Vancouver, BC, incorporated as a city in 1886, population 603 502 (2011c), 578 041 (2006c). Vancouver is the largest city in British Columbia and the third largest CENSUS METROPOLITAN AREA in Canada. The City of Vancouver lies on a peninsula in the southwest corner of the province's mainland. The surrounding waterways - Burrard Inlet, the Strait of GEORGIA and the FRASER RIVER - provide an excellent sheltered deep-sea port, convenient access to the Pacific Ocean and an easy route to the rich agricultural lands of the FRASER RIVER LOWLAND and the interior.


Archaeological evidence indicates that coastal peoples settled at Locarno Beach by 500 BC and at Marpole about 400 BC. The English sailor Captain George VANCOUVER and the Spaniards Dionisio Alcalá-Galiano and Cayetano Valdés met off Point Grey in 1792 (see SUTIL AND MEXICANA).

The first settlement in the region was FORT LANGLEY in 1827 and the first urban centre was NEW WESTMINSTER in 1859. In the 1860s, 3 English entrepreneurs pre-empted land in the area and built an unsuccessful brickyard. In the 1870s several New Westminster entrepreneurs established logging camps, sawmills and 3 small settlements on the shores of Burrard Inlet.


Vancouver got its start when Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) vice-president William VAN HORNE announced that the company would extend its line 20 km westward from the statutory terminus, Port Moody, in order to take advantage of a better harbour and terminal site. The provincial government gave the CPR more than 2500 ha of crown land at the new terminus and private owners donated land. On 6 April 1886 the provincial legislature incorporated the city of Vancouver, a name that Van Horne had suggested in honour of the English explorer. Ratepayers elected Malcolm A. MacLean, a real-estate dealer, as the first mayor.

Then, on June 13, a clearing fire blew out of control, claimed at least 11 lives, destroyed ramshackle buildings and drew invaluable publicity when residents rebuilt immediately. The CPR, the largest single landowner, recognizing the value of orderly growth, did not "boom" its land. Private real-estate developers (eg, David Oppenheimer, mayor 1888-91) advertised the city and, through cash bonuses and tax concessions, attracted industries such as BC Sugar Refinery.

The continent-wide depression of the mid-1890s temporarily checked growth, but during the 1897-98 KLONDIKE GOLD RUSH excitement and prosperity returned to Vancouver. By the turn of the century it had displaced VICTORIA, the provincial capital, as the leading commercial centre on Canada's west coast, not only in its own right, but also as the site of Pacific coast branches of eastern Canadian businesses.

The prewar economic boom expanded markets for such BC products as fish, minerals and lumber. Most lumber was sold on the prairies. The beginning of a worldwide economic depression in 1913 and of war in 1914 severely reduced trade, retarded railway development and, coupled with declining resources, ended much of the mining boom in the Kootenay and Boundary districts.

During the 1920s growth resumed and Vancouver replaced WINNIPEG as the leading city in western Canada. The export grain trade held up remarkably well during the GREAT DEPRESSION of the 1930s, but the city suffered extensive unemployment, especially since the unemployed of western Canada regarded Vancouver, with its mild climate, as a "mecca." Unrest among the unemployed caused several incidents, including the reading of the Riot Act by Mayor G.G. (Gerry) MCGEER in 1935 (see also ON TO OTTAWA TREK). The outbreak of World War II and the development of war industries, particularly shipbuilding, ended unemployment but sharply reduced the grain trade. Trade grew once shipping became available again after the war, especially after Canada began selling large quantities of wheat to China in 1961.

Vancouver also expanded its role as the head office centre for such provincial corporations as BC Forest Products, Cominco (since 2001, Teck Cominco) and MACMILLAN BLOEDEL; a variety of smaller firms; the major provincial labour unions; and the regional offices for national enterprises such as the chartered banks. Vancouver was in the spotlight when it hosted EXPO 86, an international exposition devoted to transportation. The show was opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales and had over 20 million visitors. It is credited with having been a catalyst for change. Several luxury hotels, Canada Place and the geodesic dome housing Science World are among its legacies.

Despite declines in the forest industry and the disappearance of major firms such as MacMillan Bloedel and BC Forest Products, the city remains a regional business and financial centre.


Vancouver was the child of the CPR. The railway linked the city with the rest of Canada and quickly made it Canada's leading Pacific coast port, a position it has retained. Almost from the city's beginning, trans-Pacific ships, including the Canadian Pacific's Empress liners, called regularly; coastal steamship companies, including CP Navigation and Union Steamships, made Vancouver their headquarters; and eastern businesses established their Pacific coast branches in Vancouver.

