Photograph of the Hastings Streetcar taken at the terminus of the Hastings Streetcar line at Ellesmere Avenue in North Burnaby. Two men in uniform and a boy dressed in a suit and hat are at the head of the car, looking towards the camera. A horse-drawn cart full of cordwood is visible in the background moving along the planked wooden road parallel to the street car. (City of Burnaby Archives)
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A brief history of North Burnaby

I’ve lived on Capitol Hill in North Burnaby for over seven years now and have always been curious about the history of this neighbourhood. So, last night I attended a wonderful presentation about the history of Burnaby Heights and Capitol Hill at the McGill branch of the Burnaby Public Library.

The one hour presentation, organised by the Heights Neighbourhood Association, was delivered by Arilea Sill, an archivist at the City of Burnaby who explained all the historical resources available online and Lisa Codd, a curator at Burnaby Village Museum who recounted the history of the neighbourhood.

History in the Heights poster
History in the Heights poster

While many British Columbia communities started out as farms or trading posts that would later be developed into suburban residential neighbourhoods North Burnaby was, in fact, an “instant suburb.” That is, its developers constructed modern homes and subdivisions right over the forest.

In 1912 North Burnaby was still mostly wilderness and settlement went hand in hand with logging. Logging was mostly done by hand and sold to local mills for shingles.

Photograph of an aerial drawing of Hastings Grove and Hastings Grove Addition in North Burnaby, as well as the surrounding area. A caption above the drawing reads, "a splendid view of the City, Fraser River, Burrard Inlet and the Mountains." A caption below the drawing reads, "Hastings Grove and Hastings Grove Addition."
Photograph of an aerial drawing of Hastings Grove and Hastings Grove Addition in North Burnaby, as well as the surrounding area. A caption above the drawing reads, “a splendid view of the City, Fraser River, Burrard Inlet and the Mountains.” A caption below the drawing reads, “Hastings Grove and Hastings Grove Addition.” (City of Burnaby Archives)

While the Vancouver Heights neighbourhood (now known as the Burnaby Heights), was cleared by developers many Capitol Hill property owners were left to clear their own lots prior to any construction. This often meant blasting stubborn tree stumps with dynamite. So much blasting took place, in fact, that the city had to implement blasting bylaws! Up until the 1930s Capitol Hill children were warned to run for cover when they heard someone yell “Fire in the hole!”

Coffee, tea and snacks at the History in the Heights event.
Coffee, tea and snacks at the History in the Heights event.

Capitol Hill was subdivided into lots in 1909 by people who did not take the topography of the area into consideration. Consequently, many people purchased lots that were unsuitable for development and a large number of them were left vacant and eventually reverted back to city ownership.

The high number vacant lots gave the city an opportunity to return to the drawing board, conduct a proper survey, and redesign the streets taking geography into consideration. Twenty-two acres of these lots would later become Confederation Park.

Photograph of an unidentified man standing at the base of a large stump that he will prepare for blasting. This man is thought to be John William "Jack" Holmes. (City of Burnaby Archives)
Photograph of an unidentified man standing at the base of a large stump that he will prepare for blasting. This man is thought to be John William “Jack” Holmes. (City of Burnaby Archives)

Burnaby’s location between Vancouver and New Westminster, ensured that infrastructure came before settlement. The early transportation networks in Burnaby were not designed to serve Burnaby, but to get through Burnaby. Douglas Road, which helped link Vancouver with New Westminster, was constructed by the Royal Engineers from 1862 to 1865. In 1891 a streetcar line was constructed along that route which led to Burnaby’s incorporation the following year.

In 1903 Hastings St., then a plank road, was constructed in response to a need to bring power to Vancouver from the hydroelectric plant at Buntzen Lake. The promise of a streetcar line spurred development along Hastings and it was constructed in 1913 from Boundary to Ellesmere.

Photograph of the Hastings Streetcar taken at the terminus of the Hastings Streetcar line at Ellesmere Avenue in North Burnaby. Two men in uniform and a boy dressed in a suit and hat are at the head of the car, looking towards the camera. A horse-drawn cart full of cordwood is visible in the background moving along the planked wooden road parallel to the street car. (City of Burnaby Archives)
Photograph of the Hastings Streetcar taken at the terminus of the Hastings Streetcar line at Ellesmere Avenue in North Burnaby. Two men in uniform and a boy dressed in a suit and hat are at the head of the car, looking towards the camera. A horse-drawn cart full of cordwood is visible in the background moving along the planked wooden road parallel to the street car. (City of Burnaby Archives)

I’d like to thank the library, the city, and the neighbourhood association for putting on this wonderful event!

For more information please visit Heritage Burnaby at www.heritageburnaby.ca

Also, here’s a nature video I took of Capitol Hill wildlife exploring exploring the wilderness of Burnaby Heights:

3 Comments

  1. My first meeting. I enjoyed it a lot. I have lived in Burnaby since 1944. I have many memories of the “Heights”. Please let me know when and if you plan another night.

    1. Hi Terry, it was a lot of fun and I would love to hear your stories about what this place was like before me and my cat came to this ‘hood! But yeah, I didn’t organise this wonderful meeting but I’ll be sure to let you know when they do another one! 🙂

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