Vancouver city council claims peninsula for popular park

What?s in a name?

If it?s Stanley ? Stanley Park and the Stanley Cup ? that name is Frederick Arthur Stanley. Although an urban park and a hockey trophy appear to have little in common, they do share a namesake.

Lord Stanley of Preston, who served as governor general from 1888 to 1893, may be best known in Canada for the trophy that bears his name. An avid sportsman, he donated the Stanley Cup as a challenge trophy to be presented to the top amateur hockey club in the country beginning in 1893.

Moving from the amateur to the professional ranks, the National Hockey League adopted the Stanley Cup in 1926 to present to its own championship team.

In Vancouver, though, the mention of Stanley?s name conjures up images of another treasure.

Known as ?Vancouver?s Playground,? Stanley Park is also named for Lord Stanley. With an area covering 1,000 acres, its natural beauty, beaches, lakes, pools, stunning views and giant trees draw people to the area.

More than just a mere playground for local residents, the area?s history stretches far beyond that. Before becoming a Vancouver landmark and a national historic site, the land that would become Stanley Park was a home.

Historians can trace various First Nations settlements back at least 3,000 years on the peninsula of land that makes up the park. Upon exploring the area in 1792, Capt. George Vancouver wrote about the people of the Squamish nation in that area.

First Nations villages were still present when surveyors and road builders first rolled into the park in the 1880s, and some people maintained that presence well into the 20th century. It wasn?t until 1958 that the last person left behind his home in the park.

For many sympathetic to their plight, the ouster of First Nations groups from the park remains a point of contention.

In the 1860s, local residents received some company on the peninsula. Designated a military reserve due to its location, it was considered an ideal place to thwart any invasion attempts from south of the border.

Other than logging in the area, this military designation was credited with saving the island from development at the time.

From the beginning, Stanley Park grew up alongside the city of Vancouver. Shortly after Vancouver was incorporated as a city in 1886, city council approached the federal government about leasing the land to establish a park.

Stanley Park officially opened in 1888. The following year Lord Stanley visited Western Canada, including British Columbia. During his visit, he also participated in a dedication ceremony for the park that was named in his honour.

By the early 1900s, the park was already a tourist destination. In 1913 about 50,000 people visited the park each week on foot, as vehicle traffic was restricted until the following year. That tradition continues today, with millions of people visiting the park every year.

(Paul Spasoff is a freelance writer with an interest in Western Canadian history. Paul can be reached at backtothepast@sasktel.net)