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Canada's Pacific Gateway

At the southwestern corner of mainland British Columbia, the land around what would become Vancouver has been inhabited by First Nations peoples for thousands of years. The first European settlers arrived in the 1860s and erected sawmills to begin clearing the thick evergreen forests around Vancouver's deep harbour. In 1886 the town was made the western terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the city began a massive building boom, which was not hindered by the devastating Great Fire that same year. Vancouver quickly became the economic metropolis for British Columbia's vast resource-rich hinterland. Today the city is the economic and cultural heart of the province, and over half of British Columbians live in and around Vancouver.

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Historic Walking Tours

Tour Spots in Vancouver

Then and Now Photos

From Burrard Bridge From Burrard Bridge

Vancouver Archives AM1545-S3-: CVA 586-682 & On This Spot Enterprises

From Burrard Bridge - 1941

A view of war-time industrial False Creek taken from the Burrard Street Bridge. You can see on Granville Island at the right many of the original warehouses remain. The Kitsilano train trestle in the foreground once connected the rail yards of Yaletown with the Arbutus Corridor.

Misty Coal Harbour Misty Coal Harbour

Vancouver Archives AM336-S3-2-: CVA 677-183 & On This Spot Enterprises

Misty Coal Harbour - 1887

A view of Deadman's Island and Stanley Park shrouded in smoke and mist.

Off to the Klondike Off to the Klondike

Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Str P336 & On This Spot Enterprises

Off to the Klondike - 1898

A huge crowd has assembled in front of Johnston and Kerfoot's Klondike Outfitters to see a mule train equipped for the arduous journey to the gold fields. As tens of thousands of American prospectors made their way north, the prohibitive customs duties on bringing supplies across the border meant that most stopped in Vancouver to kit out. As a result the gold rush was a huge economic boon for Vancouver and marked the start of Vancouver's most dizzying expansion which would last until 1913.

Red Cross Brewery Red Cross Brewery

Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Bu P128 & On This Spot Enterprises

Red Cross Brewery - 1890

Carts decked out in bunting to advertise beer from the Red Cross Brewery on Cordova Street. The sign advertises "IPA, Pale, Lager... The Pearl of the Coast... Brewed only from pure malt and hops." Sounds like a beer advertisement one might see today.

Hays and McIntosh Butchers Hays and McIntosh Butchers

Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Bu P551 & On This Spot Enterprises

Hays and McIntosh Butchers - 1890

A group portrait at the entrance to the Hays and McIntosh Butcher Shop on Cordova Street.

Dirt Road Georgia Dirt Road Georgia

Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Ch P67 & On This Spot Enterprises

Dirt Road Georgia - 1899

Christ Church Cathedral seen from across a dirt-road Georgia Street. One wonders what the man on the sidewalk would make of this place if he could be transported to the present and see the buildings of steel and glass that tower over the church today.

The Carnegie Library The Carnegie Library

Vancouver Archives AM336-S3-3-: CVA 677-651 & On This Spot Enterprises

The Carnegie Library - 1900s

Looking west on Hastings, you can see the Carnegie Library that has recently been completed. The library was paid for by the industrialist Andrew Carnegie, a billionaire philanthropist who funded the construction of libraries all over the Western world.

Narrows at Low Tide Narrows at Low Tide

Vancouver Archives AM336-S3-2-: CVA 677-477 & On This Spot Enterprises

Narrows at Low Tide - 1900s

A small ship passes through the narrows and into Vancouver harbour. To the right, you can see that the Stanley Park seawall has not been built yet, but a gazebo can be seen.

The Highlanders' Bandmaster The Highlanders' Bandmaster

Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: LGN 525 & On This Spot Enterprises

The Highlanders' Bandmaster - 1913

Bandmaster Slatter of Vancouver's Seaforth Highlanders regiment poses for a photo on the steps of the courthouse (now art gallery). In the background can be seen the old Hotel Vancouver, which has since been demolished.