Inland trade developed slowly. Vancouver wholesalers complained that the lack of direct rail connections and discriminatory freight rates put them at a disadvantage relative to CALGARY and Winnipeg in securing the trade of BC's interior. In response, the provincial government offered aid to new railways, including the Pacific Great Eastern and the Canadian Northern Pacific.

After World War I, cheap ocean transport through the Panama Canal opened new markets for BC lumber on the American east coast and made Europe more accessible. The province's successful campaign for freight-rate reduction enabled Vancouver to become a grain-exporting port. The port itself expanded greatly and came under the jurisdiction of a federal agency, the National Harbours Board, in 1936.

By 1963 Vancouver ranked first among Canadian ports in tonnage, a position it still retains. Grain continues to be a major export and demand around the Pacific Rim for other western Canadian products, notably lumber, potash and coal, has led to the construction of specialized port facilities and the extension of the port as far east as Port Moody and south to the Roberts Bank coal (1970) and container (1997) terminals. In 2008, the separate port authorities governing Vancouver, the Fraser River and the North Fraser were combined to form Port Metro Vancouver, one of the city's largest employers.

Because of the importance of the Pacific Rim, CP Air (later Canadian Airlines International or CAIL) established its headquarters in the city in 1949 and, along with other international and domestic carriers, used the Vancouver International Airport, which the federal government expanded significantly after buying it from the city in 1961. When CAIL went out of business in 2000, Air Canada took over its trans-Pacific routes. A number of other international airlines also serve Vancouver.

In 1992 the federal government transferred control of the airport to the Vancouver International Airport Authority, which, using the brand "YVR," has built major new runways, opened a new international terminal (1996) and expanded the domestic terminal. Flights to the Asia Pacific account for about 14% of the passenger traffic; the introduction of the "open skies" policy greatly expanded the number of direct flights to the United States, the most popular international destination.

Vancouver has long had public transportation to its suburbs. An interurban line to New Westminster (1891) and CHILLIWACK (1910) was one of the first electric railways in Canada (see STREET RAILWAYS). By the 1950s, as buses and private automobiles became more popular, passenger service was abandoned, but much of the line still carries freight. In 1986, the city again got mass transit when the SkyTrain, an elevated railway (except in the downtown, where it is underground) cut across much of the city, BURNABY, and New Westminster. In 1994 it was extended to serve the growing suburb of SURREY and in 2009, the new Canada Line linked downtown with the airport and the suburb of Richmond.


Vancouver today is a post-industrial city. Wholesaling and distribution continue to be important, but the city has welcomed new or expanded industries such as management, financial, legal and engineering services, telecommunications, marine technology and film. The Vancouver Stock Exchange (1907) financed BC and Alberta developments, especially of the more speculative kind. In 1999 it merged with other exchanges to become part of the Canadian Venture Exchange. Tourism and conventions also contribute substantially to the city's economy as visitors come to enjoy the city's beauty and amenities or to use it as a transfer point to nearby destinations such as the resort at WHISTLER. Metro Vancouver and Whistler are co-hosts of the 2010 WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES.


The backdrop of mountains, the proximity of the sea and the presence within the city limits of such wilderness areas as Stanley Park long lulled Vancouver residents into a feeling that none of their doings could seriously impair the city's natural beauty. The original surveyors, many of them CPR employees, showed little imagination as they generally laid out streets according to a grid pattern that made few allowances for such natural features as steep slopes.

Apart from establishing fire limits and attempting to keep noisome industries on the outskirts, the city made few efforts to direct land-use until the late 1920s, when it commissioned the American firm Harland Bartholomew and Associates to draw up a town plan. The city adopted some of its suggestions, such as a comprehensive zoning regulation, but did not really enforce these rules until after World War II. Nevertheless, clear land-use patterns emerged. More affluent residents, for example, have always tended to live west of Cambie Street, where developers subdivided land into large lots; the less affluent lived to the east, where lots had sometimes as little as 7.5 m frontages. A real estate boom that began in the early 1990s really took off about 2001. The result is some of the highest residential home prices in Canada, even on the traditionally less fashionable east side.

Since the 1960s the city's older core has undergone a considerable transformation. City planners studied land-use proposals; civic politicians debated and redesigned some of them; and private developers financed much of the new building. Downtown, a forest of 20- to 40-storey office and hotel towers, including the Bentall, Royal, Pacific and Vancouver centres, has replaced the 2- and 3-storey retail blocks of pre-World War I vintage.

