Although a relatively young city at 125 years old, the coast and area around Vancouver has been a place for meeting, trade and a settlement for thousands of years. The forests teaming with wildlife, beaches with ample supply of seafood and the river that every six months ran with nutritious salmon provided an ideal place for the peoples arriving from Asia. The next wave of visitors were the Spanish as they explored the west coast of North America during the 17th and 18th century. The city’s namesake, Captain George Vancouver, a Royal Navy officer, first sailed through the narrows into Burrard inlet on 13th of June, 1792 naming it after his friend Sir Harry Burrard. The Fraser River, at the mouth of which Vancouver lies is named after the explorer and fur trader Simon Fraser who was looking for an overland route from Eastern Canada.
Hudson’s Bay Company built a trading post on the Fraser River in 1827 named Fort Langley after a company director. In 1832 Fort Langley shipped out over 2,000 beaver pelts with many of the local Kwantlen people having left their winter villages to take up fur trading around the fort. By 1840 the fort had become the largest exporter of salted salmon on the Pacific Coast . Later it was farming which became the major industry around the fort area. In 1858 there were rumours of gold on the Fraser River and within weeks over 25,000 gold rush prospectors had flooded in from over the border.
Vancouver did not become a European settlement until 1862 when the city grew rapidly following the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway along with rumours of gold. With some of the largest trees in the world growing along the coast lumbering became Vancouver’s main industry with timber being used for the masts of sailing ships and a special consignment for the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing.
The area we were staying in is called Gastown, the original town site of Vancouver. A river pilot, John Deighton opened a saloon primarily for the forestry workers in 1867. Due to his verbose nature he was nicknamed ‘Gassy Jack. The saloon became so popular that a community built up around the place and was known as Gassy’s Town and soon shortened to Gastown. Today, as one of the oldest parts of the city much of the original architecture remains giving it a different character from the glass and concrete modern buildings of the rest of Downtown.
Vancouver today has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the world attracted by the quality of life in the city which has been voted one of the very best places in the world to live. They bring with them their cuisines, artwork, heritage and beliefs which have influenced Vancouver culture over the past 125 years. There are five cultures in particular that have had a particular influence on the city: Japanese, Chinese, First Nations, Indian and Italian. Chinatown is still a thriving community and is the third largest in North America.
Armed with copies of Frommer’s walking guides, a map and my trusty Tom Tom I set off to explore the many faces of this unusual city. From Chinatown with it’s distinctive shops, gate and faces to Gastown with it’s myriad of restaurants and bars as well as modern and original architecture stretching from the Waterfront . Then on to Downtown with it’s five star hotels, shops and business sections (and many homeless who are keen to act as guides for a few dollars) to the West End with a mix of Edwardian and more modern buildings, tree lined streets and hidden gardens stretching to the beaches looking out towards Vancouver Island and the narrows. I know I have only scraped the surface but do feel as if I have a greater understanding of why this city is so special.