Vancouver History

Surprisingly, the city’s name derives indirectly from the Dutch — British Royal Navy Captain George Vancouver’s ancestors hailed from Coeverden in northeast Holland. His grandfather was John Jasper van Coeverden. In Dutch, Coeverden means “cow crossing”. Here, in a nutshell, are the some of the other “moo-ving” highlights of the region’s rich history.

10,000-8,000 BC: Segments of the Coast Salish people — ancestors of the Squamish, Burrard, Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam (Xw’muthk’i’um), Tsawwassen, Coquitlam (Kwayhquitlam), Katzie and Semiahmoo Indian bands — begin settling the area. They find the beaches and forests teaming with tasty wildlife and they name English Bay ‘Ayyulshun’, which means “soft under feet”.

1779-1774 AD: Spanish naval expeditions nose around the region, part of the country’s attempts to claim the west coast of North America by virtue of the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas. Their presence is still felt today in Vancouver street names like Cordova, Cardero and Valdez.

1779: Searching for the Northwest Passage, Captain James Cook briefly hits the area. On board his ship is a navigator named George Vancouver.

1792: Now captain of his own Royal Navy vessel, Vancouver returns and spends a few hours on dry land — long enough to meet Spanish captains Valdez and Galiano who confirm Spain’s claim on the area. The spot where they meet is now called Spanish Banks.

1808: Simon Fraser, explorer and fur trader, arrives via a challenging overland route from Eastern Canada, taking a river he thought was the Columbia. Even though he was wrong, the river he paddled was still named after him.

1827: Hudson’s Bay Company builds Fort Langley, a trading post on the Fraser River. The company’s flagship Vancouver department store has occupied a prime downtown location at the corner of Georgia and Granville Streets since 1893.

1858: The news of gold discoveries on the banks of the Fraser raises a little interest. About 25,000 pickaxe-wielding visitors drop by for a look.

1867: A talkative English chap named John “Gassy Jack” Deighton opens a saloon for thirsty forestry workers near the Burrard Inlet shoreline. It becomes so popular that a community develops around it and names itself “Gastown”.

1870: Gastown is incorporated as the town of Granville.

1884: The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) moves its terminal from the head of Burrard Inlet to what’s now known as Coal Harbour, triggering a new wave of development around the fledgling town site.

1886: With a population of around 1,000, Granville incorporates as the City of Vancouver. The first mayor is realtor M.A. McLean. On June 13, a brush fire spirals out of control and burns the new city to the ground in less than 30 minutes. McLean, knowing the value of real estate, gets the rebuilding going in a matter of days.

1887: A CPR train rumbles into Vancouver. But it’s not just any old train. Canada’s first transcontinental passenger rail service, the shiny locomotive is now on proud display at Yaletown’s Roundhouse Community Centre. Many of those who built the line came from China and lived in Vancouver’s Chinatown area – still one of North America’s largest.

1888: Stanley Park, named after an English Lord who also gave his name to hockey’s top trophy, is officially opened. Decades later, it’s perimeter seawall trail is completed, becoming one of the city’s iconic attractions.

1889: The first Granville Bridge is completed. A second incarnation was built in 1909. The one standing now is the third, built in 1954.

1891: The city’s first tram-based public transit system, the Interurban, sparks-up.

1898: Sand is added to English Bay beach, making it popular with bathers. A large rock on the beach separates men and women (no peeking!). The Nine O’clock Gun is placed at Brockton Point — and it still booms every evening.

1900: Vancouver surpasses the provincial capital of Victoria in size. Did they immediately move the capital to Vancouver? Nope.

1906: Vancouver’s population hits 50,000 and a grand new courthouse, designed by Francis Rattenbury, is built. It now houses the Vancouver Art Gallery.

1910: The 13-story Dominion Trust Building, the city’s first skyscraper, opens at Hastings and Cambie Streets. Quickly surpassed by taller buildings, it still retains its architectural elegance and is one of the city’s finest heritage structures.

