Historic Walking Tour
Stanley Park's Seawall
The Jewel of Vancouver
Stanley Park is often called the jewel of Vancouver. The park is a huge patch of temperate rainforest located just beside the downtown core. Ringed by a seawall that offers spectacular views of the city and the North Shore mountains, it's small wonder that Tripadvisor continues to rate Stanley Park the best park in the world. With this tour you can experience the Stanley Park seawall in an exciting new way, peering into the past to see the fascinating changes the park has undergone since its founding over a century ago.
We'd like to thank the Vancouver Archives for generous use of their historic photo collection.
1. 'Jewel of Vancouver'
Describing the centrality of Stanley Park to Vancouver's identity, one journalist wrote: "The park is our most valuable and integral asset. "Other cities can boast of urban green space — London has Hyde Park, New York Central Park and even Toronto has High Park. "But has any a stretch of ground so integral, so central to its self-image as our idyllic cynosure? "Can you imagine Vancouver without Stanley Park? "It would lose a huge bit of its soul and become just another seaside burg with a mountain view."xx1
2. 'The Rowing Club'
Vancouver's protected inner harbour, which extended all the way up to Salmon Arm, made this city an ideal place for the sport of rowing. It's hardly surprising then that Vancouver's social elite established the Rowing Club almost immediately, making it the oldest amateur sports organization in the city. Vancouver has produced many Olympic rowers and the country has long been one of the world's leaders in the sport.
3. 'The Causeway'
Stanley Park was immensely popular from the moment it was founded. For instance, on one weekend in July 1911 the city recorded 21,738 pedestrians, 419 carriages, 191 cars, 148 bicycles and 58 people on horseback. There was no way the little bridge could handle all this traffic and in 1912 the causeway was built.Xx2 Before the causeway Lost Lagoon on the other side of the causeway had been a tidal flat. Pauline Johnson dubbed it Lost Lagoon because the lagoon would disappear at low tide. After the causeway was built however the lagoon was made into a permanent lake.
Even before the city purchased the park, the land was far from a pristine wilderness. Large sections of it had been logged in the 1860s. At that same time a group of Portuguese and Scottish sailors set up a squatters' village here, near the Squamish village of Xwayxway which we will see shortly. The sailors married First Nations women and continued life largely undisturbed by the growing city across the water. Then in 1888 city health inspectors destroyed their homes over fears of a smallpox outbreak. Afterwards the squatters rebuilt and defied all attempts by the city to make them leave. Finally by 1921 the city took the squatters to court, demanding evidence of 60 years of continuous habitation of the land. The squatters had no written deeds to prove their claim and in 1931 they were finally evicted. There were a couple exceptions, like the Cummings family, who were allowed to continue living in the park until their deaths in the 1950s.
5. 'The Seawall'
The first section of the seawall was built in 1917, and it was gradually extended over the years. Beginning in the 1920s, much of the toughest work around the narrows was overseen by the master stonemason James Cunningham, who worked tirelessly on the project completed over his 35 year career. When the city passed a bylaw that the upright tombstones at Mountain View Cemetery must be replaced with flat ones to make for easier mowing, many of the old tombstones were incorporated into the seawall. Some can still be seen in some sections of the seawall today. The entire wall was finally completed in 1980.
6. 'Nine O'Clock Gun'
The gun was fired at 6 pm to warn fishermen that fishing was now closed. Later on it was switched to 9 pm to act as a time signal for people, and a way for ships to set their chronometers. A cage was built around the gun after hooligans stuffed rocks down the barrel, which were then fired out, putting a hole in the sign on a nearby floating gas station.
