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In the courthouse on Water Street, the second meeting of Vancouver’s first City Council takes place. Its main order of business: “That the whole of that part of Coal Harbour peninsula now known as the Government Reserve be conveyed to the City of Vancouver for a public park.”
Urban greenspaces have recently become a fashionable concept in North America (as part of a move away from the heavy industrialization in the British Isles), but, as Jean Barman will explain in her book “Stanley Park’s Secret”, the driving forces behind the petition to lease the 1,000-acre peninsula are land values and the CPR.
“In January 1885, CPR’s vice-president requested ownership of the southern half of the peninsula, including Brockton Point, or as much as the government ‘can spare us’,” Barman will write, “but the Dominion had not yet decided what to do with its windfall. Rebuffed in its attempt to secure the peninsula – or at least part of it – for development, the CPR was determined that no one else would do so.”
The CPR has been heavily involved in the sale of real estate (acquired at no cost from the government) in the fledgling city, and, rebuffed in their attempts to secure the land for themselves, and fearful that the release of such large portions of property would ultimately drive their own land values down, they begin using their influence to turn the area into a public park.
The proposal is made to council by Alexander Hamilton, CPR Land Commissioner and Vancouver’s first city planner.
“Hamilton did not act on his own initiative,” Barman will explain. “The mayor of Vancouver was brother-in-law to MP [Arthur Wellington] Ross, who had made the same request on behalf of the CPR six weeks earlier, and had been turned down.”
After a year of behind-the-scenes maneuvering and petitioning of government, the city’s request will be granted in June of 1887.
“The Minister reports that he sees no objection to this proposal,” an Order-in-Council will read, “provided the Corporation keep the park in proper order, and the Dominion Government retain the right to resume the property when required at any time.”
Image: Entrance to Stanley Park, circa 1891. Image courtesy of the Vancouver Archives.