1911: Canada’s first artificial ice-rink opens and the Vancouver Millionaires – the city’s first hockey team — moves in, becoming Western Hockey League champions by 1915.

1915: The University of British Columbia (UBC) opens for business. A few bleary-eyed students show up. There are now more than 46,000 students at the verdant waterfront campus. UBC opens at a temporary headquarters at the former McGill University College facilities adjacent to Vancouver General Hospital (nicknamed the Fairview “shacks” after the surrounding neighbourhood).

1920: Vancouver outgrows Winnipeg, Western Canada’s main city. The locals celebrate by instituting a new tradition that still takes place today: New Year’s Day polar bear swim at English Bay — the perfect January 1st hangover cure.

1922: UBC students organize a province-wide publicity campaign to persuade the government to complete the Point Grey campus. The “Build the University” campaign climaxes in a parade (the “Great Trek”) from downtown Vancouver to Point Grey, and the presentation of a petition with 56,000 signatures to the Speaker of the Legislature in Victoria. The government authorizes a $1.5 million loan to resume construction. The campaign marks the beginning of active student involvement in the University’s development.

1925: The first Second Narrows Bridge connects the city with North Vancouver. The one there now is the second incarnation, opened in 1960.

1929: The Commodore Ballroom, built in sumptuous Art Deco style by architect H.H. Gillingham, opens to the dance-loving public.

1936: Art Deco styling also shapes the new City Hall, opened at 12th Avenue and Cambie. It still looks like it should be in Gotham City.

1938: The Guinness family completes the Lions Gate Bridge, enabling access from the city to the large swathe of real estate the family is developing on the North Shore. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth officially dedicate the span in 1939.

1954: Vancouver’s British Empire and Commonwealth Games features the “Miracle Mile” with Roger Bannister and John Landy both breaking the four-minute mark for the first time. It was the first sports event televised in all of North America.

1959: A busy year. The city’s first shopping mall — Oakridge Centre — opens, as does the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and Vancouver Maritime Museum.

1964: The B.C. Lions win the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup for the first time.

1970: The Vancouver Canucks play their first National Hockey League game, losing to the Los Angeles Kings. They’ve yet to lift the trophy named after Lord Stanley of Stanley Park fame.

1974: The heritage steam locomotive Royal Hudson logs its first run since being rebuilt. The train is now preserved at Squamish’s West Coast Railway Heritage Park.

1977: SeaBus passenger ferry service between the North Shore and downtown Vancouver launches. A third vessel is added to the fleet in 2011.

1979: The Vancouver Whitecaps win the now-defunct North American Soccer League. The team returned to top-division Major League Soccer in 2011.

1983: BC Place Stadium, Vancouver’s biggest sports and concert venue, opens. Later hosting the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, it was massively upgraded in 2011 and now hosts BC Lions and Vancouver Whitecaps games.

1985: Sky-Train launches, eventually linking suburban Surrey to downtown Vancouver via the Expo Line. The Millennium Line, linking to Burnaby and Coquitlam, opened in 2002, while the Canada Line service to Richmond and the airport opened in 2009.

1986: Vancouver’s centennial is marked by the transport-themed Expo ‘86 world exposition. A huge success, it puts Vancouver on the map internationally and triggers a wave of immigration applications.

1995: The grand new Vancouver Public Library, shaped like the Coliseum, slides open its glass doors for the first time. Nearby, a state-of-the-art NHL hockey venue flickers into life. Now called Rogers Arena, it’s home to the Vancouver Canucks and top-notch music concerts.

2003: Vancouver is selected as host city for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

2009: A major expansion to the Vancouver Convention Centre opens, tripling the capacity of the original Canada Place venue. The green, grass-roofed West Building is Canada’s largest waterfront convention centre.

2010: The region enthusiastically hosts the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Para-Olympic Winter Games in February and March. More than 2.5 billion people around the world tune in to watch 2,600 athletes from 82 nations compete. The highlight for Canadians? Winning the men’s hockey gold medal.

2011: Vancouver celebrates its 125th birthday with a year-long party of events and performances taking place throughout the city.