A Short Overview of Vancouver's History and its Great Fire

New comers to Vancouver in 1886 mostly arrived by ship becuase that was the easiest way to get to the City. The newly built city was a sleepy collection of several hundred wooden buildings and dirt roads, but the prospects of a transcontinental railroad coming to town in a  year's time gave bright hope for the future. It was populated by a boisterous, mostly male population, who were mainly employed cutting down huge trees. 

Joan Seidl, Director of Collections at the Vancouver Museum, says the young men spent their free time drinking in nearby bars. People were pining for home and drowning their sorrows. The amount of broken liquor bottles turned up during Gastown excavations is phenomenal, says Seidl.

The people who came had a sense of adventure. Vancouver had a reputation as a beautiful place but it didn't take long for the first calamity to hit. Logging debris was being burned to clear a large tract of land. Vancouver was an incredible rainforest. Sparks thrown by a freak squail torched the vulnerable buildings on June 3, 1886. Less than an hour later, the city was in blazing ruins and a couple of dozen people were dead.

Amid the conflagration, a strange story emerged about the importance one man placed on saving the city's files. Perhaps acting with more haste than good sense, surveyor and city alderman Lauchlan Hamilton rushed into a burning building, breathing air as hot as cinders and emerged with blackened papers documenting council decisions. (Hamilton Street is named after him).

Those charred, hand-written volumes are still held in a climate-controlled invironment at the City of Vancouver Archives, located in Vanier Park.

Hamilton rescued the earliest city records, says city archivist Les Mobbs.

As Vancouver's 13,000 residents picked up after the fire, it proved to be a minor setback. Buildings were rebuilt with bricks and the iron railway arrived in 1887, connecting British North American colonies with ocean-going ships bound for the East.

In the process, a new Canadian pathway to the world was created. In the coming decades the city's indigenous inabitants were summarily displaced and waves of immigrants changed its ethnic makeup forever. During two world wars patriotic fever gave way to profound grief as casualities mounted, while indistry grew apace and employment surged.

There was almost always housing shortages and real estate speculators.

In the 1970s Vancouver gave birth to a protest group named Greenpeace.

Vancouver turned 125 in 2011.

The city is seen as a safe harbour for real estate and if the city's population doubles, where and how will people be housed?

Buying or selling Vancouver real estate? Put Maggie Chandler's hyper-local experience to work for you! Call 604-328-0077

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