150 years ago, Gassy Jack was just thinking about opening a saloon at Burrard Inlet – which he did later in 1867. (Find out all about it on The Lost Souls of Gastown Tour.) British Columbia had only united with Vancouver Island into one colony the year before and was still four years away from joining confederation. So Dominion Day (as July 1st was called before 1982) wasn’t a thing in these parts yet.
The Mainland Guardian, a New Westminster newspaper, described that city’s first Dominion Day after BC joined confederation: “Saturday, being the first of July, was observed by a copious display of bunting, but nothing more.”
By contrast, American expats in New West observed Independence Day “with proper effect” a few days later. They gathered at JT Scott’s Saloon and whooped it up with patriotic songs, a 37 gun salute, cheering the President and the Queen, playing sports “until the evening was well advanced,” and eating strawberries and cream, while “the band discoursed sweet music throughout the day.”
By 1873, Captain Raymur was organizing proper Dominion Day festivities at Hastings Mill (at the foot of Dunlevy Street), with music, dancing, free dinner, sports, and of course, strawberries and cream for about 500 people. Judging by the poster, it was an even more ambitious event in 1876.
The Colonial Hotel photo was taken in New Westminster in 1878. People came by steamer from Victoria and “from the surrounding settlements and Burrard Inlet by stage, wagon, horseback, and canoe” for the celebration. The weather that year was “rather tearful,” but at least the dust was kept to a minimum.
The photo below shows the canoe races at the foot of Carrall Street for the 1890 Dominion Day. The guy in the drum major uniform is Chief Joe Capilano.
For Canada’s sesquicentennial, Vancouver is hosting “Canada 150+” events as part of its reconciliation efforts. Check out a listing of events through to the end of the year.
Have a great long weekend and whatever your plans, play safe!
Poster: Published by the Mainland Guardian, 1876, via the Internet Archive; Colonial Hotel photo by French, 1878, City of Vancouver Archives #677-452; canoe race photo, 1890, by Bailey Bros., City of Vancouver Archives #In P4