Architecturally, among the most interesting newer buildings are the Provincial Court House, the Robson Square Conference Centre and Canada Place. As a landmark, Canada Place includes the 500-room Pan Pacific Hotel (1983-86), built for Expo 86, now a trade and convention facility and cruise ship terminal. The city has become a popular terminus for cruise ships going to Alaska.

A dramatic indication of the city's post-industrial status is False Creek, off English Bay. From the city's earliest days this area, with its easy access to trackage and water transport, was the site of rail yards, sawmills, machine shops and related industries. Indeed, Vancouver was unique among North American cities of comparable size for the importance of first-stage resource processing in its economy. By the 1950s, changing technology in the lumber industry and the obsolescence of old plants turned False Creek into a decaying industrial centre. After much study and controversy, the city decided in 1976 that townhouses and apartments should be built on the north side of False Creek. Industry has disappeared from the area.

Nearby Granville Island - created as an industrial site in 1915 when the eastern part of False Creek was filled to provide land for the terminus and yards of the Canadian Northern Railway (now CN) and the Great Northern Railway (now Burlington Northern) - has become home to a public market, the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, theatres and restaurants. On the north side of the creek, on land formerly occupied by the CPR yards, the provincial government opened a 60 000-seat sports stadium in 1983, the first stage in the BC Place development. The main occupant of the former site of Expo 86 is Concord Pacific Place, a complex of office towers, recreational space and high-rise luxury apartment buildings. When completed, it is expected to have about 8500 residential units.

While the downtown and False Creek were almost completely redeveloped, the city's oldest residential neighbourhood, east-end Strathcona, has been largely rehabilitated. Traditionally a working-class neighbourhood, it is home to many ethnic groups, of whom the most important are the CHINESE. In the late 1950s the city began demolishing some of the poorest dwellings and replacing them with public housing projects. After a successful protest against a proposed freeway, local residents persuaded the senior governments to provide funds to rehabilitate existing facilities rather than undertaking further renewal projects. Despite some efforts towards rehabilitation, notably the redevelopment of the old site of the Woodward's department store into a mixed residential and commercial complex, parts of the nearby Downtown Eastside are noted for problems relating to homelessness.

In the West End, private developers, encouraged by new zoning regulations, began in the 1960s to build high-rise apartment blocks in place of the apartment and rooming houses that had been carved out of the large homes of the city's early well-to-do residents. By 1971 the West End was noted for the density of its population. Paradoxically, Vancouver had once prided itself as a city of owner-occupied, single-family detached homes. Most homes (and this is still true of most neighbourhoods outside the West End) were of wood-frame construction, often influenced by California architectural styles (see also HOUSE).


Vancouver's most significant growth spurts occurred during its first 5 years and in the decade before World War I, resulting primarily from immigration from the British Isles and migration from Ontario. The expansion of the 1920s, which saw Vancouver attain its status as the third-largest metropolitan area in Canada, is explained by the annexation of the adjacent bedroom municipalities of Point Grey and South Vancouver in 1929, natural increase, renewed immigration from Britain and the beginning of significant migration from the prairies.

After a brief wartime and postwar spurt, the rate of population growth tapered off. The 1976 census recorded an absolute decline in the city proper, while the population of Greater Vancouver passed the one million mark for the first time. According to the 2006 census, the population in the metropolitan area is past the 2 million mark. The city proper has also experienced growth but in 2006 its population was only 578 041. High real estate values in the city lead young families to live in suburban municipalities, especially Burnaby, COQUITLAM, DELTA, the city and district of NORTH VANCOUVER, RICHMOND and Surrey.

From 1901 (the first year for which statistics are available) to 1951, people of British ethnic origin - many of them Canadian born - formed three-quarters of the population and dominated the elite.

Until after World War II, the largest and least accepted ethnic group was the Asians, mainly Chinese and JAPANESE CANADIANS. An anti-Chinese riot in 1887, an anti-Asian riot in 1907, the tension surrounding the KOMAGATA MARU incident of 1914, and the 1942 decision of the federal government to remove all Japanese (including about 8600 city residents) from the coast demonstrated the hostility that Vancouver residents, like other British Columbians, felt towards Asians.

After World War II, the easing of immigration restrictions and the attractiveness of a booming economy drew new immigrants who made Vancouver more cosmopolitan. By 1979 the school board reported that nearly 40% of the children in elementary school did not speak English as a first language. About 30% of today's metro population speaks a language other than English in their homes with Cantonese, Mandarin, other Chinese dialects and Punjabi being the most prominent. Some of the Chinese are immigrant investors. Chinatown survives but its merchants must compete with suburban shopping malls, especially in Richmond, which also cater to the Chinese trade. Chinese reside throughout the city and participate fully in its life. Those Japanese who returned to the coast have blended into the city. Immigrants of South Asian ethnic origin have experienced a mixed reception but are active in politics and government.

