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Vancouver's History

Here, in a nutshell, are some of the highlights of Vancouver's sometimes oddball history.

16,000 to 11,000 BC: Segments of the Coast Salish people-the ancestors of the Squamish, Burrard, Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam (Xw'muthk'i'um), Tsawwassen, Coquitlam (Kwayhquitlam), Katzie and Semiahmoo Indian bands, arrives from Asia. They seemed to be quite satisfied with the beaches teeming with seafood-they named English Bay “Ayyulshun,” which means 'soft under feet'. And they liked the forests teaming with wildlife. Not to mention that nearby is the mouth of a big river emptying into a vast ocean where big, fat, silvery salmon swam by six months out of every year.

1592 to 1774 AD: The Spaniards cruised by as part of their exploration of Canada's west coast. Spain claimed the west coast of North America by virtue of the Treaty of Tordesillas, which occurred in 1494. Their presence is still felt today even though the Spanish felt Friendly Cove at the entrance to Nootka Sound was a better place for a town. The City of Vancouver has a number of streets named after Spaniards: Cordova, Cardero, Valdez and Narvaez.

1792: Captain George Vancouver arrived. He spent one day here, which is long enough to discover the Spanish had already claimed the place and headed off again. During that day, British Captain Vancouver met with Spanish captains Valdez and Galiano and one of Vancouver's best beaches, Spanish Banks is named for the meeting place. That's also the same reason English Bay got its name. Note however, that the Bay is bigger than the Banks and there are a ton more streets in Vancouver named after the British. (There is a Vancouver Street but confusingly, it's in the suburb of New Westminster!)

1808: Simon Fraser, an explorer and fur trader, arrived here following an overland route from Eastern Canada by a river he thought was the Columbia. Even though he was wrong about his travel plan, the river was still named for him.

1827: Hudson's Bay Company built a trading post on the Fraser River. It was the first permanent non-native settlement in the Vancouver area. Since 1893, the company has occupied a prime location at the corner of Georgia and Granville streets in Vancouver's downtown core and they're still trading.

1858: The news of gold on the banks of the Fraser raised a bit of interest… about 25,000 prospectors dropped in to have a look.

1860: Three English who should have stayed out of the sun built a brickyard. The business flopped amid much guffawing and many an "I told you so" from the local population. They were called the "Three Greenhorns"; the area is now known as the West End, one of the most populated places in North America. And there's no shortage of brickwork in the surrounding buildings.

1867: A talkative chap nicknamed "Gassy Jack" opened a saloon for forestry workers on the shore of Burrard Inlet. It became so popular that a community built up around the place and called itself Gastown.

1870: Gastown was incorporated as the town of Granville.

1884: The Canadian Pacific Railway moved its terminal from the head of Burrard Inlet to the area of Granville, now known as Coal Harbour. Port Moody was miffed but Granville grew like wildfire. That same year, the vessel “Robert Kerr” left England with Seraphim “Joe” Fortes aboard. Fortes, from Barbados, had been living in Liverpool working as a bath attendant and swimming instructor. He was heading for Victoria when the ship foundered. It was towed into English Bay and Fortes thought the place looked good enough to stay. Many early Vancouverites learned how to swim with his meaty hands holding them up in the waters of English Bay. When he died in 1922, the City paid for his funeral and thousands of people lined Granville and Hastings Streets to say goodbye.

1886: Granville was incorporated as the City of Vancouver, as it had a population of about 1,000 people. The first mayor was realtor M.A. McLean. On June 13, a brush fire got away and burnt the city to the ground in less than 30 minutes. McLean, knowing the value of real estate, got rebuilding going in a matter of days.

1887: The CPR's first train arrived—the final stop of the first transcontinental trip.

1888: The last body was buried in Pioneer Cemetery, the graveyard of many of Vancouver's earliest citizens. The cemetery stretched from Brockton Point to the Nine o'clock Gun. Why was it closed? In 1888, the road that would eventually wind around Stanley Park was first constructed in the Brockton Point area. The first perimeter road around Stanley Park was paved with the shells from native middens (refuse heaps) in the park.

