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 Vancouver, British Columbia


Vancouver is a coastal city and major seaport located in the Lower Mainland of southwestern British Columbia, Canada. It is bounded by the Strait of Georgia, the Fraser River, the Coast Mountains, and Burnaby. Vancouver is named after Captain George Vancouver, a British explorer.

The population of the city of Vancouver is 611,869 and the population of Metro Vancouver is 2,249,725 (2007 estimate). This makes it the largest metropolitan area in Western Canada and the third largest in the country. Vancouver is ethnically diverse, with 52% of city residents and 43% of Metro residents having a first language other than English.  Population density is fourth highest for a major city on the continent after New York City, San Francisco, and Mexico City.

Vancouver was first settled in the 1860s as a result of immigration caused by the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, particularly from the United States, although many immigrants did not remain after the rush. The city developed rapidly from a small lumber mill town into a metropolitan centre following the arrival of the transcontinental railway in 1887. The Port of Vancouver became internationally significant after the completion of the Panama Canal, which reduced freight rates in the 1920s and made it viable to ship export-bound prairie grain west through Vancouver. It has since become the busiest seaport in Canada, and exports more cargo than any other port in North America.

The economy of Vancouver has traditionally relied on British Columbia's resource sectors: forestry, mining, fishing and agriculture. It has diversified over time, however, and Vancouver today has a vibrant service industry, a growing tourism industry, and it has become the third-largest film production centre in North America after Los Angeles and New York City, earning it the nickname Hollywood North. Vancouver has had an expansion in high-tech industries, most notably video game development.

Vancouver is consistently ranked one of the three most livable cities in the world.  According to a 2007 report by Mercer Human Resource Consulting for example, Vancouver tied with Vienna as having the third highest quality of living in the world, after Zürich and Geneva.  In 2007, according to Forbes, Vancouver had the 6th most overpriced real estate market in the world and second in North America after Los Angeles.  In 2007, Vancouver was ranked Canada's second most expensive city to live after Toronto and the 89th most expensive globally, and, in 2006, the 56th most expensive city in which to live among 143 major cities in the world.  In 2007, Vancouver was ranked as the 10th cleanest city in the world.  A resident of Vancouver is called a Vancouverite.

The 2010 Winter Olympics will be held in Vancouver and nearby Whistler.


Archaeological records indicate that the presence of Aboriginal peoples in the Vancouver area dates back 4,500–9,000 years. The city is located in the traditional territories of Skwxwú-mesh, Xwméthkwyiem, Tseil-waututh peoples of the Coast Salish group.  They had villages in parts of present-day Vancouver, such as Stanley Park, False Creek, and along the Burrard Inlet. Some of these still exist in North Vancouver, West Vancouver, and near Point Grey.

The first European to explore the coastline of present-day Point Grey and part of Burrard Inlet was José María Narváez of Spain, in 1791.  George Vancouver explored the inner harbor of Burrard Inlet in 1792 and gave various places British names.

The explorer and North West Company trader Simon Fraser and his crew were the first Europeans known to have set foot on the site of the present-day city. In 1808, they traveled from the east, down the Fraser River perhaps as far as Point Grey, near the University of British Columbia.

The Cariboo Gold Rush of 1861 brought 25,000 men, mainly from California, to the mouth of the Fraser River and what would become Vancouver.  The first European settlement was established in 1862 at McLeery's Farm on the Fraser River, just east of the ancient village of Musqueam in what is now Marpole. A sawmill established at Moodyville (now the City of North Vancouver) in 1863 began the city's long relationship with lumbering. It was quickly followed by mills owned by Captain Edward Stamp on the south shore of the inlet. Stamp, who had begun lumbering in the Port Alberni area, first attempted to run a mill at Brockton Point, but difficult currents and reefs forced the relocation of the operation to a point near the foot of Gore Street, known as Hastings Mill. This became the nucleus around which Vancouver formed. The mill's central role in the city waned after the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in the 1880s. It nevertheless remained important to the local economy until it closed in the 1920s.

