Taking the top spot for the annual TripAdvisor’s Top 25 Parks of the World list last month, Stanley Park sees millions of visitors every year who come to admire one of our favourite pieces of British Columbian soil.

While the natural splendour of the Park is remarkable and often leaves visitors with the impression that they have witnessed a sample of undisturbed wilderness, the dense forest of Stanley Park disguises a rich, complex history of change and disturbance.

Here are four things you didn’t know about Stanley Park.

1. It has a haunted island

The small, 3.8 hectare island to the south of Stanley Park has a history that’s as chilling as its name. Long used as a First Nations tree-burial site, non-aboriginal settlers first discovered Deadman’s Island in 1862. During the 1890s, the island was used as a smallpox quarantine camp and burial ground for those who did not survive the deadly virus. The Island continued to be used as a cemetery for CPR construction casualties and those killed in the Great Fire of Vancouver, with none of the bodies having ever been exhumed. In 1942 it became a naval base for the HMCS Discovery, which it still is today. With such a grim history, Deadman’s Island is unsurprisingly considered one of the most haunted islands in North America, with its first documented haunting dating back to 1909. You can’t visit the island as it’s off-limits to the public, but the Stanley Park Seawall provides a good look, if you dare…

Stanley Park Hotel

“Hollow Tree”, a Stanley Park icon, is a stump and lower trunk of an 800 year old Western Red Cedar and was one of the park’s first tourist attractions.

2. It was home to many exotic residents

Furry exotic residents, that is. The Stanley Park Zoo, which was open from 1888 to 1997, was home to monkeys, kangaroos, emus, snakes, parrots, polar bears, and more. The polar bear exhibit, built in 1962, was the park’s main attraction and featured Tuk – one of the oldest-living polar bears (he reached the age of 36), and an animal hero too as he had saved a kitten that was thrown into his pool back in 1983. Less exotic but charming nonetheless are the current residents of the park, which include raccoons, herons, frogs, beavers, water fowl, and all those grey squirrels (which today are apparently the offspring of a gift of 8 pairs shipped from New York in 1909).

3. It was used during wartime

As a strategic location in the Burrard Inlet, Stanley Park had various fortifications, garrisons, and gun batteries installed during World War I and II. In 1914, a gun battery was built on the cliff directly above Siwash Rock. Then, in 1936, when Japan moved into Manchuria, the perceived Japanese threat resulted in a watch tower addition. In 1938, another gun battery was placed at Ferguson Point to protect the city from possible attacks from the Germans. There, an officers mess was built, which is now The Teahouse restaurant.

Note: While not actually used for defence, the Nine O’Clock Gun is an 1816 British naval cannon located near Brockton Point. It is the oldest man-made landmark in the park, and was fired for the first time in 1898, a tradition that has continued for more than a century. The cannon was originally detonated with a stick of dynamite, but is now activated automatically with an electronic trigger. No one is quite sure about why the gun is fired each night. It was thought to signal the close of fishing on Sunday nights or as an aid to set ships clocks.

4. It is home to Canada’s first public aquarium

The Vancouver Aquarium opened its doors to the public on June 15, 1956, the first of its kind in Canada. Back then, admission was about 15 cents for children and 25 cents for adults. In its first year, 342,870 people visited the Aquarium. To put this in perspective, only 344,833 people lived in Vancouver at that time. The Aquarium was also the first facility in the world to study a captured killer whale, Moby Doll (actually a young male) in 1964. Today, as Canada’s largest aquarium, it houses over 50,000 animals belonging to about 800 different species from all over the globe. On June 14th of this year, the Aquarium unveiled a $45 million expansion, with beautiful new exhibits that include a Jamaican fruit bat cave, a Red Sea coral reef tank, and a stunning display showing off our very own coho salmon.


Last modified: February 2, 2017

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