Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Vancouver, 1867

January 12, 2017

Now that Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations have kicked off, I am sure you are wondering: what was going on in Vancouver in 1867?

The short answer: not much. But something.

By 1867, Burrard Inlet had been occupied by a variety of indigenous peoples (Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish) for millennia. It was, in the words of historical geographer Cole Harris, a “native place.” In what is now Stanley Park, for instance, the village site of Whoi Whoi (Lumberman’s Arch) had been used for thousands of years, as had the Musqueam village near the mouth of the Fraser River in what is now Dunbar. But the settlement itself was hardly more than a small clearing in the forest, surrounding a sawmill that had been established by Captain Edward Stamp two years earlier.

That said, 1867 does mark an important milestone for Vancouver: the arrival on stage of Gassy Jack. In September of that year Jack Deighton and his Squamish wife Whahalia washed up on the waterfront in a canoe piled high with household items, a dog, two chickens and, most importantly, a barrel of whiskey. Jack’s plan was to open a saloon catering to the thirsty sawmill workers. The result was the Globe Saloon, not much more than a shack really, with a bar consisting of a plank laid across two barrels. But before too long a cluster of other homes and businesses had grown up around Deighton’s establishment. (They called him Gassy Jack because he was never at a loss for an opinion and always had a long-winded way of expressing it.) The result was Gastown, which evolved into the townsite of Granville, which in 1886 became the City of Vancouver.

So one way of looking at it is that Canada’s sesquicentennial is also the sesquicentennial of the origins of the City of Vancouver.

January 8, 2017


I have used this photograph (Glenbow Archives ND6742) several times over the years in different history textbooks I have written to illustrate the destitution in Western Canada during the Dirty Thirties. It shows the Fehrs, a Mennonite family from the Saskatoon area, stranded in Edmonton in June 1934. It is a heart-breaking image depicting...

January 6, 2017

Tilikum, the most infamous orca in the world, has died.

In 2010 Tilikum was participating in a whale show at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, when he pulled a trainer, Dawn Brancheau, into the tank and held her under the water until she drowned. That incident was highlighted in the documentary film Blackfish which alleged...

January 4, 2017


New Year's Day, the beach at Duck Bay on Savary Island, B.C. 

It is just gone noon and no one else is about. The footprints belong to the members of our small party; the rising tide will soon wash them away. The mountain ranges of Vancouver Island are visible in the distance.

December 28, 2016


The annual Boxing Day walk this year was abbreviated due to the weather here in Vancouver. This is Spanish Banks at approximately 11 a.m. We began with good intentions but ended with frozen extremities. (No jokes about wimpy Vancouverites, please.) Since the fish and chip stand in the distance was closed, we sought warm beverages elsewhere. At least we tried.

Happy New Year to all!

December 20, 2016