Vancouver is among British Columbia's youngest cities  The settlement of Gastown grew up quickly around the original makeshift tavern established by “Gassy” Jack Deighton in 1867 on the edge of the Hastings Mill property.  In 1870, the colonial government surveyed the settlement and laid out a townsite, renamed “Granville,” in honor of the then British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville. This site, with its natural harbor, was eventually selected as the terminus for the Canadian Pacific Railway to the disappointment of Port Moody, New Westminster and Victoria, all of which had vied to be the railhead. The building of the railway was among the preconditions for British Columbia joining Confederation in 1871.

The City of Vancouver was incorporated on 6 April 1886, the same year that the first transcontinental train arrived. The name, honoring George Vancouver, was chosen by CPR president William Van Horne, who arrived in Port Moody to establish the CPR terminus recommended by Henry John Cambie.  A massive "slash burn" (clearing fire) broke out of control on 13 June 1886, razing the entire city. It was quickly rebuilt, and the Vancouver Fire Department was established that same year.  From a settlement of 1,000 people in 1881, Vancouver's population grew to over 20,000 by the turn of the century and 100,000 by 1911.

During the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush, Vancouver merchants sold a great deal of equipment to prospectors.  One of those merchants, Charles Woodward, had opened the first Woodward's store at what is now Georgia and Main Streets in 1892 and, along with Spencer's and the Hudson's Bay Company department stores, formed the dominant core of the city's retail sector for decades.

The economy of early Vancouver was dominated by large companies such as the CPR, which had the capital needed for the rapid development of the new city. Some manufacturing did develop, but the resource sector was the backbone of Vancouver's economy, initially with logging, and later with exports moved through the seaport, where commercial traffic constituted the largest economic sector in Vancouver by the 1930s.

The dominance of the economy by big business was accompanied by an often militant labor movement. The first major sympathy strike was in 1903 when railway employees struck against the CPR for union recognition. Labor leader Frank Rogers was killed while picketing at the docks by CPR police during that strike, becoming the British Columbia movement's first martyr.  Canada's first general strike occurred following the death of another labor leader, Ginger Goodwin, in 1918, at the Cumberland coal mines on Vancouver Island.  A lull in industrial tensions through the later 1920s came to an abrupt end with the Great Depression. Most of the 1930s strikes were led by Communist Party organizers.  That strike wave peaked in 1935 when unemployed men flooded the city to protest conditions in the relief camps run by the military in remote areas throughout the province. After two tense months of daily and disruptive protesting, the relief camp strikers decided to take their grievances to the federal government and embarked on the On-to-Ottawa Trek.

Other social movements, such as the first-wave feminist, moral reform, and temperance movements were also influential in Vancouver's development. Mary Ellen Smith, a Vancouver suffragist and prohibitionist, became the first woman elected to a provincial legislature in Canada in 1918.  Alcohol prohibition began in the First World War and lasted until 1921, when the provincial government established its control over alcohol sales, which still persists today.  Canada's first drug law came about following an inquiry conducted by the federal Minister of Labor and future Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. King was sent to investigate damages claims resulting from a riot when the Asiatic Exclusion League led a rampage through Chinatown and Japantown. Two of the claimants were opium manufacturers, and after further investigation, King found that white women were reportedly frequenting opium dens as well as Chinese men. A federal law banning the manufacture, sale, and importation of opium for non-medicinal purposes was soon passed based on these revelations.

Amalgamation with Point Grey and South Vancouver gave the city its final contours not long before taking its place as the third largest metropolis in the country. As of 1 January 1929, the population of the enlarged Vancouver was 228,193 and it filled the entire peninsula between the Burrard Inlet and the Fraser River.

 Geography and climate

The original vegetation of most of Vancouver and its suburbs was dense temperate rain forest, consisting of conifers with scattered pockets of maple and alder, as well as large areas of swampland (even in upland areas, due to poor drainage).

The conifers were a typical coastal British Columbia mix of Douglas-fir, Western red cedar and Western Hemlock; thought to have been the greatest concentration of the largest of these trees on the entire British Columbia Coast. Only in Seattle's Elliott Bay did the trees rival those of Burrard Inlet and English Bay in size. The largest trees in Vancouver's old-growth forest were in the Gastown area, where the first logging occurred, and on the south slopes of False Creek and English Bay, especially around Jericho Beach. The forest in Stanley Park is mostly second and third growth, and evidence of old-fashioned logging techniques such as springboard notches can still be seen there.

