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Pethick, Derek.

Langley (B.C.), Sunfire Publications, c1984. 191pp, paper, $8.95, ISBN 0-919531-13-X.

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by Adele Case

Volume 13 Number 3
1985 May

Derek Pethick's soft-cover book about Vancouver traces the port city from its first use as a site for strategically-spaced Indian villages, through a few halcyon days, and many of the disasters that beset (but did not best) the pioneers. The author sensibly remarks on the early Spanish explorers, whose chart-work in the Strait of Georgia was soon eclipsed by that of Captains Cook and Vancouver. Soon the fur traders set up a series of forts on the natural trade routes, by the river; to take furs to the tidewater. British Columbia became a colony shortly before gold strikes in the interior attracted a horde of prospectors, entrepreneurs, and greenhorns. A few of these disappointed miners eventually stayed on to settle near the mouth of the Fraser or elsewhere in British Columbia. Their spirit was unquenchable, and when gold seams vanished they tried lumbering, farming and even shop-keeping.

Vancouver: The Pioneer Years 1774-1886 covers the triumphs and tribulations of Gastown (as early central Vancouver was christened, in deference to the Rabelaisian pub-keeper, "Gassy" Jack Deighton). Lumbering provided the greatest incentive for growth in the 1860's, and the impetus continued with the planning of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The young community was soon given a more suitable name, Granville, after Earl Granville, but the name was changed again after the coming of the railway. It was finally called Vancouver, after the famed navigator who charted so much of the British Columbia coastline. Granville Street is now one of the principal shopping arteries in the city, while Hastings (an early mill site) is an important intersecting street.

The chapter that climaxes the book deals with the great fire of June 1886. This razed the largely frame-built townsite, burning almost all dwellings. Amazingly, the never-say-die spirit of the times persisted, and a black-and-white photo taken on the day following the fire shows survivors beside a tent, natty in vests and felt hats, and seemingly unperturbed by the devastation. Help came from the Dominion Government, and the city was rebuilt in a more organized fashion with solid masonry, rather than the clapboard and shake-roofed wooden shacks that had been thrown up so hastily.

Because the book contains a wealth of detail (much of it rather dryly written, as though culled from official archives), Pethick's style is a trifle didactic. Still, the book will appeal to those who call Vancouver home or who have an interest in the roots of our coastal cities. An interesting sidelight is thrown on the early controversy over the terminus for the cross-Canada railway. Settlers in Port Moody (further east on Burrard Inlet) fought hard for the line to "end there," and threatened to throw the rails for the so-called branch line to Coal Harbour into the water. Today, Vancouver has expanded almost to the edge of Port Moody!

This book will be interesting to amateur historians, and others who want more knowledge of the problems encountered in hacking homesteads from virgin bush and forest. Recommended.

Adele Case, Britannia S.S., Vancouver, B.C.
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