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Though Vancouver today has all the trappings of a sexy, showy, metrosexual metropolis, it began life as a hardscrabble pioneer town.

Victoria, on the other hand, has never shaken its colonial air and, in fact, embraces and celebrates it. The Victoria you see today retains much of its historic character and charm.

A Short history of First Nations

When Captain Vancouver arrived in English Bay in 1792, he entered the traditional territories of the Skwxwú7mesh, Xwméthkwyiem, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples of the Coast Salish language group. Their villages dotted the land that we now recognize as Vancouver's Stanley Park, False Creek, the Burrard Inlet, West Vancouver, and Point Grey. Exactly where each tribe lived, when Captain Vancouver arrived, and how many members each had are matters of some controversy, but evidence suggests that the coastal areas around Vancouver and Victoria had about 10,000 native residents and had been settled for some 10,000 years.

Pre-contact, First Nations society was divided into a nobility of chief families, commoners, and slaves (mostly war captives taken during raids). Living in the rainforest, all of these coastal peoples developed an extremely rich and complex culture, using cedar as their primary building material and, for food, harvesting marine resources such as herring, shellfish, and especially salmon. The richness of the local environment allowed these peoples ample surplus; their spare time was devoted to the creation of stories and art. Now undergoing a revival, coastal art, whether in wood, glass, or precious metals, usually depicts stylized figures from native mythology, including such universal figures as the Raven or tribal totems such as the Bear, Frog, or Killer Whale.

The central ceremony of the coastal First Nations was and is the potlatch, a gathering of tribes held to mark a significant event such as the raising of a totem pole or the coming-of-age of a son or daughter. Invited tribes sing and dance traditional songs, while the host, both to thank his guests and to demonstrate his wealth, gives away presents.

In the years after contact, the coastal First Nations were decimated by disease. It's estimated that of some 10,000 people living along the coastal waterways, all but 600 of them were killed by smallpox carried by white settlers. The loss of traditional fishing rights, the repression of traditional rituals such as the potlatch, and the forced assimilation into English-Canadian culture all had a major impact on First Nations life and culture. In the decades after World War II, an entire generation of native children was forced into residential schools, where speaking native languages and learning native stories were forbidden. (In 2008, the Canadian government issued a formal apology to all Canadian First Nations tribes and established a fund to pay for past abuses in the residential schools.) The 1970s saw the first steps toward a long and slow recovery. The term "First Nations" came into common usage in the '70s, replacing the word "Indian," which some regarded as derogatory. There is no legal definition of "First Nations," but the term "First Nations peoples" generally refers to all the indigenous peoples in Canada. Though still beset by problems, the First Nations communities are on their way back to becoming a powerful and important force on the BC coast.

European Claims

In 1791, José María Narváez of Spain became the first European to explore the coastline of present-day Vancouver (Point Grey). The following year, 1792, an English sea captain named George Vancouver explored the inner harbor of Burrard Inlet, giving various places British names. The explorer and fur trader Simon Fraser and his crew, working for the North West Company, were the first Europeans known to have set foot on the site of present-day Vancouver. In 1808, they descended the Fraser River perhaps as far as Point Grey, near where the University of British Columbia stands today. The entire region, including present-day Victoria, came under British rule in the mid–19th century, when the Strait of Juan de Fuca became one of the new dividing lines between the U.S. and Canada.

Gold Rush & Boomtown

Though trappers and traders with the Hudson Bay Company had been active in the area since the 1820s (building forts in Victoria and Fort Langley near Vancouver), Vancouver really began its life as a boomtown during the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush of 1861, when 25,000 men, mostly from California, traveled to the mouth of the Fraser River and began prospecting for gold. The first European settlement was established in 1862, just east of the ancient village of Musqueam in what is now Marpole. Vancouver (and Victoria) boomed again during the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush, except this time, the cities served as profitable trading posts where merchants sold equipment and provisions to gold-hungry prospectors on their way north.

Vancouver's first sawmill was established on the north shore of Burrard Inlet in 1863 and was quickly followed by mills on the south shore. Hastings Mill, near the foot of Gore Street, formed the nucleus of nascent Vancouver, though the mill's central role in the city waned after the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The settlement of Gastown -- the oldest section of Vancouver still standing today -- grew up around a makeshift tavern established by "Gassy Jack" Deighton in 1867 on the edge of Hastings Mill. The British colonial government surveyed the settlement in 1870 and laid out a town site, renaming it "Granville," in honor of Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Disneyland in the process.

