Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Vancouver, 1867

Jan 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.