A Short History of False Creek

A Short History of False Creek

False Creek plays a central role in the lives of many who live in or visit Vancouver.  Walking, running or riding around the Seawall, taking in an event at BC Place or Rogers Arena, exploring Science World or shopping on Granville Island many don’t know the interesting history of this fabulous area.  How did False Creek, which is also the name of this riding, become what it is today?

When the first European explorers entered English Bay in the summer of 1791, they didn’t even notice it. The Spanish naval officer José Maria Nárvaez was in search of the Northwest Passage and sailed a small schooner up Georgia Straight identifying Burrard Inlet, Howe Sound and  Point Grey.  The following summer  Dionisio Alcalá Galiano and Cayetano Valdes of Spain again looked for the passage through North American back to Europe.  While surveying they met William Broughton, an English explorer with George Vancouver’s expedition, who was looking for the same passage.   Until this point the Spaniards and the English each thought they were the only Europeans in the area.  Galiano and Vancouver anchored together at Point Grey and agreed to cooperate with the surveying and today’s Spanish Banks was named for that meeting.

Neither Galiano nor Vancouver ventured into False Creek.  Had they, they would have passed the small Indian Village of Snauq on what is now Kits Point, and seen their fish nets and weirs on a large sandbar on today’s Granville Island.  They would have discovered that the ‘Creek’ was actually five times the size it is today, stretching all the way to present day Clark Drive.  They also would have noticed that at high tide, Downtown Vancouver and Stanley Park were likely two Islands with a canoeable channel just east of current Main Streetfrom False Creek to Burrard Inlet and another waterway connecting Coal Harbour and Lost Lagoon with Second Beach.

This was what Captain George Richards discovered almost 70 years later in 1859 when surveying the coast and examining potential coal deposits on the south shore of Burrard Inlet.  He thought he was going up a Creek on the south side of the deposit but discovered it was in fact an inlet, thus naming it ‘False’.  The prospect of coal did not materialize but led to an interest in what would become a significant driver of the early economy … lumber.  In the coming few decades saw mills appeared on the south shore of Burrard Inlet and the area surrounding both sides of False Creek were logged.  False Creek became a perfect booming ground.

Things changed rapidly in 1885 when the CPR decided not to terminate it’s railway at Port Moody, but continue it to English Bay.  A fire set to clear the recently logged land in 1886 got out of control and burned down the new City of Vancouver leading some residents to relocate to the south shore of False Creek, where many stayed.  The first Granville Bridge was built in 1889 connecting the south and north shores and industry, mills and manufacturing began to encircle the Creek. The CPR installed massive rail yards centred around the now refurbished Roundhouse, and to the north residents began to settle close to the yards where they worked.  These men used to work on the CPR in the Fraser Canyon town of Yale and when they relocated to False Creek, the neighbourhood of ‘Yaletown’ was born.  By 1891, six of Vancouver’s eight saw mills were on False Creek.

By WWI, the large area of the Creek east of Main was being filled in from land dug to make the Grandview Cut by two Railway companies, the Great Northern Railway and the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway.  The reclaimed area would be used for industry, warehousing and as rail yards for the incoming trains from the east.  Terminals were constructed, one of which remains as our current train station and bus depot.

The boom that came to False Creek, with it’s industry and ship building supporting the war effort, soon gave way to industries declining and moving away and the Creek was left a polluted mess.  In fact in the 1950 Vancouver election, one candidate for Mayor described it as ‘nothing more than a filthy ditch’ and ran on a platform of filling it in and creating more land.

The 1960’s were a time of political and social change all over North America, and the approach to False Creek was no different.  Community involvement in political issues was increasing and there was a movement to clean up the Creek.   After considerable debate about the Creek retaining its industrial nature, the notion of a planned, multi-family, socially diverse community moved ahead.  South False Creek became a model of urban living.

From this came the vision of turning that sandbar that Captain Richards saw almost a 100 years before into a centre for artisans, a market, maritime industry, arts, culture and restaurants that is today one of the most popular destinations for both tourists and locals.  In 1974, Granville Island was officially opened.

Certainly a defining moment in the evolution of False Creek was the use of the north shore industrial lands for Expo 86 and their subsequent development into a dense, liveable, wonderful neighbourhood.  It was the catalyst in our advancement towards Ecodensity and the many high quality urban neighbourhoods that now comprise the riding of Vancouver-False Creek.


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