A diverse collection of plants and trees were imported from other parts of the continent and from points across the Pacific, and can be found growing throughout Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. Various species of palm trees have proven hardy in this climate and are a common sight, as are large numbers of other exotic trees such as the monkey puzzle tree, the Japanese Maple, and various flowering exotics such as magnolias, azaleas, and rhododendrons. Many rhododendrons have grown to immense sizes, as have other species imported from harsher climates in Eastern Canada or Europe. The native Douglas Maple can also attain a tremendous size. Many streets in the city are lined with flowering varieties of Japanese cherry trees that were donated by Japan, starting in the 1930s.  Certain areas of West Vancouver that have the right soil requirements are home to the Arbutus menziesii tree.

Vancouver has an area of 44 sq mi, including both flat and hilly ground. Vancouver is adjacent to the Strait of Georgia, a body of water that is shielded from the Pacific Ocean by Vancouver Island. It is in the Pacific Time Zone (UTC-8) and the Pacific Maritime Ecozone.  The city itself forms part of the Burrard Peninsula, lying between Burrard Inlet to the north and the Fraser River to the south. Vancouver is not on nearby Vancouver Island. However, both the island and the city (as well as Vancouver, Washington) are named after Royal Navy Captain George Vancouver.

Vancouver is renowned for its scenery and has one of the largest urban parks in North America, Stanley Park.  The North Shore Mountains dominate the cityscape, and on a clear day scenic vistas include the snow-capped volcano Mount Baker in the State of Washington to the southeast, Vancouver Island across the Strait of Georgia to the west and southwest, and the Sunshine Coast to the northwest.

Vancouver's climate is unusually temperate by Canadian standards; its winters are the fourth warmest of Canadian cities monitored by Environment Canada after nearby Victoria, Nanaimo, and Duncan, all of which are on Vancouver Island.  Vancouver has daily minimum temperatures falling below 32 °F on an average of 46 days per year and below 14 °F on only two days per year. The average annual precipitation is about 48 in, though this varies dramatically throughout the city due to the topography.  Summer months are quite sunny with moderate temperatures, tempered by sea breezes. The daily maximum averages72 °F in July and August, although temperatures sometimes rise above 78 °F.  The summer months are often very dry, resulting in moderate drought conditions a few months of the year. In contrast, more than half of all winter days receive measurable precipitation. On average, snow falls on only eleven days per year, with only three days receiving 2.5 inches or more.

While the number of cars in Vancouver proper has been steadily rising with population growth, the rate of car ownership and the average distance driven by daily commuters have fallen since the early 1990s.  Vancouver is the only major Canadian city with these trends. Despite the fact that the journey time per vehicle has increased by one third and growing traffic mass, there are 7% fewer cars making trips into the downtown core.  Residents have been more inclined to live in areas closer to their interests, or use more energy-efficient means of travel, such as mass transit and cycling. This is, in part, the result of a push by city planners for a solution to traffic problems and pro-environment campaigns. Transportation demand management policies have imposed restrictions on drivers making it more difficult and expensive to commute while introducing more benefits for non-drivers.


City planners in the late 1950s and 1960s deliberately encouraged the development of high-rise residential towers in Vancouver's West End of downtown, resulting in a compact urban core amenable to public transit, cycling, and pedestrian traffic. Vancouver's population density on the downtown peninsula is 49 people per acre according to the 2001 census. The city continues to pursue policies intended to increase density as an alternative to sprawl, such as Mayor Sam Sullivan's EcoDensity — an initiative to create quality and high density areas in the city, while making property ownership more economical. The plan also calls for the increased construction of community centers, parks, and cultural facilities.

Vancouver has been called a "city of neighborhoods", each with a distinct character and ethnic mix.  People of English, Scottish, and Irish origins were historically the largest ethnic groups in the city, and elements of British society and culture are still highly visible in some areas, particularly South Granville and Kerrisdale. The Chinese are by far the largest visible ethnic group in the city, and Vancouver has one of the most diverse Chinese-speaking communities, with several Chinese dialects being represented, including Cantonese and Mandarin.  There are also some neighborhoods with high concentrations of single ethnic groups, such as the Punjabi Market, Little Italy, Greektown, and Japantown. Bilingual street signs can be seen in various neighborhoods, including Chinatown and the Punjabi Market.