7. 'The Photography Craze'
Up until this period cameras had been very expensive, required intensive training to use, and were bulky and inconvenient. For these reasons photos from before this era were portraits taken in studios that could cost as much as $35 (a month's wages for the average worker at the time). Exposure times were much longer so people had to remain perfectly still for up to 15 seconds as the photo was taken.xx3 By the 1890s however cameras were downsizing dramatically and becoming easy enough for anyone to use. People were also enchanted by the amazingly high quality of the photos. Since most of the old photos we do see are low-quality reproductions in books and on websites, most people don't realize that many types of old photos had a far higher resolution than most digital photographs do today. Some of the many competing camera technologies a century ago actually had resolutions thousands of times higher than most digital cameras do today. Most DSLRs today have a resolution of about 20 megapixels, or about 20 million pixels. A daguerreotype from the 19th Century had an absolutely astonishing resolution of 100,000 megapixels, or 100 billion individual pixels in an image. It is still beyond our technical capabilities to easily reproduce the unbelievably high resolution of daguerreotypes.xx4
8. 'The Seabus'
The first sea-bus across the Burrard Inlet was the primitive Eleanora. It was essentially a flat barge powered by a threshing machine engine mounted sitting on the unprotected deck. The crew were so afraid that the engine would fall through the deck that they attached a buoy to it with a chain so they could recover it from the ocean bottom. Later on the Eleanora was superseded by the Eliza, a ship like the one in this photo, which set up a much more regular service crossing the inlet five times a day. The fare was $0.25. These ferry connections allowed the small communities in North and West Vancouver to grow.xx5
9. 'Xwayxway Village'
In the 1800s the Xwayxway village was dominated by a gigantic longhouse built of huge cedar logs. It was over 60 metres long and 20 metres wide. 11 families, about 100 people, lived within in different quadrants. The name for the village roughly translates as 'masked dance performance.'xx6 In the 1880s the village was demolished to make way for the perimeter road through Stanley Park, apparently while the people inside were sitting down to dinner. The people of the village were forcibly relocated to reserves elsewhere.xx7
10. 'Empress of Japan'
In the time before cheap intercontinental flight, these huge, fast, and luxurious ocean liners connected Vancouver with the world and were a common sight in this harbour. The Empress of Japan was one of three Empress-class ships laid down in 1890, the other two being the Empress of China and the Empress of India. The ship could carry 770 passengers and all manner of cargo while her powerful engines ensured that she held the record for fastest Pacific crossing for over 20 years. Over the course of her life the Empress of Japan travelled a staggering four million kilometres and crossed the Pacific 315 times. She was eventually replaced by a modernized Empress of Japan in 1930.xx8
11. 'Empress of India'
We can see in this photo that the Lions Gate Bridge has yet to be built, and the North Shore around the mouth of the Capilano River appears almost entirely uninhabited. At this time no Europeans lived in West Vancouver, though a few made occasional visits by boat for summer vacations. It was not until 1903, some eight years after the above photo was taken, that Navvy Jack Thomas, a Welsh deserter from the Royal Navy, settled in Ambleside and became the first European to settle there. Today the municipality has a population of 42,000.xx9
12. 'The Lions Gate Bridge'
Initially there was strong opposition to the bridge as many argued the busy causeway would ruin Stanley Park. A referendum was held on the bridge proposal in 1927 and voted down. A second referendum was held in 1933 at the depth of the Great Depression. A great public works project that provided skilled jobs was just what the city needed and this time the bridge proposal passed with a 2 to 1 margin. It was decided to name the bridge the Lions Gate, after the landmark Lions peaks that can be seen from much of Vancouver. Two art deco style lions were put at the Stanley Park entrance to the bridge. When completed a toll of $0.25 was charged for each crossing car. The bridge proved so popular that the toll brought in enough revenue to pay off the initial investment and it was eventually scrapped in 1963.
13. 'Prospect Point Lighthouse'
This lighthouse was built in 1888 in response to the sinking of the SS Beaver (more later). John Grove was appointed lighthouse keeper and he moved into the building with his wife and sons. In dense fog the lighthouse's little bell was the only guide for ships to navigate through the treacherous narrows. In 1926 the lighthouse was electrified and after 38 years on the job, Grove was made redundant. The lighthouse you see today was built in 1948.xx10
14. 'The SS Beaver'
The little ship was launched on the Thames in England in 1835 and, at a time when most ships still relied on sails, it was considered a technological marvel. It was dispatched to Astoria in Oregon, when that was still a British colony, and helped the Hudson's Bay Company maintain trading relations on the Columbia River. When the American border was moved north to the 49th Parallel, the Beaver was sent by James Douglas to reconnoiter Victoria as the potential site for a future city. Over the following years it served as a flagship for visiting dignitaries, as a gunboat for conducting trade and diplomacy with First Nations peoples, and as a hydrological vessel on mapping expeditions. It was key to settling Nanaimo and Fort Langley and provisioning remote outposts. It also carried troops over to San Juan Island, sparking the so-called Pig War, an international crisis that very nearly led to war between Britain and America.xx11
15. 'Siwash Rock'
This is the story of the rock according to the Squamish nation: "Thousands of years ago, a young chief named Skalsh married a young lady from B.C.'s north coast and they wanted to start a family. The night before Skalsh's child was to be born, he and his wife swam in the waters of Burrard Narrows to purify themselves, as custom, in preparation for birth. When his wife crept into the forest of Xwayxway as the Squamish call Stanley Park, Skalsh continued to swim to purify himself and his family as his child entered the world. "Challenged by gods to stop swimming and move out of the way of their holy canoe, Skalsh continued to swim to purify himself for the sake of his family. To commemorate his bravery and commitment to family, the gods transformed him into stone when he swam back to shore, towards his wife and child at dawn. The rocky stand serves as a symbol of ‘clean fatherhood' according to Johnson's account of Squamish creation story."xx12
16. 'Third Beach'
This photo was taken just after the Second World War and we can see that bathing fashions have changed dramatically from the suits and dresses men and women wore to the beach 30 years before. In photos after the Second World War, these people, our grandparents (or parents) start to feel much more familiar to us
The squirrel in this photo is likely a Douglas squirrel, which is a native of Stanley Park. Today the park is filled with thousands of invasive eastern grey squirrels. As is the case with so many invasive species around the world, humans intentionally introduced them into the new environment without realizing what the effects would be. In 1909 the mayor of New York City gifted 16 of the eastern greys, much larger and more aggressive than the indigenous Douglas squirrels, to the city of Vancouver. They were released into the park and by 1920 their population had exploded across all Vancouver. They tend to be particularly dangerous to the Garry Oak ecosystems found on Vancouver Island and like to pray on bird eggs and nestlings.xx13
18. 'Second Beach'
The little boy handling his little rowboat looks like he still has some learning to do, judging by the way he's holding the paddle. The photograph has been hand-coloured, a common practice at a time when colour photography was still in its experimental phase.
