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by Bruce Macdonald
This article is excerpted from the large atlas-sized book Vancouver: A Visual History. It is a decade-based history of the city that employs a rigid format for each ten years of the city’s modern development. It begins with the 1850s, when ‘Vancouver’ was still completely First Nations territory and there were no non-Native immigrants or settlers. Each decade is presented with a large and detailed colour map of the city with text describing events over the decade. These are accompanied by coloured graphs and small maps, as well as portrait photographs showing representative people and new buildings from the decade. All the photos, graphs and text are keyed to the maps.
In 1870 the Hastings Sawmill had been operating for 3 years. This mill was the first large industrial building constructed in what is now Vancouver. Next to the sawmill site a few squatters had begun a tiny settlement nicknamed Gastown. This caused the colonial government in Victoria to send a surveyor to mark off a small townsite and put up lots for sale. The official name Granville was given to the subdivision that was centred on the site of Vancouver’s first small business, Gassy Jack’s saloon. Although only 3 lots were sold at the first government auction, this site was the location from which the City of Vancouver began its explosive growth after it was established in 1886.
John Robson was editor of the New Westminster Guardian newspaper, a future MLA and premier of BC who is remembered today by Vancouver’s Robson Street and Robson Square. In his New Westminster newspaper the British Columbian Robson observed, “On Burrard Inlet grows the finest stand of easily accessible timber in British Columbia.” Some considered Burrard Inlet to have the finest timber in the world, and Greater Vancouver at the time contained some of the tallest and largest trees in the world. The Hastings Sawmill timber lease covered most of Vancouver, 19,000 acres of forest at the rate of 1 cent per acre per year, for 20 years (7,700 hectares for 2 cents per hectare per year).
Throughout the 1870s the focal point of ‘Vancouver’ remained the Hastings Sawmill. Just across Burrard Inlet was the larger Moodyville Sawmill. These were the two largest sawmills in British Columbia. At the Hastings Sawmill and at Moodyville the sawmill companies provided bunkhouses with board for their single employees, and lumber for the married workers to build their own shacks. At Moodyville the different residential areas went by colourful names such as Brigham Terrace, the Rookeries, Frenchtown, Kanaka Row, Knob Hill and Maiden Lane. The centre of social life was the Big House on Knob Hill, built by one of the mill owners, future senator and lieutenant-governor Hugh Nelson after whom Nelson, BC is named. In both company towns alcohol was prohibited, making the 4 saloons in Granville popular places for the millworkers and loggers to drink and play cards. One manager of the Hastings Sawmill recounted, “I have known our mill to shut down for a couple of days because so many were engaged in a particularly interesting game that was going on.”
In 1873 Henry Alexander became the first official White child born in ‘Vancouver.’ He was the son of Richard Alexander, the manager of the Hastings Sawmill.
Throughout the 1870s, Burrard Inlet society was a combination of Native and non-Native cultures. Many First Nations people worked at the sawmills or supplied food to the logging camps and mill workers.
Stanley Park: The 4-sq-km urban park, site of the early
Squamish First Nation village of Khwaykhway. Photo
courtesy of The Vancouver Sun.
The First Nations village of Khwaykhway in today’s Stanley Park was the home of Lumtinat, a grand-daughter of Chief Keyaplanough (Capilano). Vancouver’s first modern settler John Morton had observed 2,000 Natives camped at Khwaykhway in 1862, while another source reported a population there of 700 people at some point in the near past. About 1870 Lumtinat was the honoured woman at a potlatch held at Khwaykhway in the 1,100 square metre (12,000 square foot) old plankhouse called Tayhay. This event was attended by thousands of First Nations peoples from all over the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.
In Granville almost everyone spoke Chinook, the Native trade language, and most of the non-Native men married or lived with First Nations women. Although there were many non-Natives of English, Scottish and Irish origins, many others were sailors of other nationalities who had quit the crews of sailing ships taking on lumber at the mills. Most of the lumber produced in Burrard Inlet was exported to distant places. As a result, the millhands included people with origins from all over the world. The workers had Portuguese, Spanish, Chilean, Russian, Finnish, French, Austrian, German, Belgian, Kanakan (Native Hawaiian), Dutch, American and Swedish backgrounds. A list of 11 general merchants and hotel proprietors in Granville in 1882 included 2 Chinese, 2 Irishmen, 2 Scotsmen, a Black, a Polish Jew, a Frenchman and an Englishman.
The British Colony of British Columbia agreed to become part of Canada in 1871. Since BC was isolated and for the most part only accessible by ship, BC joined Canada on the condition a railway would be built across North America linking Ontario and the rest of Canada to the BC coast. Although Granville was not designated the railway’s terminal until 1884, H.V. Edmonds of New Westminster appears to be the first to speculate that a transcontinental railway would most likely end in the fine harbour at Burrard Inlet. In 1869 and 1870 Edmonds acquired hundreds of acres of wilderness for $1 an acre on the south shore of False Creek. In 1888 he named the area Mount Pleasant and made a fortune selling his real estate in Vancouver’s first suburb.
