October 5th Waterfront Station and CRAB Park with Bruce Macdonald

October 26th, 2010 Review
Written by: Samantha Knopp

Another beautiful day was in store for our second session of Walking Home Carrall Street. After the group met at the corner of Seymour and Pender, we took off down Seymour toward Waterfront Station. We gathered outside Vancouver’s central public transportation hub, and Catherine told the group about the building, focusing on its history and current functions. The station was built in 1910 – we would later learn that this is ancient on Vancouver’s development spectrum – by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), as a terminus for passenger trains from across the country. Today, the station serves only local commutes but the lasting grandeur of classical architecture made it easy to imagine this as the setting of joyful reunions and tearful goodbyes for longer trips.

Getting off the 19 bus to our meeting place (photo credit: Gina Hetland)

We exited the building from the Seabus terminal area onto Waterfront Road and stopped to take in Vancouver’s skyline from this less visited, but nonetheless breathtaking vantage point. As we marvelled at the duelling feats of human and natural ingenuity – towering glass skyscrapers against a backdrop of mountains and sea – Catherine had us name some of the various buildings, which we all seemed to know, as though they were Vancouver celebrities! Gary also pointed out the shipping docks, and reminded us that the 950 crates of materials required to build the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, which we learned about last week, came in on cargo containers just like those on the massive stacks in front of us. It was great to have that tangible perspective for the history we had learned.

As we made our way into CRAB Park – a first for every participant! – the group shared a sense of awe at this small haven amidst the docks and railway tracks. There we met our guest for the day, Bruce Macdonald, a local historian who penned the award winning book Vancouver: A Visual History. Armed with large poster boards and evident enthusiasm, we got comfortable on the pier as Bruce jumped into his story. He explained that his interest in history began as a desire to uncover and share the past. He compared history to people, explaining that both are inherently invisible – the true stories never lie on the surface.
Bruce quickly began to uncover the scene around us by asking the group to take in the surrounding landscape. We learned that the north shore mountains we saw across the Burrard Inlet range from 40-200 million years old, but the actual land mass of the city and most of the lower mainland is less than 11,000 years old! Bruce explained that 15,000 years ago this part of the world was enjoying the last ice age, and the area known as the Lower Mainland was covered by a sheet of ice 1.5 kilometres thick and was nearly 1,100 feet below sea level. It was only as this ice began to melt (between 15,000 and 11,000 years ago) that the lower mainland slowly emerged from the sea and life began to develop. When exactly human life, or more specifically the ancestors of the modern Coast Salish peoples, began to call this area home is undetermined, but many experts believe it could be as early as the cusp of the ice age, 11,000 years ago. Bruce pointed to the amazing story of anthropologist, Charles Hill-Tout and his research on the Squamish Nation in 1896 for evidence of this claim. He explained that according to Hill-Tout’s notes, published in four volumes and titled The Salish People, he met with a Squamish elder, a blind 100-year-old man named Mulks, to learn the Squamish history. Mulks used his tally sticks to share a story of the beginning of his people that paints picture comparable to what researchers believe the Lower Mainland would have been like 11,000 years ago! Bruce described his amazement at the possibility of this story being passed down over 11,000 years, a testament to the Squamish Nation’s traditions of story-telling.

Bruce explaining visually the history of Vancouver (photo credit: Gina Hetland)

Bruce next described the arrival of the first non-native settler, John Morton, to the area in 1862. It wasn’t long after Morton’s arrival that the first commercial operation, the Hastings Mill, was built on the south shore of Burrard Inlet in 1865. When the mill went into full production in 1867, a steamboat captain, John “Gassy Jack” Deighton, saw a promising business opportunity and paddled out from New Westminster with a barrel of whiskey to set up the Globe Saloon. The saloon was built on the edge of the mill’s property (at what is now the corner of Carrall Street and Water Street) due to alcohol being prohibited, and that location would go on to become the centre of Vancouver dividing east from west. It also facilitated the development of a small community known as Granville or “Gastown”, named after “Gassy Jack” himself. But nothing in Vancouver stays constant. In 1885 the announcement that Granville, a little logging town at the edge of nowhere, would be the site of the western terminal of Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), resulted in explosive growth and change in name: Vancouver was born.

With the help of his enlarged graphic maps, Bruce helped us visualize by describing the dramatic shifts Vancouver underwent over the next 100 years. Each of his maps look at Vancouver at the start of a new decade and illustrate changes in population, geography, wildlife, etc. Bruce taught us so much, but his maps really helped to drive home the overarching lesson: our world is constantly changing, and in major ways. As Bruce put it, Vancouver grew from a small logging camp into a booming modern metropolis in just over the span of one person’s lifetime!

With the end of our session drawing closer, we walked back to Chinatown to wrap up the day. Heading east through CRAB park onto the Main Street bridge, we stopped quickly by the Twin Lions, a set of sculptures, to discuss the importance of this over-ramp as well as reflect on our experience in the park. Continuing south on Main Street and turning onto Pender Street, the group once again made a tasty visit to New Town Bakery before settling at the courtyard in front of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Park. The session ended with most of us amazed at the history uncovered today. Vancouver, like any person, has a lot of interesting stories under the surface just waiting to be shared.