Government and Politics

Vancouver is unique among BC municipalities in having its own charter, but it remains very much a creature of the provincial legislature, which must approve every charter amendment. Until 1935 the city was governed by a mayor and aldermen chosen from various wards. When the province abolished the ward system, only the aldermen seriously objected.

Taking advantage of the at-large system, the CO-OPERATIVE COMMONWEALTH FEDERATION in 1936 ran a slate of aldermanic candidates and elected 3. The existence of party politics at city hall was confirmed in 1937 with the formation of the Non-Partisan Association (NPA), a loose amalgam of Conservatives and Liberals. The NPA was long dominant in civic politics. Its dominance was challenged in 1972 by The Electors Action Movement (TEAM) and more recently by several left-wing groups, of which the most important is the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) whose candidate Larry Campbell became mayor in 2002 with 8 of the 10 councillors elected also representing that party. The NPA returned to power in 2005 but in 2008, the relatively new Vision Vancouver won the mayoralty election and 7 of the 10 council seats.

Vancouver's first experience with METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT occurred in 1913 with the formation of the Vancouver and District Joint Sewerage and Drainage Board. Metropolitan agencies concerned with water, public health and regional planning appeared later. The growth of suburban municipalities encouraged the provincial government to create an elected body, the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD). Since 1967, the GVRD, which comprises Vancouver and 21 suburban municipalities, the Tsawwassen First Nation and some unincorporated areas, has taken over most functions of the earlier agencies and added such responsibilities as capital finance, building regulations, housing and air pollution control. In 2007, its name was changed to Metro Vancouver.


Vancouver is the centre for an active publishing industry. Douglas & McIntyre (established 1971) is Canada's largest trade publisher west of Toronto. The University of British Columbia Press is a major publisher of academic books and many smaller publishers specialize in regional studies, self-help books and literature.

Two daily newspapers, the SUN and the PROVINCE, a number of specialized newspapers and journals, more than 20 local and ethnic newspapers, a host of radio stations, several TV stations and easy access to American TV via cable provide information and entertainment.

Cultural Life

Vancouver has long enjoyed a variety of cultural activities. The Art, Historical and Scientific Association (one of the first groups organized in the city) established a museum in 1894. In honour of the 1958 BC centennial, the city built a new museum, a Maritime Museum and, with funds from lumberman Harvey R. MACMILLAN, a planetarium. As soon as the CPR opened an opera house in 1891, Vancouver became a regular stop for touring concert artists and theatrical companies.

As well as supporting local amateur musical and dramatic groups, the city also has such professional bodies as the VANCOUVER SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, Vancouver Opera and the PLAYHOUSE THEATRE. The last was one of many professional theatrical companies that mushroomed in the 1960s and 1970s. The opera and Playhouse Theatre use, respectively, the adjoined Queen Elizabeth Theatre, a civic auditorium opened in 1959, and the Vancouver Playhouse, a smaller venue that opened in 1962. The symphony plays in the restored ORPHEUM THEATRE, while touring musicals play in The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts (formerly the Ford Theatre, which opened in 1995). Smaller venues include the 3 venues of the Arts Club Theatre and the Vancouver East Cultural Centre (affectionately known as the Cultch).

Since October 1983 the VANCOUVER ART GALLERY (established in 1931) has been located at the Old Courthouse, a larger site than its previous home and redesigned by architect Arthur ERICKSON. Erickson also designed the Museum of Anthropology (1976) on the campus of the University of British Columbia. That museum, a popular tourist attraction and a research institution, is especially noted for its collections of Aboriginal material. Equally striking, but in a different way, is Library Square (1995), home of the central public library, which is modelled on the Coliseum of Rome.

Institutions of higher learning have also stimulated the arts. The Vancouver area has several public universities, notably the UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (founded in 1908) and SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY (founded in 1963); and the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, which evolved from the Vancouver School of Arts (opened in 1925 as the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts). The city and suburbs have several other regional post-secondary institutions, including Vancouver Community College (founded in 1965), and the British Columbia Institute of Technology (opened in 1964).

The Vancouver area offers many opportunities for outdoor recreation, including skiing and year-round boating, golfing and diving. Within the city are more than 200 parks, of which the largest and most important, Stanley Park, has many recreational facilities including an 8.85 km portion of the seawall, a favourite location for walkers and joggers. Amateur teams participate in most sports and the BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS football team and the VANCOUVER CANUCKS hockey team play in major professional leagues. The Lions play their home games at BC Place; the Canucks use GM Place (opened in 1995).