East Meets West: The Canadian Pacific Railway

Big changes were in store for the newly named settlement of Granville, for it was soon selected to be the terminus for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), dashing the hopes of Victoria, which had also vied to be the railhead. The building of the railway was among the preconditions for British Columbia joining the Confederation in 1871. It was an enormous task, but finally, in 1886, the railway moved in and set up shop. A new era and a new name arrived with the railroad: The name Granville was scrapped, and the city was rechristened Vancouver. Just 4 years after the railway arrived, Vancouver's population grew from 400 to 13,000.

From 1886 to 1986: One Helluva Century

The year 1886 looms large in Vancouver's history. In that 1 year, the city incorporated, the first transcontinental Canadian Pacific train arrived, and a massive fire broke out and razed the entire city. Not surprisingly, 1886 was also the year the Vancouver Fire Department was established. The city quickly rebuilt and, thanks to the railroad and burgeoning port, grew even faster. Vancouver was now poised to become the key land and sea port for the natural bounty of British Columbia and the rest of Canada. Industry became the driving force behind Vancouver's phenomenal growth over the next century.

By 1901, the Steveston canneries were shipping out a record 7.3 million kg (16 million lb.) of salmon. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 proved enormously beneficial to Vancouver by shortening ocean journeys between British Columbia and Europe, and spurring the port's continued growth in grain exports.

By 1923, Vancouver had become the third-largest city in Canada. Though the city struggled through the 1930s, World War II pulled Vancouver out of the Great Depression as shipyards began to build warships and minesweepers. But the war also fueled anti-Japanese sentiment, and in 1942, following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Canadians were herded into holding areas at Hastings Park and removed to government camps in the Interior.

The turbulent 1960s was marked by anti-war protests, peace rallies, marches, and the appearance of hippies, who made Vancouver's West 4th Avenue (Kitsilano) their neighborhood. About the same time, the environmental activist group Greenpeace was formed in a Dunbar-neighborhood living room.

The city's infrastructure was expanded in the 1970s with a new shipping-container facility and coal port that dramatically increased Canada's economic links to the Pacific Rim. At the same time, Granville Island was converted from an industrial island into the big public market and retail/restaurant sector that continues to be popular today. Its transformation is widely considered one of the most successful inner city developments in North America.

The whirlwind century ended with two milestones demonstrating just how far Vancouver had come from its humble frontier-town beginnings. Expo '86 (the last world's fair to be held in North America) coincided with Vancouver's 100th anniversary and drew more than 21 million visitors. By the end of the 1980s, the Port of Vancouver was handling more imports/exports than any other port in North America.

The last big world-draw event to take place in Vancouver (and nearby Whistler and Cypress Mountain) was the 2010 Winter Games and Paralympic Games, held in February of that year.

Victoria's Secret -- Founded in 1843, during Queen Victoria's reign, Victoria became the capital of British Columbia in 1866 when Vancouver Island united with the mainland -- which is why a statue of the unamused monarch stands in front of the Provincial Legislature Buildings (still called "Parliament" by some). With colony-hood (and a big gold rush) came colonists, lots of them English and Scots, who imported British customs and brought a kind of domesticating old-world sensibility to their wild, new-world home. (They assumed they were bringing civilization, but that certainly wasn't how the First Nations tribes that had been in the area for at least 10,000 years saw it.) British patriotism and customs might have faded away altogether except that, in the 1920s, Victoria's population began to drop as business shifted over to Vancouver. Local merchants panicked. And it was then that San Francisco–born George Warren of the Victoria Publicity Bureau put forward his proposal: Sell the Olde England angle. Warren had never been to England and had no idea what it looked like, but to him, Victoria looked "English." Warren's scheme clicked big-time with the city's merchants and boosters, and for three-plus generations, it served the city well. While Vancouver was leveling its "old" downtown in the name of urban renewal, Victoria nurtured and preserved its heritage buildings, adding gardens and city parks. Eventually, it possessed that rarest of commodities for a North American city -- a lively, walkable, historic city center. True, the "let's pretend we're in England" mindset meant ignoring certain details. Whales sometimes swam into the Inner Harbour; snowcapped mountain peaks loomed just across the water from Ross Bay; and trees in the surrounding forests towered far higher than Big Ben. So be it. It worked, and Victoria didn't turn into

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