A Brief History of Stanley Park!

Stanley Park has the unique distinction of not being created by man, but rather through the evolution of the forest and city growing together for many years. We here in Vancouver are truly lucky to be able to call this gem our backyard.

There is evidence that shows that there has been a native presence in the park dating back at least 3000 years and has been the traditional territory of the Squamish, Musqueam and Tseil-waututh peoples during that time.

Near the Vancouver Aquarium, you will find Lumberman’s Arch and here was once located a large village called Xway-xway, which loosely translates as “Place of Masks”. In this village the people built large longhouses using cedar poles and slabs. The largest of these measured 200 feet long by 60 feet wide. Living in these longhouses were large extended families who each had their own individual areas inside. These larger longhouses were used for potlatches, which were large ceremonial feasts where clans gathered together, exchanged gifts and at the end, the property was sometimes destroyed as a sign of the wealth to the owner.

The first European sightings of Stanley Park first occurred in 1791 when Spanish Captain, Jose Maria Narvaez and again in 1792 by British Captain, George Vancouver, who described the area as “an island with a smaller island lying before it”.

Stanley Park’s location was perfectly situated to ensure British controlled the harbour. It also offered protection from any potential invaders and therefore, was made into a military reserve by Col. Richard Moody in 1859.

Before becoming an official park in 1888, Stanley Park was logged quite extensively between 1860 – 1880. Brockton Point was originally cleared for a sawmill to be built but this did not occur. Many of the original logging skid roads are the trails used today.

stanley park tree


Xway-xway was still occupied in 1888 when residents were forcefully removed to allow Park Drive to be constructed. The road was known for its beautiful white appearance, from all the shells that they had taken out of the “midden”; which is an archeological term for garbage heap. Squamish Nation Chief, Ian Campbell proposed in 2010 to rename the park Xway-xway in tribute to the village that once thrived.

In 1886, the city petitioned the government to lease the military reserve as a city park. On September 27, 1888, Stanley Park was opened with great fanfare throughout the city. It took its name from Canada’s sixth Governor General Lord Stanley. Lord Stanley is most famously known for having given the trophy, that was to become the Stanley Cup, to the National Hockey League.

In 1887, Lord Stanley became the first Governor General to visit British Columbia when he officially dedicated the new park. Then mayor, Oppenheimer led a procession of vehicles along the newly completed Park Drive to the clearing at Prospect Point.

Most of what we see in the park was originally built between 1911 – 1937 and much of the park is still as densely forested as it was in the 1800’s with about a half million trees. During the windstorm of 2006, thousands of trees were lost but thankfully have now been replanted.