Happy birthday Vancouver! On this day 130 years ago, the Vancouver we call home became a city.
Vancouver was incorporated on April 6, 1886, almost a century after Capt. George Vancouver first stepped foot onshore the Coast Salish people’s land.
The name Vancouver was chosen over Granville (which no one back east had heard of), the first council meeting was held in a tent and fittingly, a real estate dealer was elected mayor.
From a tiny townsite of 1,000 people to a bustling city of 600,000, a lot has happened since then. Here’s a whistlestop tour of 13 major events in Vancouver’s 13 decades of history.
No sooner had Vancouver been founded than it burned down. The Great Fire on June 13, 1886 left only a few structures standing – but in classic Vancouver-style, within four days, new buildings had begun to appear.
Three decades on, Vancouver was worried about the numbers of Asian immigrants coming to the city. So things didn’t go well when Japanese ship Komagata Maru brought hundreds of Indian immigrants – all British subjects – into Burrard Inlet on May 23, 1914.
Most of the immigrants were not allowed to come ashore and the ship was forced to turn around after two months of waiting in the waves. Various plaques now commemorate the Komagata Maru incident around Vancouver.
By the end of the First World War, Vancouverites’ concerns had turned to workers’ rights and avoiding the draft. When draft evader and labour activist “Ginger” Goodwin was killed by police, it was the final straw – and Canada’s first ever general strike began, at the Labour Temple on Dunsmuir Street. It lasted only one day, as soldiers returning from war stormed the building and violently removed the strikers.
History often echoes itself, doesn’t it? Two decades on and many Vancouver men were now unemployed and living on government handouts. When that money was cut off, they held a month-long sitdown protest in the main post office.
The demo came to a violent end on Bloody Sunday – June 19, 1938 – when RCMP stormed the building, attacking protesters with tear gas and billy clubs. Despite huge protests by 15,000 people afterwards, the government still refused to help the men.
Exactly a year later and it was all about flag waving for George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother), who ended their cross-Canada rail tour in Vancouver in June 1939. It was the first time a reigning monarch had been to Vancouver and the royal couple attracted huge crowds in the city. Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King described their day in Vancouver as “one of the finest on the entire tour.”
The Second World War saw Vancouver fall prey yet to again to fear of its Asian population. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbour, Japanese-Canadians in B.C. were detained or forced to relocate. Vancouver was home to 29,000 people of Japanese origin at the time, all of whom had to leave their homes. There are now memorial plaques up around the city to mark the end of that unfortunate era.
There’s nothing quite so “Vancouver” as a riot about marijuana. On August 7, 1971 police in Gastown attacked a peaceful protest “smoke-in” of 2,000 people who wanted weed legalized and an end to undercover drug busts. Police were accused of heavy-handed tactics, including beatings with riot batons and charging the crowd on horseback. An inquiry found the weed smokers to be “intelligent and dangerous individuals.”
Finally – things are looking up! Vancouver’s famous seawall around Stanley Park was eventually completed on September 21, 1980, some 63 years after building had begun. Construction was famously overseen by Park Board master stonemason James Cunningham from the late 1920s until his retirement 35 years later. There’s a plaque commemorating his work in the rock face above the seawall at Siwash Rock. Look for it on your run!
More good news! Vancouver landed on the world stage in 1986, hosting Expo ’86, a World’s Fair from May 2 until October 13. The most obvious legacy of the fair today is Science World, which was built to serve as the fair’s Expo Centre and still shines bright in False Creek – although many of the other exhibits are still out there… somewhere.
Just as you thought the riots had ended…here comes another one. This time on June 14, 1994, after Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in which the Vancouver Canucks lost to the New York Rangers. Downtown stores were looted, police were accused of brutal tactics. It took more than 500 officers to clear the estimated 50,000 unhappy fans. Sound familiar?
Of course, Vancouver bounced back in a big way, being voted the world’s most liveable city by The Economist magazine in 2008. It held that coveted title until it bizarrely lost out in 2012, because of roadworks on Vancouver Island. WTF?
More highs for Vancouver, as it is chosen to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. Despite a lack of snow, Canada broke the record for the most gold medals won at a single Winter Olympics and the crazy happy crowds in Vancouver were described as “extraordinary” by the International Olympic Committee. Pretty much everyone had an awesome time.
Okay, so history pretty much repeats itself in this city. On June 15, 2011 after Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in which the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins, hockey fans ran riot in the streets. Again.
Helicopter shots showed downtown Vancouver ablaze, as looters smashed windows and set police cars (and Canucks jerseys) on fire. 140 people were injured and hundreds were arrested and later charged.
But the following day, as usual, Vancouver was back to its positive, forward-looking self – as 15,000 volunteers rocked up to rebuild and had the streets clean by 10 a.m.
Vancouver, you never fail to amaze me.