History includes Hawaiians in Coal Harbour

Isabella J. Mori sent us this interesting article on some of Coal Harbour’s history:In 1859, British Royal Navy Captain Richards of the H.M. “Plumper” surveying vessel reported to Governor Douglas that Francis Brockton, his chief engineer, had found coal seams in the sandstone around Stanley Park.

And that’s how the name Coal Harbour came about.

The coal turned out to be of low quality and uneconomical to exploit but it, together with the lumber mills in and around Burrard Inlet, made the area interesting enough to be settled by non-Natives.

Of course this seafood rich area with its mild climate had already been inhabited by the Coast Salish, who are reported to have come from Asia somewhere around 12000 BCE. Earliest archaeological evidence of dwellings go back to the middle ages, 400 years before the Spanish first visited Vancouver.

Once the Pacific West started booming in the latter part of the 1800s, immigrants came from all over the world. An immigrant group that is lesser known are Hawaiians who, together with other non-Caucasian immigrants such as African Americans and people coming up from the West Indies, were referred to as “Kanakas”. A few Hawaiian families, earlier employed in the fur trade, settled at a ranch right in Coal Harbour, shortly after Captain Richards had given it that name in 1860. That ranch was called “Kanaka Ranch.”

The Hawaiian families grew fruit and vegetables, they fished and hunted, and they made coke from the local coal. This they sold to Hastings Mill, located near Gastown. The children trekked daily along a shore path to school at the Mill.

The story of these families is quite interesting. Jean Barman tells it in Stanley Park’s Secret: The Forgotten Families of Whoi Whoi, Kanaka Ranch, and Brockton Point, a book that won a 2006 City of Vancouver Book Award.

The book is replete with fascinating historical photographs that show neat cottages and float homes, picket fences and pocket gardens, and lots of healthy children. More soberly, the book also reveals Vancouver’s unwelcoming stance towards non-Anglo families at that point in history.

As history rolled on, thankfully, Canada evolved to the fascinating and so much more inclusive multicultural society that we have today.

Next time I go for a stroll around coal harbour, when I get to a quiet little spot, I’ll imagine the children from Kanaka Ranch laughing and playing by the water, and offer them my thanks for playing their not always easy part in the growth of this beautiful city.

Thanks for the article, Isabella.