History of Vancouver
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The history of Vancouver is one that extends back thousands of years, with its first inhabitants arriving in the area following the Last Glacial Period. Vancouver is situated in British Columbia, Canada; with its location near the mouth of the Fraser River and on the waterways of the Strait of Georgia, Howe Sound, Burrard Inlet, and their tributaries. Vancouver has, for thousands of years, been a place of meeting, trade, and settlement.
The presence of people in what is now called the Lower Mainland of British Columbia dates from 8,000 to 10,000 years ago when the glaciers of the last ice age began to disappear. The area, known to the First Nations as S'ólh Téméxw, shows archeological evidence of a seasonal encampment ("the Glenrose Cannery site") near the mouth of the Fraser River that dates from that time.
The first Europeans to explore the area were Spanish Captain José María Narváez in 1791, and British naval Captain George Vancouver in 1792. The area was not settled by Europeans until almost a century later, in 1862. The city grew rapidly following completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) transcontinental line from Eastern Canada, allowing for continuous rail service in the late 1880s. Chinese settlers were increasingly a presence in the area following completion of the CPR. Subsequent waves of immigration were initially of Europeans moving west, and later, with the advent of global air travel, from Asia and many other parts of the world.
First Nations settlements
The Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast are the original inhabitants of what is now known as Vancouver. The city falls within the traditional territory of three Coast Salish peoples known as, Squamish (Sḵwxwú7mesh), Tsleil-waututh and Xwméthkwyiem ("Musqueam"—from masqui "an edible grass that grows in the sea"). On the southern shores of Vancouver along the Fraser River, Xwméthkwyiem live with their main community. In the False Creek and Burrard Inlet area, Squamish currently live on numerous villages in North Vancouver, with their territory also a part of Howe Sound and upwards towards the town of Whistler. Further down the Burrard Inlet, Tsleil-Waututh have their main community. Xwméthkwyiem and Tsleil-Waututh historically spoke a language dialect of Halkomelem language, whereas Squamish language is separate but related. Their language is more closely connected to their Shishalh neighbors at Sechelt. Historically the area of where Vancouver is now was all resource gathering places for food or materials.
The Musqueam have been living continuously at their main winter village, Xwméthkwyiem, at the mouth of the Fraser River, for 4,000 years. Vancouver's ecosystem, with its abundant plant and animal life, provides a wealth of food and materials that have supported the people for over 10,000 years. At the time of first European contact, the recently arrived Squamish people had villages in the areas around present-day Vancouver in places like Stanley Park, Kitsilano and False Creek area, as well as Burrard Inlet. Tsleil-Waututh were said to also be settled on Burrard Inlet at the time of George Vancouver's arrival in 1792. The largest villages were at Xwemelch'stn (sometimes rendered Homulchesan), near the mouth of the Capilano River and roughly beneath where the north foot of the present Lions Gate Bridge is today, and at Musqueam. X̱wáýx̱way was a large village in Stanley Park (in the Lumberman's Arch area). The foundation of a Catholic mission at the village, called Eslha7an, near Mosquito Creek engendered the creation of another large community of Squamish there. Along False Creek, at the south foot of Burrard Bridge, another village called Senakw, existed at one time a large community, and during colonization was the residence of Squamish historian August Jack Khatsahlano.
The Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast had achieved a very high level of cultural complexity for a food gathering base. As Bruce Macdonald notes in Vancouver: a visual history: "Their economic system encouraged hard work, the accumulation of wealth and status and the redistribution of wealth..." Winter villages, in what is now known as Vancouver, were composed of large plankhouses made of Western Red Cedar wood. Gatherings called potlatches were common in the summer and winter months when the spirit powers were active. These ceremonies continue to be an important part of the social and spiritual life of the people.
Spanish Captain José María Narváez was the first European to explore the Strait of Georgia in 1791. He landed at Point Grey and entered Burrard Inlet. In the following year, 1792, the British naval Captain George Vancouver (1757–1798) met the Spanish expedition of Dionisio Alcalá Galiano and Cayetano Valdés y Flores off Point Grey, and together further explored the Strait of Georgia. Vancouver also explored Puget Sound in the present day Seattle area. Vancouver, surveying in small boats with his officer Peter Puget, arrived at the present city of Vancouver before the Spanish. They first landed at what Vancouver later named Point Grey. Puget informally called the place Noon Breakfast Point. Puget's name was officially given to the southwest tip of Point Grey in 1981. Simon Fraser was the first European to reach the area overland, descending the river which bears his name in 1808.
