Stories from inside Stanley Park: historical glimpses of park attractions and businesses

Pavilion is the place 'to be seen'

In the 1930’s, the Stanley Park Pavilion was known as the place to be seen among Vancouver locals. Dressed in their Sunday best, families would gather on the Pavilion lawn and socialize with friends and watch performances at the popular bandstand, the Malkin Bowl.

From its modest beginning as a concession stand in 1911 (making it the oldest building still standing in the park), the Pavilion was transformed into a charming banqueting facility that even hosted Queen Elizabeth II during her 1959 visit to Vancouver. Designed by Otto Moberg, it is now listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register as a Class A heritage building and boasts all of its original charm and history. Its old world charisma is obvious with original wood detailing throughout, stone fireplaces and the glistening chandeliers in the turn of the century Lord Stanley Ballroom.

The Pavilion continues to operate as a private function space, while the surrounding gardens provide a wonderful back drop for colourful outdoor wedding ceremonies.

From having hosted royalty to celebrities such as actor and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Stanley Park Pavilion continues to create unforgettable memories for all of her guests ... and truly is one of Vancouver’s hidden gems.

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Olympic medals and a prince, too

Vancouver Rowing Club 1930

The Vancouver Rowing Club (VRC)  is the oldest amateur sports organization in Vancouver, and the second oldest in British Columbia.

It was established April 1, 1899 by two clubs that were created in 1886—the year of Vancouver's incorporation as a city. Both founding clubs had floating clubhouses, which were towed by tug to the present site.

A new clubhouse officially opened September 9, 1911 and is essentially what you see today. In 1990 the VRC clubhouse received heritage designation from Vancouver City Council.

Over the years, VRC members have won numerous Olympic medals. 1924 saw the club win its first medals with Colin Finlayson, George Mackay, Archie Black and Bill Wood winning the silver at the Paris games and becoming known as "the Paris Four." 

A women's rowing team wasn't formed until 1971. Unbelievably, this was the first women's crew to be formed in Canada!

In 1974, when the club was celebrating its 75th anniversary, HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, accepted the club's invitation to become its Patron. Four years later, on a sunny August 8th, the Duke of Edinburgh, accompanied by Prince Andrew, delighted more than 150 members and friends with an informal visit to the club. Prince Andrew, who is an honorary life member, returned to the club May 2013 and was greeted by an honour guard of rowers holding oars erect.


Bowling as close as possible to the jack

Stanley Park Lawn Bowling Club 1919. Photo courtesy of the club.

The Stanley Park Lawn Bowling Club (SPLBC) plays a big role in the park's long and storied sport history, which includes a swimming pool, tennis courts, pitch & putt, and track sports, rugby, and cricket at the Brockton Oval.

A bowling green was built in the area known as the elk paddock at the park's Beach Avenue entrance—the present location of the club. SPLBC officially opened in May 1919 with men bowling in suits, ties and hats.

The club, for many years, was segregated by sex. The men’s and women's clubs only became integrated in 1986 after a complaint was made to the Park Board, and the Canadian Lawn Bowling Council and Canadian Ladies Lawn Bowling Council got involved. The issue was a rather fractious one with members lining up on one side or the other, and a number of members left the club. It seems that the women were better money managers than the men as they turned over $3000 toward the payment of a new carpet as well as a balance of $12,087.

By the way, the object of the game is to deliver the bowl (not ball) as close as possible to the jack—the small white ball.


Maintaining law and order in Stanley Park

Mounted police in Stanley Park circa 1900

The Vancouver Police Mounted Squad was formally commissioned in 1910 with 10 officers and 12 horses to patrol Stanley Park and outlying areas of the city.

On April 24, 1935, a work for wages strike of 2000 people marched on Vancouver. After significant property damage, the Mounted Unit advanced rapidly down Hastings Street and swiftly disbanded the unruly mob.

In 1939, eight Vancouver Police Department members formed an escort for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth for their Royal Visit to Vancouver.

1948 saw the end of the Mounted Unit as the chief at that time felt horses were no longer necessary in a modern and mechanized world. Fortunately this arrangement was short-lived and, in 1953, the Mounted Unit was re-established. 

After being housed in one antiquated barn for many years, the Park Board built a new facility for the Unit in 1999 in the service yards of Stanley Park near the Rose Garden.

Today, the Mounted Unit has one sergeant, six constables and 10 horses. Although there are different breeds of horses, the Unit has had the greatest success with draught horse crosses. While the horses can still be seen patrolling the roads and trails of Stanley Park, they also patrol many parts of the city and have taken on a much larger role in the management of crowds at demonstrations and large events.

The Mounted Unit’s youth outreach includes offering guided tours of the stables and the ‘Collector’s Trading Card Program,’ which encourages children of all ages to approach a constable on horseback and request a card.


Naval Reserve shares island with dead men

Before it was Stanley Park, the peninsula was held by the Dominion government of Canada and considered a strategic military reserve. The biggest worry was an American attack.

In 1926, the Department of National Defence leased the former Coal Harbour premises of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, which had been built by the Admiralty. These premises became known as the Stanley Park Barracks.

In November 1941, during a change of command ceremony, the Stanley Park Barracks were commissioned as HMCS Discovery, in a move designed to ensure conditions and discipline at shore-based units were similar to those at sea.

The naval reserve relocated to Deadman Island near Coal Harbour in 1942 after the five-acre area was annexed by the federal government. 

HMCS Discovery was named in honour of a ship under the command of Captain George Vancouver, who was responsible for surveying much of the northwest coastal area of North America. Discovery was used for recruitment and training and provided almost 8,000 personnel during World War II. Today, it serves as headquarters for several reserve and cadet units.

