Historical Figures Behind Vancouver Street Names

Dec 19 2017, 10:42 am

The name Vancouver itself had once upon a time been very different. In 1867, four years before British Columbia joined the Confederation, it was referred to as a small neighbourhood called Gastown, named after John “Gassy Jack” Deighton, the first settler of the region, who opened a bar near the Burrard Inlet and got really popular for it.

Once the population had expanded a bit more in 1870, Gastown became the town of Granville. It was only in 1886—16 years later—that the city took the name Vancouver, named after the English explorer George Vancouver. Our rich history is embedded into our streets. Within many, here are a few important streets with a brief description of who they were named after.

Robson Street

Named after John Robson

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John Robson was the ninth Premier of British Columbia. Starting out as a merchant in Upper Canada, Robson moved on to the printing business in 1861 where he ran mainland B.C.’s first ever newspaper, The British Columbian. Robson was also a key figure in forming the Confederation League and pushed for the province’s amalgamation into Canada. He served as premier from 1889 to 1892 and died of blood poisoning at age 68 by getting his finger caught in the door of a cab.

Granville Street

Named after The Second Earl Granville

NPG Ax21861; Granville George Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville by John Watkins   granville street

Sir Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville was the Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs of the United Kingdom in the mid-19th century. He was known to strive for peaceful policies, as a way to ease relations with the United States. There is also another Granville Street in Hong Kong named after him.

Capilano Road

Named after Chief Joe Capilano

d5614392-b620-4025-8dd3-6ae3cb0e66f0-A62819   capilano road

Joe Capilano was the leader of the Squamish peoples. Capilano became an activist for aboriginal rights and strongly spoke out against their loss of land. In 1906 he led a delegation of chiefs to meet King Edward VII in England to represent the voice of the native population. In a petition to the king, Capilano expressed their grievances, and upon his return to Vancouver received much praise for his efforts. Unfortunately his petition did not have any effect at the time. But today, Capilano’s trip to England is considered a key moment in Canadian history and the advancement of aboriginal rights.

Cambie Street

Named after Henry John Cambie

1aa Cambie  cambie street

After Confederation, civil engineer John Cambie was contracted to bring the Canadian Pacific Railway to the edge of the West Coast. The route he picked for the railway set Vancouver as the terminus. The CPR is what kept British Columbians connected to the rest of Canada, past the vast Rocky Mountains. Originally from Ireland, Cambie decided to settle in Vancouver after completing his work with the CPR.

Denman Street

Named after Rear Admiral Joseph Denman

denman copy  denman street

Joseph Denman was a British naval officer who took action against the slave trade. When Denman was commanding a slave ship to the Anglo-Brazilian port in Rio de Janerio back in 1834, he was forced to turn around because the ship was Portuguese, not Brazilian. On his way back, 78 of the 400 slaves died. Disturbed and scarred by the chaotic voyage, Denman stated that he had “witnessed the most dreadful sufferings that human beings can endure.” And in 1840, Denman negotiated a treaty abolishing the slave trade in the territory of the Gallinas, liberating 841 slaves.

Davie Street

Named after Premier Alexander Edmund Batson Davie

d_07869  davie street

Alexander Davie was the eighth premier of British Columbia. Davie was the first person to receive his full law education in the province. He advocated for British Columbia’s right to regulate its own liquor sales, in accord to the provincial rules in the BNA Act. The court ruled in his favour. When Davie became premier, he fell critically ill and had to govern the province in absentia for most of his term, until his ultimate death.

Lonsdale Avenue

Named after Arthur Pemberton Heywood-Lonsdale

arthur lonsdale  lonsdale

Known as one of the North Vancouver’s wealthiest landowners, Arthur Pemberton Heywood-Lonsdale contributed substantial investments to the city through his company Lonsdale Estates, and had developed a large portion of the land. Heywood-Lonsdale property extended from Moodyville to the Capilano River. The land only became open to settlers in 1903.


To find the story behind your street name, browse through the city directories in this ebook by Elizabeth Walker.

DH Vancouver StaffDH Vancouver Staff

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