1889: The first Granville Street bridge was completed. A second version was built in 1909. The one that's there now is the third, built in 1954.

1889: The original Capilano Suspension Bridge was built.

1890: The first lighthouse was built at Brockton Point. Electric streetcars began operating the same year.  

1891: The city's first tram-based public transit system, the Interurban started.

1898: Sand was added to English Bay Beach. Up until that time you had to walk through bushes to get to it. A large rock on the beach separated men and women bathers. The Nine O'clock Gun is placed at Brockton point. People still set their watches by it.

1900: Vancouver surpassed the provincial capital of Victoria in size. Did they immediately move the capital to Vancouver? No.

1902: The first meeting of the Vancouver Information & Tourist Association was held on June 25, 1902. Today, the organization celebrates more than 110 years of operation and is now known as Tourism Vancouver.

1909: The Dominion Trust Building, the city's first skyscraper opened at Hastings and Cambie. It's still there but looking kind of puny. The same year the second Granville Street Bridge opens.

1911: Canada's first artificial ice rink, the Arena, opened. People immediately begin skating around the edge counter-clockwise. It was at 1805 West Georgia, at the corner of Denman Street. At the time it was the largest indoor ice rink in the world. The Vancouver Millionaires, the city's first hockey team, was built out of players swiped from the National Hockey League.

The 1914-15 season: The Millionaires become Stanley Cup champions.

1915: The first lighthouse at Brockton Point was torn down and the current one was built. The arch at the bottom of the current lighthouse was supposed to be part of a boathouse until somebody noticed that the ocean current would make storing boats there a bit difficult.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) opened for business. A few bleary-eyed students show up. There are now around 60,000 students enrolled at the university. UBC opened 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 surpassed Winnipeg in size, which was the main city of western Canada up until this point. For its next trick, the city's population turned out in droves to watch Houdini suspend himself from the top of the Sun Tower. He chose that building because that's where The Vancouver Sun's offices were located at the time.

1922: UBC students organized a province-wide publicity campaign to persuade the government to complete the Point Grey campus. The "Build the University" campaign climaxed 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 authorized 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 opened, connecting the city with North Vancouver. The one that's there now is the second one.

1927: In Alexandra Park, a small drinking fountain, just the right size for kids, was built to commemorate 'Joe' Fortes; it was near where he lived in a shack that the City had saved for him when it tore down all the squatters shacks on English Bay Beach years earlier. The inscription on the drinking fountain reads: "Little children loved him."

1931: The English Bay bathhouse was constructed out of concrete, replacing the first bathhouse, which was made of wood.

1936: The new City Hall at 12th Avenue and Cambie was dedicated. It still looks like it ought to be in Gotham City. The same year the Denman arena was destroyed by fire.

1938: The Lions Gate Bridge was completed so that a real estate company could at last sell the property it bought on the North Shore. It was engineered to last about 50 years.

1939: The landmark Hotel Vancouver was completed. It is now part of the Fairmont hotel brand, and still stands at the corner of Georgia and Burrard.

1954: Vancouver hosted the 5th British Empire and Commonwealth Games. The Games featured the Miracle Mile, in which two runners, Britain’s Roger Bannister and Australian John Landy, both broke the 4-minute mark for the mile, the first sports event televised to all North America.

1957: Elvis Presley performed at Vancouver’s Empire Stadium. He sang a half dozen songs and leaves the stage after 15 minutes. The audience paid $2 per ticket and were pretty cheesed by being short-changed.

1959: A busy year. The city's first shopping mall, the Oakridge Centre; the Queen Elizabeth Theatre; and the Vancouver Maritime Museum all open. That year they also sunk the George Massey Tunnel—the right thing to do because it goes under the Fraser River.

1964: For the first time, the BC Lions won the Canadian Football League's Grey Cup.

1970: The Vancouver Canucks played their first game in the National Hockey League. They played the Los Angeles Kings (and lost.)

