Dec 2007 6

A Short History of Vancouver

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Vancouver is one of the most important cities and major economic centres in the world today. The population of its metropolitan area reached 2,187,721 last year, and all signs point toward continuing rapid growth. Read further for a brief but extraordinary look into how this city evolved, with snippets of some major historical milestones.



  1. Ancient times - From about four to ten thousands years ago, the area of today?s Vancouver was home to three major groups of native people ? Squamish, Tsliel-waututh and Musqueam ? collectively known as the Coast Salish First Nations. The aboriginal settlement called Musqueam (from Masqui, meaning ?an edible grass that grows in the sea?) near the mouth of the Fraser River dates back over 3,000 years ago. At the time of the first European contact, the First Peoples had established large villages in areas in and around present-day Vancouver.
  2. First non-native influence - In May of 1792, American sailor and trader Robert Gray became the first non-native to enter the ?Great River of the West? (Columbia river). Vancouver is named after the British naval captain George Vancouver, whose lieutenant, William Broughton, explored the inland Columbia river area.
  3. First settlers - A party of 40 men led by explorer and fur trader James McMillan (born in Scotland) reached what is now the Langley area on December 16, 1824. They approached from the west while sailing the Fraser river (named after Simon Fraser, the first European to sail there in 1808). McMillan was fascinated by the location and chose a unique tree (known as Hudson?s Bay Tree) to remind him of it. Two-and-a-half years later, he returned with 25 men and a mandate to build a fort, now known as Fort Langley, on July 27, 1827. The first non-military settlement within in the city limits of today?s Vancouver was originally the farm of the McCleery brothers.
  4. Colonel Moody - Perhaps the most important person in the early history of Greater Vancouver, Colonel Richard Clement Moody, forged the routes for what is now today?s roadways and laid out the plans and location of what was to be Queensborough, the capital city of the British colony (later rechristened New Westminster by Queen Victoria). After quickly realizing the strategical disadvantage of Fort Langley, he decided instead on the location where we find New Westminster today.
  5. Gassy Jack - John Deighton, a former riverboat captain, arrived from Hull, England, with his family and a barrel of whiskey, which he later used to bribe the nearby mill workers to build him a saloon ? exchanging free alcoholic beverages for their hard work. Funny enough, the construction was completed in a single day, and it became a famous gathering spot for mill workers and visiting sailors. ?Gassy Jack?, nicknamed for his never ending enthusiasm and vision, is immortalized with a statue located in what is now Gastown, which was named after him.
  6. Gold rush - In 1858, gold was discovered on the banks of the Fraser river. It triggered a massive influx of more than 25,000 Americans with high hopes for quick fortunes ? which prompted the local governor to declare the area a British colony to establish order.
  7. Trading - Vancouver was a hub for fur trading, and soon became one of the most important cities from an economic standpoint in the Pacific Northwest. After completion of the Panama Canal in 1914, Vancouver?s seaport became competitive with other major international ports for global trade by offering an alternative sea route to Europe. Canadian lumber would become famous around the world, which brought quick prosperity to B.C.?s lower mainland.
  8. Strikes and depressions - Despite being rich in natural resources, Vancouver has had a volatile local economy. Major recessions and depressions hit the city hard in the late 1890s, 1919, 1923 and 1929, which fuelled social tensions ? darker blemishes during the city?s vibrant history.
  9. Racial tension - Unfortunately, Vancouver has a not-so-perfect track record in terms of discrimination and racism, especially toward Asian minorities. One of the extreme examples among many restrictions was an act limiting Chinese immigration by imposing a $50 Head Tax on each immigrant. This resulted in the highly inhumane fact that many Chinese labourers were unable to bring over their families to join them.
  10. Population growth - The population of Vancouver has increased rapidly over the years ? it was slightly under 20,000 in 1891, and swelled to over 300,000 a mere 40 years later. Today, over two million people call the Greater Vancouver area home; this number increases about 40,000 annually. With a reputation of being one of the most livable cities in the world, it is surely not surprising?

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