Discussing the history of Vancouver while walking through CRAB Park (photo credit: Gina Hetland)

Sam Knopp

The Map of Where We Went – Oct 26, 2010:

Youth Reviews

Tanika C.                                                                                                           October 5 , 2010 Today I gained a lot of knowledge of local and Canadian history. After meeting the Walking Home Projects team on Pender Street and walking through Waterfront Station to get to Waterfront Road, we met Bruce Macdonald on the pier in CRAB Park. It was the perfect setting for learning about how much Vancouver’s natural and human history has changed in such a short period of time. While learning from Bruce we were able to see the Vancouver downtown, with all of its infrastructure, as well as the thick forests on the north shore mountains, while sitting by the ocean. I found it interesting to try and imagine how much Vancouver could change in my own lifetime. I can hardly imagine the skyscrapers disappearing around me like the old growth trees disappeared around others. I never really realized before how much of our native culture we’ve lost.

Free writing to reflect on the day (photo credit: Gina Hetland)

Michelle P.                                                                                                            October 5, 2010
What Did I Get Out of Today’s Walk?
When arriving at CRAB Park, I could already tell I was about to have an experience. The breath-taking scenery and beautiful blue ocean are captivating. I’ve never before taken any particular liking to history. That’s why I was quite surprised when I found myself so interested in the history of Vancouver, as told by Bruce Macdonald. I never really knew much about this city I live in, so I found it nice to hear about how we got here. I especially enjoyed the story told about the 1000 pound fish (Sturgeon) aboriginal people hunted, and how they built a seventy-two foot long tool to catch it. I didn’t realize until today how sophisticated the aboriginal people’s culture was.

Over all, I found Bruce Macdonald to be an enticing presenter and his work quite interesting. So, kudos to the guy who got me interested in Canadian history again.

Catherine Pulkinghorn showing participants the skyline (photo credit: Gina Hetland)


Michael R-T.                                                                                                     October 5, 2010
On Tuesday October 5th our group went to CRAB Park. We were guided to the pier by the Walking Home Projects team, where historian Bruce Macdonald explained the history of Vancouver. As I sat there listening to him speak I could see everything he was talking about in my mind’s eye. I could see Vancouver completely underwater 15,000 years ago, and with a mile of ice on top. I could see as each year went by, how the ice receded and the land resurfaced. As more and more of the land showed itself, I witnessed the gradual growth of vegetation, from the smallest of shrubs and flowers to the fast growing trees. Everything was in perfect harmony with nature, and as time kept spinning the fast growing trees were replaced with the mightiest and tallest of all trees, the cedars. As the wind blew there was nothing separating the ocean from the forest, as the trees swayed by the sea… I was snapped out of my reverie as a helicopter flew overhead. As I looked around I felt great sadness for what had been lost, and felt shame for what had been traded so that we could live in a “civilized” society.

Enjoying the sunshine at CRAB Park (photo credit: Gina Hetland)


Nakiah S.                                                                                                               October 5, 2010
Walking Home Carrall Street Reflection #2
Looking around Vancouver today you wouldn’t think that this city of over 2.1 million people is only about 150 years old. That was just one of the many things we learned from Bruce Macdonald. Among them was learning how the native people and the white men who worked at Hastings Mill interacted with each other. Being Native myself, it was very interesting to hear about my culture. My favorite story was how the Native people used to fish for Sturgeon by taking a 72 metre long pole and slowly moving it across the bottom of the inland lakes to find, then hook the fish. When Bruce told us that Vancouver was once covered in ice one mile high, I couldn’t even imagine how different it would look. I really enjoyed listening to Bruce Macdonald, he was very patient and it was evident that he was passionate about Vancouver by how much he knew.

Walking to CRAB Park (photo credit: Gina Hetland)


Rebekah D.                                                                                                            October 5, 2010
I can best describe this week as the best history class I’ve had in ages, and the best about Vancouver by far. Our speaker for this week, Bruce Macdonald, a local historian, is amazing. For the entire time he was speaking I was captivated. It helped that what he was talking about were some of the most fascinating topics. In Canada we lack, especially on the west coast, a good grasp of our own history. When you go to Europe, their lives are full of history. They live in and amongst their history in their day-to-day lives, whereas in Vancouver you can’t immediately see the history when you look around. The feeling of not knowing your history or the history of the city is very normal. Most people don’t know or don’t care to know the history of the area they live in, which is so sad. And there isn’t much opportunity to find out about it. That’s why this week’s session was so great. Just being able to listen to Bruce speak about the history of the land and how Vancouver grew up was such an incredible experience. That is the reason I signed up for Walking Home Carrall Street, to learn about Vancouver, and that’s what I got to do this week.

Bruce Macdonald (photo credit: Gina Hetland)

Click below to listen to Bruce Macdonald talking about Vancouver’s natural and contemporary history at CRAB Park :