19. 'Trying out a Maxim Gun'
At that time a well-trained rifleman could fire 10 rounds a minute, whereas a Maxim Gun could fire 550 in the same space of time. During the British conquest of Africa the Maxim gun gained almost legendary status. The British booster of Imperialism, Hillaire Beloc, wrote a poem about a British officer named "Blood" serving in Africa. Vastly outnumbered and facing a charge by thousands of African warriors, the situation looked dire for Blood and his men. Blood however steadied their nerves, saying ominously, "Whatever happens we have got, the Maxim gun, and they have not." The Maxim Gun allowed them to mow down the warriors in their hundreds. The men in this photo likely soon found out for themselves what it was like to be on the wrong end of a Maxim gun, as war was about to break out in Europe.xx14
20. 'Pick-up Hockey'
Hockey has always been popular in Vancouver and while the National Hockey Association, the predecessor to the NHL, was formed in eastern Canada in 1917, the Vancouver Millionaires instead played in the rival Pacific Coast Hockey Association. The Stanley Cup was not actually the NHL's trophy, but was an inter-league trophy between the PCHA and the NHA, much like in Major League Baseball where the American League and the National League both compete for the championship title. In 1915 the Vancouver Millionaires won the PCHA championship and actually went on to win the Stanley Cup, beating the NHA champion Ottawa Senators. In 1918 they made it to their next Stanley Cup final but lost to the Toronto Arenas. That time there was no riot. Though it has been over 100 years since Vancouver's last Stanley Cup victory, one hopes the Canucks will be able to win at some point in the next century.
1. Jewel of Vancouver
1. Mulgrew, Ian. "Stanley Park is a huge part of Vancouver's soul." National Post. 21 Apr. 2013.
3. The Causeway
2. Davis, Chuck. Chuck Davis History of Metropolitan Vancouver. Vancouver: Coastal Publishing, 2011.
7. The Photography Craze
3. Curto, Jeff. "Light and Likeness: Portrait Photography." Photo History Class Sessions. 7 February 2014. Audio.
4. Boyd, Sarah. "On Photography Filters in the Digital Age." Ethos Digital Review. 11 July 2014. Online.
8. The Seabus
9. Xwayxway Village
6. Suttles, Wayne. Musqueam Reference Grammar. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2004, P. 571.
7. Barman, Jean. Stanley Park's Secret: The Forgotten Families of Whoi Whoi, Kanaka Ranch and Brocton Point. Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 2005. P. 21.
10. Empress of Japan
8. Mowbray, Tate. Transpacific Steam: The Story of Steam Navigation from the Pacific Coast of North America to the Far East and the Antipodes. Cranbury: Cornwall Books, 1986. P. 235.
11. Empress of India
9. Statistics Canada. "Census Profile, West Vancouver." 2011. Online.
13. Prospect Point Lighthouse
10. Lighthouse Friends. "Prospect Point, BC." Online.
14. The SS Beaver
15. Siwash Rock
12. Post, Miranda. "History of Siwash Rock." Inside Vancouver. 22 Aug. 2013. Online.
13. Royal BC Museum. "Aliens Among Us: Eastern Grey Squirrel." 2014.
19. Trying out a Maxim Gun
14. Keegan, John. The First World War. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 1998. P. 45.