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Vancouver History

Though it’s now the most important city in Western Canada, Vancouver was a come-lately in Pacific Northwest history, only timber mills, a few small settlements and logger saloons occupied the shores of Burrard Inlet until 1884, when the Canadian Pacific Railway chose the site, then called Granville, as the terminus of its trans-Canadian line. Prior to that, Coast Salish people had occupied the area for at least 11,000 years (a long time before Vancouver history as we know it was written). A catastrophic fire burned the settlement, now known as Vancouver, to the ground in 1886. When the city rebuilt it was renamed after 18th century explorer George Vancouver. Once the railroad came west, clipper ship trade set the city’s course; the first arrivals in the late 1800s bore tea bound from China by boat to New York, via train. Trade remains the top economic driver, and Vancouver is Canada’s #1 port. World Wars I & II reinforced that status, and the city cemented its global status with its centennial Expo '86. A decade later the handover of Hong Kong to China brought thousands of Commonwealth citizens, and their money, to Vancouver to resettle, boosting the city’s Asian character and leading to a new nickname, “Hongcouver.” The other key event in the late 20th century was the 1981 filming of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo movie, First Blood, which inaugurated the establishment of “Hollywood North.” Today the film industry racks up more than $1 billion a year in activity in BC, and Vancouver sends Asian goods eastward, coal and grain west, and digital images around the globe. The city itself holds 600,000 residents, and the surrounding Lower Mainland megalopolis more than 2 million.