HMS New Zealand HMS New Zealand

Vancouver Archives AM358-S1---: CVA 152-10.05 & On This Spot Enterprises

HMS New Zealand - 1913

The battlecruiser HMS New Zealand visiting Vancouver as part of a tour of the British Empire. Part of the Royal Navy but funded by New Zealand, the battlecruiser returned to Britain in time for the First World War and took part in all the major naval engagements between big-gun ships, including the Battles of Dogger Bank and Jutland.

An Overturned Engine An Overturned Engine

Vancouver Archives COV-S632-: CVA 789-35 & On This Spot Enterprises

An Overturned Engine - 1914

An engine, perhaps a horse-drawn fire engine, has toppled over. A crowd has formed as a couple policemen look on. The buildings at far left and right survive in this shot.

A Column on Georgia A Column on Georgia

Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Mil P93 & On This Spot Enterprises

A Column on Georgia - 1916

Soldiers with their gear march up Georgia Street towards Seymour in the early years of the First World War. The lack of crowds and dress uniforms indicates they are not part of a formal parade or departing for the front, but likely engaging in a training exercise. In all likelihood however they would be sent to the battlefields of France as soon as they were deemed ready for combat.

Artillerymen on Parade Artillerymen on Parade

Vancouver Archives AM1535-: CVA 99-476 & On This Spot Enterprises

Artillerymen on Parade - 1916

Weapon teams from the 68th Battalion of the Canadian Field Artillery are on parade down Hastings, passing in front of Victory Square.

Architectural Landmarks Architectural Landmarks

Vancouver Archives AM336-S3-2-: CVA 677-969 & On This Spot Enterprises

Architectural Landmarks - 1917

The second Hotel Vancouver stands behind the courthouse (now art gallery) in this photo taken from Robson Street.

Japanese Cenotaph Japanese Cenotaph

Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Mon P9 & On This Spot Enterprises

Japanese Cenotaph - 1920

The memorial cenotaph in Stanley Park for the Japanese-Canadians who had fallen fighting for Canada in the First World War.

The Seven Sisters The Seven Sisters

Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: St Pk P76.2 & On This Spot Enterprises

The Seven Sisters - 1920s

The trees that once grew from these stumps were called the Seven Sisters. The six douglas firs and a red cedar were thought to be over 700 years old and from the park's earliest days they impressed visitors with their magnificent size. The iconic Canadian poet Pauline Johnson called them the "Cathedral trees" and said "There is no fresco that can rival the delicacy of lace-work they have festooned between you and the far skies." There are several stories about how they got their name. According to one, published in an article in the Vancouver Daily Province in 1949, when Lord Stanley opened Stanley Park in 1889 there were only seven girls between the ages of 10 and 18 in the city's 1,000 odd residents, and this was their favourite spot to play. Hence the Seven Sisters. By the 1960s they had died, and it was feared they would fall and injure someone so they were cut down.

Changing Granville Changing Granville

Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-2-: CVA 371-820 & On This Spot Enterprises

Changing Granville - 1920s

The several buildings in this photo, the apartment block in front, the opera house in the middle, and the second Hotel Vancouver at the end of block, are all gone now. Before World War I yhey helped anchor the city around this part of town, as you can see by the busy street-scene.

Kuomintang Building Kuomintang Building

Vancouver Archives AM1535-: CVA 99 - 3202 & On This Spot Enterprises

Kuomintang Building - 1920s

The headquarters of the Kuomintang survives till today. The recessed balcony on the top floor marks it out as a Chinese-style building, though this has since been removed and filled in. It's a shame the cupola at the top has not survived.

Friends at the Beach Friends at the Beach

Vancouver Archives AM1559-: CVA 258-3 & On This Spot Enterprises

Friends at the Beach - 1923

These women, wives of CPR men, seem to be enjoying a day at the beach, having just come out of the water. The long pier at the back is obviously no longer there, though the rocks underpinning it are.

Japanese Cruisers Japanese Cruisers

Vancouver Archives AM358-S1-: CVA 152-37 & On This Spot Enterprises

Japanese Cruisers - 1925

Three Japanese cruisers on a port visit to Vancouver in 1925, a time when Japan and Britain (and Canada) were still allies. These ships would be used in the war against the Allies only 15 years later.

