Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Village in the City

February 17, 2017


Often when one is out walking in the city one encounters sites where history is buried not so far beneath the surface, sites of significance to First Nations people and therefore, usually, sites of injustice.

For example. I took this photograph last weekend on the False Creek seawall not far from Granville Island. One hundred and fifty years ago this beachfront was a village site known as Snauq, or Sun'ahk, home to sixty or seventy Squamish people. The people had settled there to take advantage of the plentiful seafood resources in False Creek.

The Squamish received a reserve at the site in 1876 but as Vancouver spread southward, the white majority decided that the land was far too valuable to leave in the hands of its owners. The government began to apply pressure on the residents to leave and they finally agreed to sell. On April 10, 1913, a scow arrived to carry away the twenty or so families and their belongings. The people went to live at other local reserves and the buildings of Snauq were torched. The last First Nations village within the then city limits was gone.

Afterward the provincial attorney-general boasted that he had obtained the land for much less than it was worth. Over the years the reserve became the site of Vanier Park and the Vancouver Museum. But it would be up to future generations to pay for the attorney-general's double-dealing. In 1977 the Squamish Nation began legal proceedings to win compensation and thirteen years later the Squamish accepted a $92.5 million dollar settlement from the federal government.

The village site, underneath the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge, is now marked by this Welcome Figure carved by Darren Yelton and erected in 2006.


February 10, 2017


Every day the Dictionary of Canadian Biography posts a feature biography on its website and this past week one of the articles was about Vancouver's own Joe Fortes, perhaps to mark Black History Month. (That's him above in about 1918; courtesy of Vancouver city Archives ...

January 23, 2017

Several years ago I travelled to northern Vancouver Island to visit a pair of museums/cultural centres that tell the story of one of the most flagrant art heists in Canadian history. But this robbery was not carried out by cat burglars or art thieves; it was the work of the Canadian government on behalf of the Canadian people.

The Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre at Cape Mudge is on Quadra Island, a brief ferry trip from Campbell River, and...

January 12, 2017

Now that Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations have kicked off, I am sure you are wondering: what was going on in Vancouver in 1867?

The short answer: not much. But something.

By 1867, Burrard Inlet had been occupied by a variety of indigenous peoples (Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish) for millennia. It was, in the words of historical geographer Cole Harris, a “native place.” In what is now...

January 8, 2017


I have used this photograph (Glenbow Archives ND6742) several times over the years in different history textbooks I have written to illustrate the destitution in Western Canada during the Dirty Thirties. It shows the Fehrs, a Mennonite family from the Saskatoon area, stranded in Edmonton in June 1934. It is a heart-breaking image depicting...

January 6, 2017

Tilikum, the most infamous orca in the world, has died.

In 2010 Tilikum was participating in a whale show at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, when he pulled a trainer, Dawn Brancheau, into the tank and held her under the water until she drowned. That incident was highlighted in the documentary film Blackfish which alleged...