Stanley Park: 125 years (or so) of history

SPfunNewly returned to Vancouver, I am still all agog at how pretty it is- mountains, the ocean, rivers, flowers and trees all over the place!

Vancouver even has beaches, and a large park, right Downtown!

Even when Vancouver only had around 1000 inhabitants, we were pretty sure we needed a 1,001 acre park.

That would be Stanley Park, 1888 to 2013!  That’s 125 years of park awesomeness- Well minus some years of awesomeness for all the evictions and general bad feelings, but HOORAY!

We now know that, in terms of human settlement, Stanley Park has been busy for quite a bit longer than 125 years.

In 1886, Vancouver’s newly formed City Council decided to set aside the land, formerly (or still) held by the Federal Government, as a public park.

'Stanley Park' Site, 1887 (Vancouver City Archives)

‘Stanley Park’ Site, 1887 (Vancouver City Archives)

The land was previously considered as the site of the railway terminus for the CPR, but luckily a site is Gastown was opted for, and the area remained untouched……

Oh, how history likes to laugh at us.

'Untouched'...Siwash Rock, 1890 (Vancouver City Archives)

‘Untouched’…Siwash Rock, 1890  (Vancouver City Archives)

Stanley Park was officially opened on September 27th, 1889- although Lord Stanley doesn’t get around to dedicating it until 1890.

Lord Stanley’s dedication involved much hoopla including a procession of vehicles, led Mayor Oppenheimer, around the Park’s newly completed road…named….wait for it…Park Road.

According to an observer,

Lord Stanley threw his arms to the heavens, as though embracing within them the whole of one thousand acres of primeval forest, and dedicated it ‘to the use and enjoyment of peoples of all colours, creeds, and customs, for all time. I name thee, Stanley Park.”

Lord Stanley’s words (if he indeed said them) glossed over the fact that the Park was still the focus of intensely bitter property disputes- don’t even get me started about Deadman’s Island.

Governor General Georges Vanier unveiling the Lord Stanley statue, 1960 (Vancouver City Archives)

Governor General Georges Vanier unveiling the Lord Stanley statue, 1960 (Vancouver City Archives)

Before 1886, the large First Nation’s village of Whoi Whoi, or Xwayxway (roughly meaning place of masks), was located at the place now known as Lumberman’s Arch.

By 1889 the place was “reported” as deserted.  Making the Park Board’s purchase in 1900, and subsequent burning, of two houses here seem rather extreme.

In fact, the “deserted” village remained home to “Howe Sound Jack” and Sexwalia “Aunt Sally” Kulkalem until 1923,  when the property was purchased from her heir for $15,500, and resold to the federal government.

These residents must have found it rather unsettling when the midden in their backyard was mined for shells to surface the road that was to figure so prominently in the Park’s dedication.

Photograph shows workers,with shovels and pick-axes, clearing through midden for road construction. Photograph also shows a wagon and two horses. J.S. Matthews' notes with print or negative in Vancouver City Archives.

Workers,with shovels and pick-axes, clearing through midden for road construction. (Vancouver City Archives)

August Jack Khatsahlano — Kitsilano is named after his grandfather — listed a total of 11 First Nations families living in Whoi Whoi in the early 1880s, as well as several families of Portuguese, Scottish and First Nations heritage on the Coal Harbour side of Brockton Point.

August Jack’s family was forced to leave Stanley Park after the park road was built through their home.  He related the story to Vancouver’s original archivist, Major Matthews:

“When they make Stanley Park road, we were eating (breakfast) in our house. Someone make noise outside; chop our house. We was inside the house when the surveyors came along, and they chop the corner of our house while we was eating inside.”

"Well they don't like us, but they sure do like to frolic in our garbage!"

“Well they don’t like us, but they sure do like to frolic in our garbage!”

In fact the park remained home to large groups of people, who continued to be evicted until 1931.  Squatter Tim Cummings (and his rather large dog) lived at Brockton Point until his (Tim’s) death in 1958.


The Vancouver Sun (March 11, 1958)

People have been living, working and using Stanley Park for quite a long time- so the notion of the Park as a primeval, untouched wilderness is pretty absurd.  It’s pretty heavily landscaped.  You might be shocked to learn that Lost Lagoon is not a natural lagoon!

Yep, the fountain in Lost Lagoon has been there for absolute ages, like since 1936! (Vancouver City Archives)

Yep, the fountain in Lost Lagoon has been there for absolute ages, like since 1936! (Vancouver City Archives)

Still, Stanley Park is a rather nice place- and this weekend it will  be the site of a rather large, free party!  A fête that might even rival Stanley Park’s Be-in’s of the 1960s.  People might even be wearing all their clothes this time- at least naked romping doesn’t seem to be on the schedule.


Naked! (Vancouver City Archives)


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