Vancouver History Blog

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Douglas Firs in the West End, with the first Hotel Vancouver in the distance. Photo by William McFarlane Notman, McCord Museum #VIEW 1803.

Past & Present: the West End, 1888/2017

The same view of the West End, looking toward downtown from Thurlow and Barclay streets in 2017.

Looking towards downtown Vancouver from Thurlow and Barclay Streets in the West End.

The old photo was taken by William McFarlane Notman of the Montreal-based Notman & Son studio. Notman’s father, William, opened his studio in the 1850s and became Canada’s first internationally known photographer.

The building in the distance is the first Hotel Vancouver, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway on the southwest corner of Granville and Georgia Streets. The vantage point, the intersection of Thurlow and Barclay Streets, was determined by Vancouver’s first city archivist, Major Matthews, in his notes to a painting of the same trees.

The land in this area, District Lot 185, better known as the Brighouse Estate, was cleared by contractor John “Chinese” McDougall in the spring of 1887.

McDougall’s nickname comes from his hiring of Chinese workers, which allowed him to significantly undercut his competitors because of the lower wages paid for Chinese labour at the time. It also inspired Vancouver’s first race riot. In February 1887, an angry mob of white workers attacked the Chinese loggers in their camp, burned all their belongings, and forced them onto a steamer headed for Victoria. They were upset that these jobs were going to cheaper and lower status workers.

1888 photo by William McFarlane Notman, McCord Museum #VIEW 1803. Information from Major Matthews, Early Vancouver Vol. 7 (City of Vancouver Archives, 1956), p. 349.