Despite the influx of the Fraser Gold Rush in 1858–59, settlement on Burrard Inlet and English Bay was almost unknown prior to the early 1860s due in large part to the lack of interest in the area as the access to the BC interior was via the City of New Westminster and the Fraser River and also due to the power of the Squamish chiefs over the area. Robert Burnaby and Moberly camped and prospected for coal in what is now Coal Harbour in the summer of 1859. They had an amicable relationship with the First Nations of the area. Robert Burnaby wrote to his family, "our [spare] time has been occupied in exploring all the ins and outs of this Inlet, which I prophesy will become one of the greatest naval rendezvous and centres of commerce on this side of the world."
European settlement and growth
Lumbering was the early industry along Burrard Inlet, now the site of Vancouver's seaport. The first sawmill began operating in 1863 at Moodyville, a planned settlement built by American lumber entrepreneur Sewell "Sue" Moody. In 1915, it expanded as a municipality and was renamed "North Vancouver"; the name Moodyville still applies to the Lower Lonsdale district, though more as a marketing term than in common usage (Moodyville proper was a few blocks to the east). The first export of lumber took place in 1865; this lumber was shipped to Australia. In 1867, the first sawmill on the south shore of Burrard Inlet, Stamp's Mill, began producing lumber at what is now the foot of Dunlevy Avenue in Vancouver. A site for the mill was originally planned at Brockton Point in what is now Stanley Park, but the Brockton Point site proved infeasible due to nearby currents and shoals which made docking difficult. The largest trees in the world grew along the south shores of False Creek and English Bay and provided (amongst other things) masts for the world's windjammer fleets and the increasingly large vessels of the Royal Navy. One famous sale of trees cut from the Jericho neighbourhood (west of Kitsilano), was a special order for the Celestial Emperor of China consisting of dozens of immense beams for the construction of The Gate of Heavenly Peace in the Forbidden City, Beijing. Millworkers and lumberers were from a wide variety of backgrounds – mostly Scandinavians and Nootkas – who were also brought to the inlet to help with the local whaling industry. At first, Squamish typically did not work in the mills.
A former river pilot, John (Jack) Deighton, set up a small (24' x 12') saloon on the beach about a mile west of the sawmill in 1867 where mill property and its "dry" policies ended. His place was popular and a well-worn trail between the mill and saloon was soon established – this is today's Alexander Street. Deighton's nickname, Gassy Jack, came about because he was known as quite the talker, or "gassy". A number of men began living near the saloon and the "settlement" quickly became known as Gassy's Town, which was quickly shortened to "Gastown". In 1870, the colonial government of British Columbia took notice of the growing settlement and sent a surveyor to lay out an official townsite named Granville, in honour of the British Colonial Secretary, Lord Granville, though it was still popularly known as Gastown (which is the name still current for that part of the city).
The new townsite was situated on a natural harbour, and for this reason it was selected by the Canadian Pacific Railway as their terminus. The transcontinental railway was commissioned by the government of Canada under the leadership of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald and was a condition of British Columbia joining confederation in 1871. The CPR president, William Van Horne, decided that Granville was not such a great name for the new terminus because of the seedy associations with Gastown, and strongly suggested "Vancouver" would be a better name, in part because people in Toronto and Montreal knew where Vancouver Island was but had no idea of where Granville was.
Under its new name the city was incorporated on April 6, 1886. Two months later, on June 13, a spectacular blaze destroyed most of the city along the swampy shores of Burrard Inlet in twenty-five minutes. The Great Vancouver Fire, which destroyed the city, was eventually considered to be beneficial, as the city was rebuilt with modern water, electricity and streetcar systems. Things recovered quickly after the fire, although celebratory Dominion Day festivities to launch the opening of the CPR were postponed a year as a result. The first regular transcontinental train from Montreal, Quebec arrived at a temporary terminus at Port Moody, British Columbia, in July 1886, and service to Vancouver itself began in May 1887. That year Vancouver's population was 1,000, by 1891 it reached 14,000 and by 1901 it was 26,000. The population increased to 120,000 by 1911.
