What could have been a sawmill settlement over a hundred years ago, has become today s largest metropolitan center in western Canada. Vancouver, a city in British Columbia area, now is the third largest in the country.
Vancouver s humble beginning can be traced some 10,000 years ago, on the mouth of a river now known as Fraser River. Fraser River is the longest river in British Columbia, Canada, stretching some 1,400 kilometers long, cutting up thru Rocky Mountains near Mt. Robson, into the Pacific Ocean.
Strategically located, Fraser River became a major passage between the region s interior down to the Lower Coast where an aboriginal settlement known as Musqueam flourished out of the region’s abundance of animals and plants. The Musqueams got their moniker from masque, an edible grass that grows in the sea.
More tribal communities around the river banks were later on discovered when European sea farers explored the area in the late 1700s. Aside from the Musqueams, some of these tribal groups were identified as Squamish and their relative, Tsleil-Wauthuth.
Tselit – Wauthuth or Burrard Band is one of the most notable tribal communities then. Like the Squamish, the Burrard Band tribes spoke Skwxwu7mesh or Sechelt (Shishalh) dialects.
In fact, there were evidences that the Burrard Band settled in North Vancouver and had shared cultural and traditional traits with Musqueam tribes in the Fraser Valley. Together, these tribal communities formed the Coast Salish First Nations.
However, the most widely spoken language among members of First Nations is Halkomelem, a common language of the native community at Musqueams on the Fraser River, south of today s Vancouver.
First Nation people are referred to as Aboriginal peoples, Native Americans, Native Canadians, Aboriginal Americans, Indians, Amerindians and Autochtones. The Government of Canada has officially registered members of the First Nations as Indians entitled to benefits under the Indian Act.
While the southern community on Fraser River had demonstrated an advance settlement, the native tribal groups on the regions Northwest side had also shown high level of cultural practices. It was even noted that settlers in the Northwest side had adopted so called rituals and offerings which had greatly influenced the social and spiritual lives of the settlers.
One of these ceremonies that persisted even in modern times is potlatch, a gift giving ceremony where the host shows off wealth and prominence and gives away possessions hoping that recipients will reciprocate in the future.
Without doubt the most well-known personality among the Salish First Nation peoples was Chief Dan George, an acclaimed actor. Born as Geswanouth Slahoot, Dan George was a Burrard Band native. Dan George s English name was Dan Slaholt but was changed when he entered school at age 5. He worked on various jobs — as a construction worker, stevedore and school bus driver. Dan George was Chief of Tseil – Wauthuth from 1951 to 1963. He got his first break as an actor at age 60 on Cariboo Country, a television series aired over Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in the 1960s. At age 71, Dan George was nominated Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the movie Little Big Man.
Archaeological evidences showed that Fraser River was the site of the first settlements of Aboriginal people in Vancouver. It was also the main route of hundreds of gold prospectors who rushed to the area that kindled the start of commerce and industry in the region.
The tribal communities along Fraser River and neighboring villages would have gone a radical change following intrusion of European explorers in the 1700s. In 1791, Captain Jose Maria Narvaez, a Spanish navigator, was the first European to explore the Strait of Georgia .
British Naval Captain George Vancouver followed in 1792, when he joined the Spanish expedition based in Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. In 1808, Simon Fraser was the first European to reach the area overland. Fraser, a fur trader, chartered the river, which now bears his name, from up and down-stream in an effort to establish a trading post in the area.
Although there was an influx of gold prospectors which precipitated the Fraser Gold Rush in 1858 to 1859, the tribal settlement on Burrard Inlet and English Bay was relatively unknown. It was probably due to set of rules imposed by powerful Squamish Chieftains in the area who then concealed the existence of aboriginal communities from the outside world.
In the early 1860s, bodies of prospectors, obviously failing to land or settle, were occasionally found along English Bay and Burrard Inlet. However, the first non-native settlement, now known as McLeery s Farm along Oak Street Bridge area, was established in 1862. It is presently located in Vancouver s city limits.
Lumber industry was the first sign of commercial presence on Burrard Inlet, now the site of Vancouver s seaport.
Sunset view of The Port of Vancouver and westward-half of Burrard Inlet offers nostalgic recollection of its aboriginal ancestry.
Moodyville was the site of the first sawmill when it started operation in 1863. As Moodyville expanded into a municipality in 1915, it was renamed North Vancouver, but Moodyville retained its legacy being applied to the Lower Lonsdale district, although it now implies more as a marketing term.
Signs of commercial lumbering formally took place in 1865 when the first export of lumber was shipped to Australia. On the same year, as the lumber industry took command of the region’s commercial centers, another sawmill began operation. Stamp’s Mill, the first sawmill south of Burrard Inlet and originally located at Brockton Point in Stanley Park, moved south shore of Burrard Inlet due to strong currents and shoals at Brock Point, making it difficult for vessels to dock.
Workers in lumberyards and sawmills mostly came from other regions who brought to the inlet area to hunt whales. Some of these workers of varied backgrounds were Nootkas and Scandinavians.
Usually, the Squamish, or the natives in the area did not work in the mills. It took quite sometimes for them (Squamish) to adopt then new changes that rapidly influenced their culture and social lives.
Most of the materials used for large ship building were also found south of False Creek and English Bay. These shipping materials were often exported to Britain and China. It was told that the Celestial Emperor of China had ordered dozens of trees for the construction of the Great Hall of Heavenly Peace in the Forbidden City in Beijing. These famous trees were cut from the Jericho neighborhood west of Kitsilano . Today, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) considered the Forbidden City in Beijing as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.
As the lumber industry grew, new ventures also started to prop up in the settlement. In 1867, John (Jack) Deighton, a former pilot, set up a small saloon on the beach, west of Stamp’s Mill. The place became popular, with the saloon becoming a watering hole for dreary mill workers. Later, the saloon became known as Gassy Jack, Deighton s nickname, a derivative of his being talkative. Soon, a number of people started to settle near the saloon which quickly grew into a settlement then known as Gassy Town.
Aware of the area’s rapid growth, the colonial government of British Columbia sent a surveyor in 1870s to lay out an official town site of the sawmill settlement. The settlement was then officially called Granville, named after the Earl of Granville, then the British Colonial Secretary. However, residents and people in the area continued to call the place Gassy Town. Later, Gassy Town was shortened to Gas Town.
The townsite of Granville was located on one of the world s best natural harbors. The Canadian Pacific Railway has taken cognizance of the town’s strategic location and decided to establish their railway station there. The government of Canada has commissioned the CPR, a transcontinental railway, as a condition of British Columbia when it joined the confederation in 1871.
William Van Horne, CPR President, strongly endorsed the renaming of the town into Vancouver for varied reasons. First, he noted that Granville was not a popular name for the new railway terminal because of its unpleasant association with Gas Town. Second, people in the neighboring towns of Montreal and Toronto had no idea of where Granville was. Van Horne argued that people in the region had better known Vancouver Island than any of Gas Town and Granville.
Thus, the settlement was renamed Vancouver . It was incorporated on April 6, 1886 and the first transcontinental train from Montreal arrived in Port Moody on July 1886. However, regular service to Vancouver started a year later, on May 1887. In 1887, Vancouver s population was estimated at 5,000. Five years later, in 1892, Vancouver s population jumped to 15,000 and grew to 100,000 people at the onset of 1900s.