In the 1980s, an influx of immigrants from Hong Kong in anticipation of the transfer of that former colony's sovereignty from the United Kingdom to China combined with an increasing number of immigrants from mainland China and previous immigrants from Taiwan to create one of the largest concentrations of ethnic Chinese residents in North America.

This influx of Asian immigrants continued a tradition of immigration from around the world that had already established Vancouver as the second most popular destination for immigrants in Canada (after Toronto).  Other significant Asian ethnic groups in Vancouver are South Asian (mostly Punjabi, usually referred to as Indo-Canadian), Vietnamese, Filipino, Indonesian, Korean, Cambodian, and Japanese. It has a growing Latin American population, many from Peru, Ecuador and more recently, Mexico.

Prior to the Hong Kong influx of the 1990s, the largest non-British ethnic groups in the city were Irish and German, followed by Scandinavian, Italian, Ukranian and the historical Chinese population. Less numerous minorities, such as newly-arrived Eastern Europeans (in addition to the aforementioned Ukrainians), are also a feature of the city's ethnic landscape.

There is also a sizable aboriginal community in Vancouver as well as in the surrounding metropolitan region, with the result that Vancouver constitutes the largest native community in the province.

Vancouver has relatively harmonious race relations.  One result is a relatively high rate of intermarriage.

Vancouver has a substantial gay community, and British Columbia was the second Canadian jurisdiction to legalize same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, shortly after Ontario.  The downtown area around Davie Street is home to most of the city's gay clubs and bars and is known as Davie Village. Every year Vancouver holds one of the country's largest gay pride parades.


With its location on the Pacific Rim and at the western terminus of Canada's transcontinental highway and rail routes, Vancouver is one of the nation's largest industrial centers.

The Port of Vancouver, Canada's largest and most diversified, does more than C$43 billion in trade with over 90 countries annually. Port activities generate $4 billion in gross domestic product and $8.9 billion in economic output.  Vancouver is also the headquarters of forest product and mining companies. In recent years, Vancouver has become an increasingly important centre for software development, biotechnology and a vibrant film industry.

The city's scenic location makes it a major tourist destination. Visitors come for the city's gardens, Stanley Park, Queen Elizabeth Park, and the mountains, ocean, forest and parklands surrounding the city. The numerous beaches, parks, waterfronts, and mountain backdrop, combined with its cultural and multi-ethnic character, all contribute to its unique appeal and style for tourists. Over a million people annually pass through Vancouver en route to a cruise ship vacation, usually to Alaska.

The city's popularity comes with a price. Vancouver can be an expensive city, with the highest housing prices in Canada. Several 2006 studies rank Vancouver as having the least affordable housing in Canada, ranking 13th least affordable in the world, up from 15th in 2005.  The city has adopted various strategies to reduce housing costs, including cooperative housing, legalized secondary suites, increased density and smart growth. A significant number of the city's residents are affluent, a perception reinforced by the number of luxury vehicles on city streets and cost of real estate. The average two-storey home in Vancouver sells for $757,750, compared with $467,742 in Toronto and $322,853 in Calgary, the next most expensive major cities in Canada.

A major and ongoing downtown condominium construction boom began in the late 1990s, financed in large part by a huge flow of capital from Hong Kong immigrants prior to the 1997 hand-over to China.  High-rise residential developments from this period now dominate the Yaletown and Coal Harbor districts of the downtown peninsula, and also cluster around some of the SkyTrain stations on the east side of the city.

The city has been selected to co-host the 2010 Winter Olympics, which is influencing economic development. Concern has been expressed that Vancouver's increasing homelessness problem may be exacerbated by the Olympics because owners of single room occupancy hotels, which house many of the city's lowest income residents, have begun converting their properties in order to attract higher income residents and tourists.  Another significant international event, the 1986 World Exposition, was held in Vancouver. It was the last World's Fair held in North America and was considered a success, receiving 20,111,578 visits. Several Vancouver landmarks date from that period, including the SkyTrain public transit system, the Plaza of Nations, and Canada Place.