The Port of Vancouver became internationally significant as a result of its key position in the All-Red Route, which spanned the global trade network of the British Empire, with the combined steamship and railway of the CPR shortening shipping times from the Orient to London drastically, with the new city becoming a node for major speculative investment by British and German capital. The completion of the Panama Canal initially reduced Vancouver's shipping traffic by becoming the new preferred route from Asia to Europe, however reduced freight rates in the 1920s made it viable to ship even Europe-bound prairie grain west through Vancouver in addition to grains that already shipped to parts of Asia.
1900 to 1940
With the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, Vancouver's seaport was able to compete with the major international ports for global trade because it was positioned as an alternative route to Europe. During the 1920s, the provincial government successfully fought to have freight rates that discriminated against goods transported by rail through the mountains eliminated, giving the young lawyer of the case, Gerry McGeer, a reputation as "the man who flattened the Rockies." Consequently, prairie wheat came west through Vancouver rather than being shipped out through eastern ports. The federal government established the Vancouver Harbour Commission development. With its completion in 1923, Ballantyne Pier was the most technologically advanced port in the British Empire.
The CPR, lumber exporters, terminal operators, and other companies based on the waterfront banded together after World War I to establish the Shipping Federation of British Columbia as an employers’ association to manage industrial relations on the increasingly busy waterfront. The Federation fought vociferously against unionization, defeating a series of strikes and breaking unions until the determined longshoremen established the current ILWU local after the Second World War. By the 1930s, commercial traffic through the port had become the largest sector in Vancouver's economy.
The rapid growth in automobiles and trucks after 1910 led to the construction of new bridges over False Creek including: the Granville Street Bridge, (1889 rebuilt 1954), the Burrard Street Bridge, 1932, and the Cambie Street Bridge, (1912 rebuilt 1984). Auto traffic to North Vancouver was facilitated with the construction of the first Second Narrow's Bridge in 1925 and by the completion of the Lion's Gate Bridge, in 1938, across the First Narrows.
Although the provincial resource-based economy allowed Vancouver to flourish, it was nonetheless not immune to the vagaries of organized labour. Two general strikes were launched by labour groups during the years following the First World War, including Canada's first general strike following the death of a trade unionist, Ginger Goodwin. Major recessions and depressions hit the city hard in the late 1890s, 1919, 1923, and 1929, which, aside from creating hardship also may have fuelled social tensions. In particular, members of the new and growing Asian population were subjected to discrimination as well as periodic upsurges of more physical objections to their arrival.
The most overt expression of this may have been the 1907 riots thought to have been organized by the Asiatic Exclusion League, a group formed under organized labour and inspired by its counterpart in San Francisco.
But discrimination was perhaps less overt than such events suggest. It could be argued that some politicians and publicists may have promoted and disseminated controversial ideologies through popular books such as H. Glynn-Ward's 1921 The Writing on the Wall and Tom MacInnes’s 1929 The Oriental Occupation of British Columbia. Newspapermen such as L. D. Taylor of the Vancouver World and General Victor Odlum of the Star generated a glut of editorials analyzing and warning about the "Oriental Menace," as did Danger: The Anti-Asiatic Weekly.
This determination of British Columbians to secure B.C.'s borders  influenced federal politicians to pass immigration laws such as the head tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act. What may be called a "climate of fear and hysteria" in the 1920s, culminated in the 'Janet Smith case', in which a Chinese national was accused of killing his young, white, female co-worker. The evidence for his guilt was perhaps based more on stereotyping than facts.
A growing population of Indians, primarily from the province of Punjab and of the Sikh religion, were also required to abide by immigration laws starting in 1908, despite the fact that they were subjects of the British Empire. This culminated in the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, in which most of 376 immigrants on the Komagata Maru, most of them from the Punjab in India were not permitted to disembark because they had not complied with immigration laws that required that they come by a continuous passage from their home country.
A group of residents of Indian origin rallied in support of the passengers. After losing a court challenge of the immigration laws, the ship remained in Burrard Inlet while negotiations continued concerning its departure. When negotiations dragged on, the head immigration officer in Vancouver arranged an attempt by the Vancouver police and other officials to board the ship, who were repelled by what the Vancouver Sun reported as "howling masses of Hindus". Subsequently, the federal government sent a naval ship and after concessions made by the federal Minister of Agriculture, an MP from Penticton, the ship departed. After returning to India, twenty of the passengers were shot by police in an incident after they refused to return to the Punjab.
In 1923 Warren Harding became the first US President to set foot in Canada. He met with the Premier of BC and the Mayor of Vancouver and spoke to a crowd of 50,000 in Stanley Park. A monument to Harding designed by Charles Marega was unveiled in Stanley Park in 1925.
