History

Archaeological records indicate that the presence of Aboriginal people in the Vancouver area dates back 4,500–9,000 years. The city is located in the traditional territories of Skwxwú7mesh, Xwméthkwyiem, and Tseil-waututh peoples of the Coast Salish group. They had villages in parts of present-day Vancouver, such as Stanley Park, False Creek, and along Burrard Inlet. Some of these still exist in North Vancouver, West Vancouver, and near Point Grey.

The first European to explore the coastline of present-day Point Grey and part of Burrard Inlet was José María Narváez of Spain, in 1791, although Samuel Bawlf contends that Francis Drake may have visited the area in 1579. George Vancouver explored the inner harbour of Burrard Inlet in 1792 and gave various places British names.

The explorer and North West Company trader Simon Fraser and his crew were the first Europeans known to have set foot on the site of the present-day city. In 1808, they traveled from the east, down the Fraser River perhaps as far as Point Grey, near the University of British Columbia.

The Fraser Gold Rush of 1858 brought 25,000 men, mainly from California, to the mouth of the Fraser River and what would become Vancouver. The first European settlement was established in 1862 at McLeery's Farm on the Fraser River, just east of the ancient village of Musqueam in what is now Marpole. A sawmill established at Moodyville (now the City of North Vancouver) in 1863 began the city's long relationship with lumbering. It was quickly followed by mills owned by Captain Edward Stamp on the south shore of the inlet. Stamp, who had begun lumbering in the Port Alberni area, first attempted to run a mill at Brockton Point, but difficult currents and reefs forced the relocation of the operation to a point near the foot of Gore Street, known as Hastings Mill. This became the nucleus around which Vancouver formed. The mill's central role in the city waned after the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in the 1880s. It nevertheless remained important to the local economy until it closed in the 1920s.

Vancouver is among British Columbia's youngest cities. The settlement of Gastown grew up quickly around the original makeshift tavern established by “Gassy” Jack Deighton in 1867 on the edge of the Hastings Mill property. In 1870, the colonial government surveyed the settlement and laid out a townsite, renamed “Granville,” in honour of the then-British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Granville. This site, with its natural harbour, was eventually selected as the terminus for the Canadian Pacific Railway to the disappointment of Port Moody, New Westminster and Victoria, all of which had vied to be the railhead. The building of the railway was among the promises made for British Columbia joining Confederation in 1871, but due to the Pacific Scandal and arguments over the use of Chinese labour delayed construction until the 1880s.

The City of Vancouver was incorporated on 6 April 1886, the same year that the first transcontinental train arrived. The name, honouring George Vancouver, was chosen by CPR president William Van Horne, who arrived in Port Moody to establish the CPR terminus recommended by Henry John Cambie. A massive "slash burn" (clearing fire) broke out of control on 13 June 1886, razing the entire city. It was quickly rebuilt, and the Vancouver Fire Department was established that same year. From a settlement of 1,000 people in 1881, Vancouver's population grew to over 20,000 by the turn of the century and 100,000 by 1911.

During the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush, Vancouver merchants sold a great deal of equipment to prospectors. One of those merchants, Charles Woodward, had opened the first Woodward's store at what is now Georgia and Main Streets in 1892 and, along with Spencer's and the Hudson's Bay Company department stores, formed the dominant core of the city's retail sector for decades.

The economy of early Vancouver was dominated by large companies such as the CPR, which had the capital needed for the rapid development of the new city. Some manufacturing did develop, but the resource sector was the backbone of Vancouver's economy, initially with logging, and later with exports moved through the seaport, where commercial traffic constituted the largest economic sector in Vancouver by the 1930s.

The dominance of the economy by big business was accompanied by an often militant labour movement. The first major sympathy strike was in 1903 when railway employees struck against the CPR for union recognition. Labour leader Frank Rogers was killed while picketing at the docks by CPR police during that strike, becoming the British Columbia movement's first martyr. Canada's first general strike occurred following the death of another labour leader, Ginger Goodwin, in 1918, at the Cumberland coal mines on Vancouver Island. A lull in industrial tensions through the later 1920s came to an abrupt end with the Great Depression. Most of the 1930s strikes were led by Communist Party organizers. That strike wave peaked in 1935 when unemployed men flooded the city to protest conditions in the relief camps run by the military in remote areas throughout the province. After two tense months of daily and disruptive protesting, the relief camp strikers decided to take their grievances to the federal government and embarked on the On-to-Ottawa Trek, but their commandeered train was met by a gatling gun at Hatzic, just east of Mission City, and the strikers arrested and interned in work camps for the duration of the Depression.

Other social movements, such as the first-wave feminist, moral reform, and temperance movements were also influential in Vancouver's development. Mary Ellen Smith, a Vancouver suffragist and prohibitionist, became the first woman elected to a provincial legislature in Canada in 1918. Alcohol prohibition began in the First World War and lasted until 1921, when the provincial government established its control over alcohol sales, which still persists today. Canada's first drug law came about following an inquiry conducted by the federal Minister of Labour and future Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. King was sent to investigate damages claims resulting from a riot when the Asiatic Exclusion League led a rampage through Chinatown and Japantown. Two of the claimants were opium manufacturers, and after further investigation, King found that white women were reportedly frequenting opium dens as well as Chinese men. A federal law banning the manufacture, sale, and importation of opium for non-medicinal purposes was soon passed based on these revelations.

Amalgamation with Point Grey and South Vancouver gave the city its final contours not long before taking its place as the third largest metropolis in the country. As of 1 January 1929, the population of the enlarged Vancouver was 228,193 and it filled the entire peninsula between the Burrard Inlet and the Fraser River.

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