The island’s name comes from a First Nations word which was interpreted to mean ‘island of dead men.’ It served as a graveyard for First Nations people, as evidenced by the human remains found in cedar boxes in trees, as well as for victims of a smallpox epidemic in 1888.


From garrison to tea garden

Teahouse as a WWII garrison. Photo courtesy of the Teahouse Restaurant.

With the threat of a Japanese attack high on peoples' minds during World War II, Stanley Park's Ferguson Point was removed from Park Board control and an artillery battery constructed on the headland. Remains of the emplacement can still be seen, but the bunker has been buried. The Teahouse Restaurant is just behind the emplacement and was a garrison for crews manning the guns.

The building remained a garrison and military property for a few years after the war before it was handed over to the Vancouver Park Board. 

The Board leased the building to a family who operated a tea room for numerous years. In the mid-70s the building became badly in need of repairs, but neither the tenant nor the Park Board wanted to spend the money; in 1975, the Vancouver Health Department closed the building.

An application to refurbish the tea room and run it as an all season restaurant with summer teas on the front lawn was made. Renovation work was completed in April 1978. The Teahouse Restaurant opened for its first lunch service on May 5 and its first dinner service on May 10 of that year and was well received by Vancouver residents. As the business grew, general managers and chefs helped sculpt the Teahouse into what it is today.

The Sequoia Company of Restaurants operates the Teahouse and three other restaurants including Seasons in the Park at Queen Elizabeth Park.


Protecting threatened species and discovering new ones

Stanley Park Ecology Society staff and volunteers at ecological stewardship event. Photo courtesy of SPES.

In 1988, ecologists and residents banded together to find ways to upgrade the aging facilities of the Stanley Park Zoo, and thus the Stanley Park Zoological Society (SPZS) was born. The society proactively led conservation programs for threatened species across the Lower Mainland and had a knack for nature education. A boathouse on Lost Lagoon was converted to the Stanley Park Nature House and today is Vancouver’s only ecology centre.

In 1993, Vancouver residents voted to phase out the zoo and, with that, SPZS regrouped to become Stanley Park Ecology Society (SPES). Today, SPES is the sole provider of public education within Stanley Park.

In 2006, a devastating windstorm hit Vancouver. Much scientific research was conducted in the park following the storm including surveys to identify insects that had a special appetite for wood. This work ultimately led to the discovery of two new species of insects, one of which was named after the park itself. Oxypoda stanleyi is a tiny member of the rove beetle family.

In 2011, SPES organized its first ever BioBlitz, which found 148 species never recorded before in Stanley Park.

Look up into the sky and see if you can spot a bald eagle soaring on an updraft. A generation ago you would have to be very lucky indeed to see one. Only a few decades ago these majestic predators, boasting six foot wing spans, were in serious trouble due to the toxin DDT. The phasing out of this chemical in the late 1970’s allowed bald eagle populations (and many other birds) to become re-established across North America.

Today, four pairs of bald eagles call Stanley Park home and an additional 15 pairs nest elsewhere in Vancouver.


Combining entertainment and education with a scientific mission

Vancouver Aquarium penguins

Combining entertainment and education with a scientific mission

Vancouver Aquarium lineup 1956. Photo courtesy of Aquarium.

Opened on June 15, 1956, the Vancouver Aquarium welcomed 342,870 people in its first year—nearly the entire population of Vancouver at that time. To date, more than 35 million people have visited.

The Aquarium is home to more than 50,000 sea creatures. It is the largest in Canada and one of the five largest in North America. It was the first facility to incorporate professional naturalists/interpretive specialists into galleries to explain animal behaviors.

Since 1956, researchers have been studying habitats and animals. Today, scientists are involved in wild killer whale research, rockfish conservation and Steller sea lion preservation; as well as Northern fur seal population decline studies and breeding programs for various local species of fish. The Aquarium’s lab holds the record for rearing more marine fish than any other lab in the world.

The Aquarium rescues abandoned mammals and rehabilitates them for release back into their natural habitat, tracks the movements of marine animals with acoustic transmitters, and is home to Ocean Wise, a nationwide conservation program created to educate consumers about sustainable seafood.

It builds awareness and understanding of the Arctic through Arctic Connections: a suite of partnership-based research, public programs and initiatives that seek solutions through greater understanding, dialogue and engagement.

Educational opportunities are endless, from summer AquaCamps and school visits to sleepovers.

The Aquarium is in the process of expanding its facilities—the largest and most extensive revitalization it has ever undertaken.


Brockton Cricket and Rugby Pavilion - Sporting roots run deep

Woman's track meet at Brockton Oval

In 1891, the Brockton Point Athletic Club cleared this site and turned it into our first outdoor athletic facility. Sport has been a part of this area ever since. 

The actual building  was erected in 1927 and was strategically located between the rugby and cricket fields; it was known then as Brockton Point Cricket Club or The Cricket Clubhouse and was built for the purpose of supporting the cricket community. 

In the 1930s, crowds of up to 2,000 came out to watch special cricket matches from international teams.

The pavilion was used until the 1950s and then fell into a state of disrepair after many years of not being used, except for the public washrooms. 

In 1970s, the Evergreens Old Boys rugby got involved and started to use the facility again, and in 1982, the Brockton Pavilion Society was formed to resurrect the facility for rugby use. 

From November 1982 to January 1984, the society ran a fundraising campaign and through the efforts of many  patrons and volunteers and benefactors, The Clubhouse  (another nick name for the pavilion) received a major restoration.

Re branded in 2010 as The Brockton Cricket and Rugby Pavilion to better reflect its use, it is now commonly referred to as The Brockton Pavilion with a lounge and bar on the top floor for members and many corporate and family functions. The interior has been maintained in its original Tudor style and is filled with rugby and cricket memorabilia.

The facility is also used for summer concerts, festivals, and sports events.