With the official announcement of the railway route to Burrard Inlet in 1877, people such as Victoria’s Israel Powell (Powell Street and Powell River) and David and Isaac Oppenheimer acquired land large tracts of land. All of the available land around the government town reserve that later became Vancouver Central Business District was soon taken up. To avoid interference with the Dominion policy of concentrating First Nations peoples on reserves, the provincial government specifically prevented them from pre-empting land.
In 1872 the first bridge over False Creek was built, completing land access between Granville, through the future Burnaby to New Westminster. This stimulated the construction of a few stagecoach inns spaced along the unsettled trail, including Joseph Mannion’s Gladstone Inn, now 2201 Kingsway at Gladstone, and the Junction Inn at Vancouver’s first junction at Kingsway and Fraser. In 1875 Vancouver’s first straight road had been built south from Kingsway along what is now Fraser Street, then called the North Arm ‘Waggon’ Road. Its purpose was to connect Granville to the fine farmland along the Fraser River’s North Arm. This route permitted easier access by farmers to their customers on Burrard Inlet, the sawmills and logging camps. The success of these farms led to the rapid settlement of this land and the establishment of the Municipality of Richmond in 1879.
Despite a new road in 1876 from Granville east to the settlement of Hastings at New Brighton beach, and the improved road (now Kingsway), between Granville and New Westminster most people and goods continued to be transported by water. The early logging was done close to tidewater and almost all the movement of logs and logging supplies was by water. Boats would move workers to and from the small service centres such as Granville, Hastings and Moodyville on the North Shore.
The only government building on Burrard Inlet was a small cottage in Granville that served as a customs house, courthouse and home to Constable Jonathan Miller. In 1886 this tiny building served as Vancouver’s first city hall.
Miller worked for 5 years logging what later became Stanley Park, up to the time he was appointed the Constable of Granville in 1871. He once sat down to a potlatch feast at Khwaykhway with 2,000 Natives. He lived in the only government building in Granville, a small cottage with a tiny wooden jail in the back yard, next to Gassy Jack’s saloon. In 1886 he served as returning officer for the first civic election and afterwards was appointed the City of Vancouver’s first postmaster.
The few so-called roads in the Lower Mainland were often impassable in the wet climate, since they were “innocent of gravel and made up in depth what they lacked in width.”
Two of these steam engines were adapted to haul logs out of Vancouver’s forests.
The steam-powered tractors introduced to the Cariboo Road by Francis Barnard were a failure, but at Jericho beach Jerry Rogers adapted the engines in the first use of mechanized logging in BC’s forest industry.
The innovative Rogers had also tried using camels for logging. The steam-powered ship Beaver would occasionally dock at the pier in Granville, but in 1888 this famous Northwest Coast pioneer was wrecked at the First Narrows.
The SS (steamship) Beaver – one of the first motor-powered ships to enter the Pacific
Ocean. Today a replica of the Beaver operates out of Coal Harbour as a charter boat.
The Beaver had been brought from England in 1835 by the Hudson’s Bay Company to replace 4 sailing ships. It was the first motor-driven ship in the Pacific Ocean.
The Fraser delta region comprised potentially productive farmland in the lowland areas where the yearly flooding of the Fraser River renewed the soil. In the 1870s these areas were organized into municipalities—Langley in 1873, Maple Ridge in 1874, and Richmond Delta and Surrey in 1879.
The heavily timbered forests occurring in the hilly and upland areas of the future Vancouver and Burnaby, along the North Shore, and in the uplands of Surrey, were located on sandy soils deposited by glaciers. Unsuitable for farming and difficult to clear, these areas tended to be developed later. By the end of the 1870s the most populated rural area continued to be the farming region around old Fort Langley, particularly the Maple Ridge area with about 300 people. In the 1870s most of the farming in BC was being done in the lower Fraser Valley and southern Vancouver Island. Farming in BC employed about 2,800 in 1871, compared to just 2,300 remaining in mining. More roads were built connecting New Westminster to the local farming regions and the Yale Road linked it by a sleigh road through the Lower Mainland to the BC interior for the first time in 1874. This trail was built to Yale to link with the beginning of the older Cariboo Road to Barkerville. The only road to the interior, it was travelled by a few dozen wagon trains drawn by oxen, mules or horses, numerous stagecoaches and hundreds of pack horses and mules.
Gold mining continued to be an important part of the BC economy, but by the end of the decade coal mining and fishing had become important as well. The demand for coal was increasing as steam-powered ships replaced sailing ships and other steam-powered machinery came into use.
In 1871 Captain Stamp had quit the Hastings Sawmill and started one of BC’s first fish canneries in New Westminster. He used tin cans fabricated by John Sullivan Deas, a Black tinsmith from South Carolina. By 1873, Deas operated his own substantial cannery on an island near the mouth of the south arm of the Fraser River, eventually the site of the entrance to the Deas Island Tunnel.
The 1881 census listed approximately 800 Natives as living on Burrard Inlet, and there were an estimated 800 non-Natives, almost all at Granville and Moodyville. The 288 Musqueams included in the census were mostly living at Musqueam.
By 1881 the total population of BC had grown to over 49,000. This was only about one-tenth the population of Nova Scotia and less than half the population of Prince Edward Island. In BC the First Nations peoples continued to outnumber the newcomers, but this situation was about to change dramatically in the next decade with the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
This article excerpted from Vancouver: A Visual History first appeared online on The New Agora.