Vancouver Day Pt. 2 – Fire Day
Those of you who have been following our advocacy work over the past few years will know that we have been encouraging the City to think of designating one day a year as Vancouver Day. This gesture, we feel, could help foster a sense of civic pride, while also creating the opportunity for other commemorative activities and events to take place. It could be a chance to take one day a year to mark the city’s rich history, explore present day issues, and envision opportunities for the future.
Our annual ‘nudge’ in this regard usually comes on April 6, the anniversary of the city’s incorporation. But you may be interested in knowing that at one point in time, Vancouver did celebrate Vancouver Day… and it was today!
The date June 13 has considerable significance in the city’s history. On this day in 1792, Captain George Vancouver arrived in the Burrard Inlet and had what local historian Chuck Davis describes as “a friendly encounter with local Coast Salish people.”
But the real incentive for the commemoration of June 13 was the Great Fire of Vancouver, which tore through the brand new city in 1886. Of the 1000 or so buildings that were in place at the time, only a handful remained following the fire. Somewhere between 8 and 28 people died in the blaze.
As many historians have noted, the city rebuilt itself at a remarkable speed, and the legacy of this resilience can been seen in the architectural history of present day Gastown and Strathcona.
The memory of the fire, however, lived on in the collective memory of the city. For many decades after the fire, many residents would informally celebrate the anniversary of the event with something they called “Fire Day.”
In 1929, the Vancouver Pioneers Association, along with other organizations, petitioned the City Council to formally set aside the anniversary of the fire as a civic celebration, and in early June that year, City Council voted unanimously to designate June 13th as Vancouver Day “in perpetuity.” A large celebration was held in Stanley Park, with several thousand people in attendance.
Despite the push to mark the date, interest in the celebration gradually waned over the following decades. Memories of the Great Fire faded incrementally with the passing of each pioneer and witness to the event.
In 1986, Vancouver Day was briefly revived on the 100-year anniversary of the Fire. Festivities at that time included special events, a commemorative badge, and even a recreation of the bucket brigade – with community members passing buckets of water along Water Street in a giant fire drill.
And then, quiet again.
For our part, we still think Vancouver could benefit from a civic day. While the idea of marking the Great Fire may not resonate with residents the same way it used to, the idea of marking our collective resilience and shared sense of community surely can. Whether it’s April 6, or June 13, or another date all together, let’s give some serious thought to the idea of Vancouver Day.
And on the subject of the Great Fire…
Today, City Council passed a motion to “publicly thank the First Nations families who saved Vancouverites’ lives in the Great Fire.” This is an important gesture. As the motion notes, many more residents of the city would have perished “if not for local First Nations families. Despite being forcibly removed from their homelands and crowded onto a small reserve across the Burrard inlet in Ustlawn, families—at their own peril—chose to bring their own canoes and boats across the inlet to rescue Vancouverites.”