close when the series required a Game 7 face-off, however, the Canucks were unable to prevail and lost 2-3 at Madison Square Garden.

Back in downtown Vancouver, a riot ensued after crowds of as many as 70,000 people gathered in the city streets. The intersection of Robson and Thurlow was ground zero for the riot.

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1995 – New Vancouver Public Library Central Branch

The new Moshe Safdie designed Library Square opened its doors on May 26, 1995 and has arguably become one of Vancouver’s most iconic and recognizable structures. The $107-million city block sized library was approved through a public referendum and was the largest project the City of Vancouver had ever undertaken at the time.

It replaced the 1957-completed building at 750 Burrard Street, which is now home to the world’s second largest Victoria’s Secret store, CTV Vancouver’s studios, and the Globe and Mail’s B.C. newsroom.

Library Square boasts 1.3-million books and was recently named ‘the best library in the world’.

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1995 – General Motors Place (Rogers Arena) opens

Known as GM Place or “The Garage” for its first fifteen years, Rogers Arena opened on September 21, 1995 and became Vancouver’s flagship sports and entertainment venue, ultimately replacing Pacific Coliseum’s importance to the city. It was built at a cost of $160-million and is currently owned by the Aquilini Investment Grouop.

It was also an game changer for downtown Vancouver, providing economic spinoffs to restaurants, hotels, shops and services, and its close proximity to SkyTrain provided event spectators with a public transit option.

The indoor arena is currently the home to the Vancouver Canucks and has consistently held some of the city’s largest concerts and events. It has a capacity of 18,910 for its ice hockey mode.

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Hockey
Image: s.yume

1996 – Vancouver Grizzlies play their first game

The NBA Vancouver Grizzlies played their first game at General Motors Place (now known as Rogers Arena) on November 3, 1995. Along with the Toronto Raptors, the new Vancouver franchise was a part of the NBA’s expansion into Canada.

However, the team’s existence in Vancouver was short lived due to poor team performance and franchise management. Ticket sales were also low, often below 12,000 per game during the final years of the franchise.

After six seasons, and under new ownership, the Grizzlies were relocated in 2001 to Memphis, Tennessee.

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1996 – Stanley Park Zoo closure

In addition to the Vancouver Aquarium, there was once a major zoo in Stanley Park and its origins dated back to Vancouver’s early days in the 1880s.

Prior to its closure in 1996, it had more than 50 species of animals, including cobras, monkeys, kangaroos, bears, lions, giraffes, penguins and polar bears. An unsuccessful 1994 referendum, forced upon by local animal activists, over the question of spending public money to renovate the zoo’s aging facilities led the closure of the free attraction.

All animals were relocated to other facilities and zoos, particularly the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove, Langley. The zoo closed completely in 1997 following the death of its remaining polar bear, which was deemed too old to relocate. The polar bear habitat is one of the last visible and existing remnants of the old zoo.

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2003 – Vancouver wins 2010 Olympic Winter Games bid

At 8:41 am on Wednesday, July 2nd, the International Olympic Committee announced that Vancouver was awarded the 21st Olympic Winter Games in 2010. Massive crowds at GM Place and Whistler Village erupted in celebration.

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2009 – Expanded Vancouver Convention Centre opens

The massive, green roofed West Building of the Vancouver Convention Centre opened its doors for business on April 3, 2009. Spanning 1.1 million square feet, the Vancouver Convention Centre’s West building tripled the facility’s capacity. The Convention Centre’s two connected buildings offer a combined 466,500 ft2 (43,340 m2) of flexible of pre-function, meeting, exhibition and ballroom space.

Without the new building, the convention centre would not have been able to attract some of the world’s largest and most prestigious conventions and conferences, including TED Talks and SIGGRAPH.

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2009 – SkyTrain Canada Line opens for service

The SkyTrain Canada Line opened for service on August 17, 2009 with a ‘free ride day’. Nearly 90,000 passengers were recorded on this first day of service, far more than what transit operators had originally expected. Lineups snaked around city blocks outside station entrances with waits as long as two hours to board a train.

Today, the Canada Line is seen as an immense success, having reached its 100,000 rides/day target years early. It currently has a weekday ridership of 120,000+ per day.

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2010 – Vancouver Olympic Winter Games

After seven years of preparation and construction since winning the bid in 2003, Vancouver held the 21st Olympic Winter Games from February 12 to 28, 2010. The Olympics were this generation’s World’s Fair, providing Vancouverites a renewed sense of community, patriotism and civic pride.

It concludes a 15-year endeavour that first began with a dream in 1995 to bid for the Olympics, whether it be for Summer or Winter.

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2011 – Stanley Cup Finals and Second Riot

When the Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4-0 in Game 7 on June 15, a riot broke out in the streets of downtown Vancouver at the intersection of West Georgia and Hamilton Streets – where 150,000 people had gathered to watch the game on a big screen. Rioters flipped and torched cars, smashed windows, and looted stores throughout much of the Central Business District.

However, during the early morning hours the following day, an estimated 15,000 Vancouverites assisted with the mass clean-up of city streets. A massive criminal investigation was also launched, and by July 2013 there were 1204 offences against 352 suspected rioters. This was made possible by citizen participation in the investigations through social media and the submission of video and photograph evidence.

More than 1 million photos and 1,200 hours of video were recorded by the public, showing the identities and providing visual evidence of those who participated in the riot.

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Featured Image by: Pierre Leclerc

DH Vancouver StaffDH Vancouver Staff

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