1978: The first ever Vancouver Gay Pride Festival. Now also an annual, week-long event, it includes a parade and a variety of celebrations and parties throughout the city.

1979: The Vancouver Whitecaps won the North American Soccer League championship.

1983: BC Place Stadium’s roof was inflated, making it the world's largest air-supported dome, holding 60,000 seats. After hosting the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2010 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games, the inflatable roof was replaced with a retractable version.

1985: Vancouver’s automated, light rapid transit system, SkyTrain started up in mid-December. The initial route, from Vancouver to New Westminster, retraces, in part, one of Vancouver's original Interurban lines. There are now three lines running from downtown Vancouver out to the suburbs.

1986: Vancouver's centennial was marked by the highly successful, six-month fair Expo 86 on the north shore of False Creek. It was the largest special category World Exposition ever staged in North America -the category was Transportation.

1985: Vancouver held its first Vancouver Sun Run, a 10-kilometre run through downtown streets and spectacular Stanley Park. Now an annual, very popular event, there were 3,200 participants that first year. Now there are over 45,000 runners each year - a true reflection of the love of sport and the outdoors!

1990: The 1990s began with a roar as the first "Indy" race took place on the downtown Vancouver track, winding through tight corners, past apartment complexes, False Creek and Science World. It was an annual event held each summer through to 2004.

1993: Woodward's department store, a Canadian retail institution dating back to 1903, went bankrupt and closed its doors. Over the following years, debate regarding reuse of the landmark building or redevelopment of its property has ranged from the creation of affordable housing to a downtown parking complex to various retail options. In 2009, a new Woodward’s complex opened, incorporating some of the original building, but also bringing together condos, affordable housing, a satellite campus of SFU and retail offerings.

1994: The Vancouver Canucks reached the Stanley Cup finals, but lose in the final moments of the final

game. The BC Lions football team won the Grey Cup for the second time in their history.

1995: The new Vancouver Public Library building opened and was immediately a landmark within the downtown core. Interestingly, initial designs had the building facing the opposite direction, with the main entrance facing Georgia. As they finalized construction plans, someone noticed that by flipping the design, the main plaza would face the sun rather than being in the shadow of the main building!

The same year, General Motors Place (currently Rogers Arena) opened as a venue for hockey, basketball and musical performances. Many still know it by its original nickname, “The Garage.”

1996: Estimates showed the central city's population had increased by more than 107,000 since 1981 - a 26 per cent jump! This year, the Vancouver Grizzlies joined the NBA, along with the Toronto Raptors, as part of the league's two-pronged expansion into Canada. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies were sold in 2001, so Vancouver only got to enjoy their NBA team for 5 years.

1997: The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts opened at the University of British Columbia, offering year round performance by University programs, touring companies and local performers.

1999: Vancouver created the 2010 Olympic Bid team to organize the proposal to host the 2010 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games. In July 2003, Vancouver was selected!

2000: The annual Polar Bear Swim, started in 1920 by a local restaurant owner, Peter Pantages, reaches a record of 2,128 swimmers.

2001: It is estimated that in 2001, more than 200 movie and television productions were filmed in Vancouver. Each year, this list grows more and more substantial, as estimates from 1981 show only 11 productions! Earning its nickname of 'Hollywood North', celebrity spotting is everywhere - they're out and about on Vancouver streets, browsing in shops and relaxing in local restaurants and spas.

2002: The Economist magazine's Intelligence Unit tied Vancouver and Melbourne as the World's Top City to live in. Since then, Vancouver has regularly been ranked in the top 10.

2003: Mercer Human Resource Consulting rated Vancouver as top city in North America for quality of life. Since then, Vancouver has routinely been ranked within the top 10, as well as winning the top spot on numerous occasions.

On Canada Day (July 1), Vancouver was selected as the Host City for 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Rogers Arena broadcasts the announcement live to a sold out crowd, while celebrations took place across the city.

2009: A major expansion to the Vancouver Convention Centre opened, 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 hosted the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in February and March. More than 2.5 billion people around the world tuned 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.

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