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Evolving cities


Incorporated: 1886
Urban Area: 115 sq km
Metrol Area: 2,878 sq km
Population 2006 (Metro): 2,116,581
Rank by population: 3

The city of Vancouver is renowned for its incomparable natural beauty and cultural diversity. For thousands of years the Coast Salish people have called the area now known as Vancouver home. Their history and cultural traditions, upholding a deep respect for nature and humanity, are tightly woven into the city's cultural fabric.

When, in 1792, Captain George Vancouver explored the Burrard Inlet, today the shores of the city, he wrote of the area's “innumerable pleasing landscapes.” But it was the discovery of gold that drew substantial European settlements to the region.

In 1827 the Hudson’s Bay Company set up a trading post on the Fraser River, east of present-day Vancouver. By 1858 the gold rush on the Fraser River brought thousands of prospectors to the area. The influx of pioneers would continue.

Perhaps the city’s best known pioneer is Vancouver legend “Gassy Jack” Deighton. He established the area’s first saloon in 1867 on the south shore of the Burrard Inlet; the area became known as Gastown. Nearby, legendary Stanley Park was officially opened in 1888, named for Lord Stanley, former Governor General of Canada.

Prior to the opening of the Canadian Pacific Railway to Vancouver in 1887, the economy of British Columbia was dependent on maritime linkages, via the south coast, for the export of staple commodities (coal, gold, fish, fur, and lumber). On the mainland the Cariboo road served as the axis of economic activity for placer mining and ranching.

In 1891 the geographic pattern of staples extraction had changed relatively little but coal, lumber, and fish had assumed greater importance. Overseas markets still predominated. The railway constituted a new axis of development on the mainland but, as yet, the effective transportation corridor remained narrow; the lack of branch lines left much of the southern interior poorly integrated, hampering resource development, especially lode mining. Victoria, the provincial capital, remained the largest city but the emergence of Vancouver at the intersection of the rail and ocean transport systems signaled a new importance for the Lower Mainland as a processing and transportation centre.

Vancouver rapidly surpassed the old river town of New Westminster as the focus of urbanization in the Lower Mainland. By 1928 a streetcar system (BCER) serviced fishing-, agricultural-, and forestry-based communities from Steveston to Chilliwack; 48.8% of the provincial population lived in the area, 35.5% (246,593) in Vancouver.


This piece describes the history of Vancouver as a city, and features a map and scrollable timeline from 1896 to 2009. Users can also choose to learn about the population growth of the city, and peruse the image gallery.


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