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These 19 fascinating photos capture what Canada Day looked like in Vancouver over 100 years ago

There were a lot of parades and boat races.

While Canada Day celebrations the last couple of years have been subdued by the pandemic and altered by a new focus on the nation's history of residential schools, in the past, Dominion Day, as it was known, was a day to be out in the city.

Canada's first birthday was in 1868; B.C. was still a few years away from joining up then. And, while in 1871 British Columbia became the sixth province, the City of Vancouver was still over a decade away from being founded. However, New Westminster was a bustling town, and the first photo in the gallery is actually from this period. It shows a group in front of the Colonial Hotel; with hundreds gathered for the moment, the photo would have represented a large portion of the local settler population.

Less than a month before Vancouver was to celebrate the first Dominion Day on the west coast, in 1886, the city burned down. That put a damper on any plans to commemorate the day.

However, in 1887, a parade was held in the rebuilt city, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the Vancouver volunteer fire brigade played a big role in it.

Over its first few decades, Vancouver always enjoyed two significant Dominion Day activities. There was a big parade (with a significant military presence), and there were boat races. Most of the photos in this gallery are from those two events.

A few other things can be extrapolated from looking at these historic images, too. Cyclists have always been a part of Vancouver, for one. In the photo from Hotel Vancouver on Granville Street taken on July 1, 1900, several people on bikes can be seen riding past the marching military.

And while these days people often complain about advertising at events like this with gimmicky floats, it's a tradition that goes back over a century. We've limited the number of float photos, but the archives include pictures of floats from multiple ice cream businesses in 1925, giant boots showing up several years apart from different show companies, and businesses from shingle companies to wire rope with prominent floats.

Another thing is the fashion that was on display; given that the day was a day to be out and be seen, some people showed up looking quite snazzy. For example there's the car load of folks showing up for opening of the original Georgia Viaduct; somehow they fit eight people in the car, and each with a fairly different hat (except two of the guys up front). And then there's the cricket team from 1888, who make a strong argument for more cricket just based on the uniforms.

One additional note; in the search through the Vancouver Archives photo database, it appears only one image of a Canada Day event (during the period) showed any indigenous people. In 1890 a photo captured a group participating in a boat race with an epic canoe holding at least 12 people.