Aerial of Downtown Vancouver

Aerial View of Downtown Vancouver


Vancouver, unlike other British Columbia municipalities, is incorporated under a unique provincial statute, the Vancouver Charter.  The legislation, passed in 1953, supersedes the Vancouver Incorporation Act, 1921 and grants the city more and different powers than other communities possess under BC's Municipalities Act.

The civic government has been dominated by the centre-right Non-Partisan Association (NPA) since the Second World War, albeit with some significant centre-left interludes.  The NPA's Sam Sullivan was elected mayor of Vancouver in November 2005, signaling the party's return to power after a social democratic slate swept the previous election. The NPA fractured over the issue of drug policy in 2002, facilitating a landslide victory for the Coalition of Progressive Electors on a harm reduction platform. Subsequently, North America's first safe injection site was opened for the significant number of intravenous heroin users in the city.

Vancouver is governed by the ten-member Vancouver City Council, a nine-member School Board, and a seven-member Parks Board, all elected for three-year terms through an at-large system. Historically, in all levels of government, the more affluent west side of Vancouver has voted along conservative or liberal lines while the eastern side of the city has voted along left-wing lines.  This was reaffirmed with the results of the 2005 provincial election and the 2006 federal election.

Though polarized, a political consensus has emerged in Vancouver around a number of issues. Protection of urban parks, a focus on the development of rapid transit as opposed to a freeway system, a harm reduction approach to illegal drug use, and a general concern about community-based development are examples of policies that have come to have broad support across the political spectrum in Vancouver.

Larry Campbell's election as mayor in 2002 was in part due to his willingness to champion alternative interventions for drug issues, such as supervised injection sites. The city has adopted a Four Pillars Drug Strategy, which combines harm reduction (e.g. needle exchanges, supervised injection sites) with treatment, enforcement, and prevention.  The strategy is largely a response to the endemic HIV and hepatitis C among injection drug users in the city's Downtown Eastside neighborhood. The area is characterized by entrenched poverty, and consequently is home to the "low track" street sex trade and a bustling "open air" street drug market, which gave rise to a significant AIDS epidemic in the 1990s. Some community and professional groups — such as From Grief to Action and Keeping the Door Open — are fostering public dialogue in the city about further alternatives to current drug policies.

Campbell chose not to run for re-election, and was subsequently appointed to the Senate of Canada. In the 2005 Municipal Election, the City Council swung back to the right after a term dominated by the leftist Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE). NPA mayoral candidate Sam Sullivan narrowly defeated Jim Green for the position of mayor and was joined by five of his party's members on Council. The centrist Vision Vancouver (VVN) brought four members to Council, with the final seat going to COPE. The NPA also won six of nine School Board seats and five of seven Parks Board seats, while the remaining Board seats were won by COPE.

Provincial representation

In the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, Vancouver is represented by ten Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), which includes Gordon Campbell, the current Premier. In the 2005 provincial election, the BC Liberal Party and the BC New Democratic Party each won five seats.

Federal representation

In the Canadian House of Commons, Vancouver is represented by five Members of Parliament. In the 2004 federal elections, the Liberal Party of Canada won four seats and the federal New Democratic Party (NDP) one. In the 2006 federal elections, all the same Members of Parliament were re-elected. However, on 6 February 2006, David Emerson of Vancouver Kingsway defected to the Conservative Party, giving the Conservatives one seat in Vancouver. As of February 2006, the Liberals hold three seats, and the NDP and the Conservatives hold one each.

 Affiliated cities and municipalities

The City of Vancouver was one of the first cities in Canada to enter into an international twinning arrangement.  Special arrangements for cultural, social and economic benefits have been created with these sister cities.  These sister cities are:

  • Flag of UkraineOdessa, Ukraine (1944)
  • Flag of JapanYokohama, Japan (1965)
  • Flag of ScotlandEdinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom (1978)
  • Flag of the People's Republic of ChinaGuangzhou, People's Republic of China (1985)
  • Flag of the United StatesLos Angeles, California, United States (1986)
  • Flag of South KoreaSeoul, South Korea (2007)

There are 21 municipalities in Metro Vancouver. While each of these has a separate municipal government, the Metro government oversees common services within the metropolitan area such as water, sewage, transportation, and regional parks.    

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