Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Historian at Work

July 8, 2018


As mentioned below, I gave an illustrated talk on the history of squatting in Burrard Inlet recently. (If you are interested, Vancouver Sun reporter Kevin Griffin wrote a nice piece about it.)

One of the most organized of the squatter communities was Crabtown, located on the south shore of the Inlet in Burnaby from before World War One until the 1950s. I realized that I had not taken the trouble to visit the site so yesterday found me standing on the TransCanada Trail just to the east of the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge reading this plaque, which commemorates the site.

There are several first-hand accounts of the community. One of my favourite was given to me by the late Chuck Davis who arrived in Vancouver as a boy with his father in 1944. Their first home was a shack in Crabtown which his dad bought for $300. "I didn't know what a squatter was," Davis recalled, "but I did know I loved the place. Ours was one of a long row of shacks, linked by a boardwalk, right beside the train tracks. When trains went by the whole shack trembled."

This sign is as close as I could get to the actual site of the community, which is at the bottom of rather a steep slope. That's North Vancouver in the distance, and the plaque displays a photo of Crabtown as it looked in its heyday.

July 2, 2018


The debate about revising the historical reputations of some of our "founding fathers" and the consequent removal of street names, statues, etc. is an important and complicated one. But sometimes it descends into farce.

A case in point is a stretch of highway outside of Courtenay on Vancouver Island. In 1996 Glen Clark's NDP government christened a part of the...

June 24, 2018


When I was a kid in 1950s Vancouver my father often took me to watch the Mounties play baseball at what was then Capilano Stadium. In fact I was part-owner of the club; at some point the team was community owned and my dad bought me a $25 share. Truth be told I found the games a bit boring but I appreciated spending time in the bleachers with my father and I daresay he felt the same...

June 14, 2018


People have been living "off the grid" in cabins and floathomes around the shores of Burrard Inlet since before the creation of Vancouver. Squatting on the foreshore was one strategy for finding affordable housing in what has always been an expensive city. Little by little these foreshore squatters were evicted from their homes to make way for port developments until today...

May 31, 2018


One reason to take a trip up BC's Inside Passage (see below) is to witness scenes like this.

The vessel was dawdling up Blackfish Sound near the top of Vancouver Island when this adolescent humpback decided to put on a show. It was with us for about half an hour, breeching and fin slapping and generally showing off. Coincidentally (or was it?) we were just passing by Orca...

May 10, 2018


While preparing to set sail (see below) I've been reading a fascinating account of daily life in the Depression-era government work camps established by the Department of Defence to get single, jobless men off the streets. The book, edited by Peter Neary, collects the correspondence of Alan Collier, a Toronto-born artist who travelled west in search of work in 1934 and ended...