When I was an undergrad, one of my housemates papered the walls of his room with maps, mostly of Europe and North America. A history major, he relied on them as a visual reference of the places he studied: “the story of those places in a nutshell.” I didn’t fully appreciate this idea until I read Derek Hayes’ Historical Atlas of Vancouver and the Lower Fraser Valley, which tells the story of the region through a collection of maps categorized as “faithful to reality, fanciful, or strictly promotional.” Certainly, most locals know the west was settled by real estate speculators, but many need the blanks filled in. Here’s your filler. Hayes documents most major historical issues and events from settlement to 2005 (the year of publication), relying always on maps, posters, and photographs. It’s an excellent, unsurpassed introduction to the Lower Mainland’s spatiality.
The most entertaining chapters are the early ones, which chronicle the race to become the region’s preeminent city, starting in the 1850s. It’s a tale of land speculation hot spots, among them: Ft. Langley/Derby, New Westminster, and Port Moody, the would-be terminus of the railway, where “land sales began before surveying was finished.” Somewhere in there, Hayes writes, a wise exec at CPR realized they could profit from the real-estate craze instead of private investors, and so inked a deal with the province in 1886 to extend the line to Coal Harbour in exchange for 6,000 acres. Here, a map tells the story far better than the numbers or words (see Map 117 on page 62). The first transcontinental train pulled into Vancouver on May 23, 1887. The rest is history.
Historical Atlas of Vancouver and Lower Fraser Valley is published by Douglas & McIntyre. Details linked here.