Japanese Cruisers (2) Japanese Cruisers (2)

Vancouver Archives AM358-S1-: CVA 152-39 & On This Spot Enterprises

Japanese Cruisers (2) - 1925

Three Japanese cruisers on a port visit to Vancouver in 1925, a time when Japan and Britain (and Canada) were still allies. These ships would be used in the war against the Allies only 15 years later.

Vancouver's Waterfront Vancouver's Waterfront

Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-2-: CVA 371-831 & On This Spot Enterprises

Vancouver's Waterfront - 1929

Several passenger steamers are docked at the CPR docks on Vancouver's waterfront. A number of prominent buildings are visible, such as the second Hotel Vancouver (far right, now demolished), the Vancouver block (with the white clock tower at right), the Birks Block (just in front of the Vancouver Block, now demolished) and the Post Office (centre right, above the steamship docks).

Ships Passing at Sunset Ships Passing at Sunset

Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-2-: CVA 371-1462 & On This Spot Enterprises

Ships Passing at Sunset - 1930s

Two ships pass each other at the entrance to Vancouver harbour in this rather moody shot from the 1930s.

Crossing the Bridge Crossing the Bridge

Vancouver Archives AM1535-: CVA 99-2656 & On This Spot Enterprises

Crossing the Bridge - 1932

Crowds walk across the freshly completed Burrard Street Bridge for the first time. The bridge is fairly unique for the Art Deco design of the superstructure, a style of building that flourished in the 1920s and 1930s that sought to combine modern technology and science with careful attention to detail and beauty. You can learn more about Art Deco in the Architecture Tour.

Ferrara Court Ferrara Court

Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-1---: CVA 20-52 & On This Spot Enterprises

Ferrara Court - 1932

This photo gives a look at the many advertisements always present in Vancouver. The most common advertisements in old photos by far are for cigarettes and real estate agents. The second building at the left has an ad for MILLBANK Virginia Cigarettes.

Building the Lions Gate Building the Lions Gate

Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Br P81.26 & On This Spot Enterprises

Building the Lions Gate - 1938

Work is beginning on installing the bridge deck on the Lions Gate bridge.

Industrial Operations Industrial Operations

Vancouver Archives AM640-S1-: CVA 260-1040 & On This Spot Enterprises

Industrial Operations - 1939

A sawmill belches smoke on a tranquil looking False Creek. It is evident that this stands where the casino stands today because the new city hall on Cambie can be seen dominating the skyline in the background. Today it is partially obscured by the growing number of condo towers, though they are both lined up.

Captain Vancouver Captain Vancouver

Vancouver Archives AM1545-S3-: CVA 586-164 & On This Spot Enterprises

Captain Vancouver - 1940

The statue of Captain George Vancouver looks out over the city that bears his name. He would probably be quite pleased at this outcome, as his name was only picked after Gastown and then Granville were thought unsuitable. It was actually CPR President Van Horne who suggested the name. Granville, a former colonial secretary, didn't have the same ring to it as the intrepid explorer whose voyages to the Pacific were known to every school-child in Britain. Van Horne wanted a name people would remember and advertise the city. Since the CPR basically controlled the city, Van Horne got his way.

Court House From Robson Court House From Robson

Vancouver Archives AM1545-S3-: CVA 586-4159 & On This Spot Enterprises

Court House From Robson - 1945

The courthouse, now the art gallery, and beyond it the Hotel Vancouver, can be seen in this foggy photo taken from Robson Street.

Homecoming Parade Homecoming Parade

Vancouver Archives AM1545-S3-: CVA 586-4035 & On This Spot Enterprises

Homecoming Parade - 1945

The Seaforth Highlanders march past a reviewing stand in front of the Hotel Georgia to celebrate their return from Europe at the end of the Second World War.

Granville Strip in the 60's Granville Strip in the 60's

Vancouver Archives COV-S511---: CVA 780-55 & On This Spot Enterprises

Granville Strip in the 60's - 1967

A busy Granville strip and so-called Theatre Row. Standing at the same spot today you'll see how little has changed in the last 60 years, save the makes of the cars and the fashion choices of the pedestrians.