Vice and politics
Vancouver, home port of the 246 ft. Malahat, a five-masted schooner known as the "Queen of Rum Row," maintained an active liquor trade throughout the Prohibition Era of the neighboring United States, despite efforts to bring Prohibition to Canada.
Vancouver's longest serving and most often elected mayor, L. D. Taylor, followed an "open town" policy prior to his final defeat in 1934 to Gerry McGeer. Essentially, the policy was that vice crimes such as prostitution, gambling, and bootlegging would be managed, rather than eliminated, so that police resources could be directed towards major crime.  A consequence of this, in addition to assumptions that Taylor was colluding with the criminal underworld, was the maintenance of red light districts in racialized neighbourhoods, such as Chinatown, Japantown, and Hogan's Alley, which perpetuated the association of non-whites with immorality and vice crime. Taylor suffered the biggest electoral defeat the city had seen in 1934, largely on this issue. McGeer ran on a law and order platform, resulting in a crackdown on vice crimes, which, after years of Taylor's "open town," sought to clean up crime. Unfortunately, policing non-white communities was key to successfully executing the plan. Even the East End (today's Strathcona) had by WWI been largely vacated by English, Scottish, and Irish residents who moved to the wealthier (and whiter) new developments of the West End and Shaughnessy. The East End, the original residential district that grew up around Hasting's Mill, was left to successive waves of new immigrants, and became associated with poverty and vice, (as the Downtown Eastside remains today).
The first act of City Council at its first meeting in 1886 was to request that the 1,000-acre (4.0 km2) military reserve be handed over for use as a park. Historians have pointed out that this may seem a strange priority for the nascent city as there was an abundance of green space at the time. The West End, however, was designated to be an upscale neighbourhood by speculators with connections to the CPR., They did not want the scattered settlements on this property to grow into another industrial, working-class neighbourhood. This act also signaled the beginning of the process that would see the remaining inhabitants of various origins evicted as squatters in the 1920s for the creation of a seemingly pristine park. It has been suggested that perhaps the new Stanley Park would over time be purged of any trace of native occupation. However over time the Parks Board has begun to refill it with Native artifacts.
In 1877, only six years after British Columbia joined Canada, Superintendent of Education John Jessop submitted a proposal for the formation of a provincial university. An Act Respecting the University of British Columbia was passed by the provincial legislature in 1890, but disagreements arose over whether to build the university on Vancouver Island or the mainland. A provincial university was formally called into being by the British Columbia University Act of 1908, although its location was not yet specified. Originally titled McGill University College of British Columbia (associated with McGill University in Montreal), it was selected in 1910 to be constructed at a site at Point Grey, though the outbreak of the First World War delayed construction. The now-independent University of British Columbia began operations in 1915.
In 1911, Vancouver expanded with the amalgamation of Hastings Townsite (originally called New Brighton). The former municipality's name continues on in the Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhood, which covers the same territory.
By the interwar years, other neighbourhoods had grown that were working class, but not especially impoverished or racially exclusive, such as Mount Pleasant, the suburb of South Vancouver, and Grandview-Woodland. Even the West End was becoming less exclusive. CPR developers once again established a new enclave for the city's white and wealthy elite that would pull them from the West End and be the destination for the "coming smart set." Point Grey was incorporated in 1908 for this purpose, and Shaughnessy Heights would be developed exclusively for the "richest and most prominent citizens," who were required to spend a minimum of $6, 000 on the construction of new homes, which were to conform to specific style requirements. These patterns of economic segregation were apparently secured by 1929 when Point Grey and South Vancouver were amalgamated with Vancouver. Point Grey included the current neighbourhoods of Arbutus Ridge, Dunbar-Southlands, Kerrisdale and Marpole, Oakridge, Shaughnessy and South Cambie, and South Vancouver included the current neighbourhoods of Cedar Cottage, Collingwood, Killarney, Riley Park-Little Mountain, Sunset, and Victoria-Fraserview. William Harold Malkin was the first mayor of the new city, having defeated incumbent Louis Denison Taylor, the champion of amalgamation, in the 1928 civic election.
BC was perhaps the hardest Canadian province hit by the depression. Although Vancouver managed to stave off bankruptcy, other cities in the Lower Mainland were not so lucky, such as North Vancouver and Burnaby. Vancouver also happened to be the target destination for thousands of transients – unemployed young men – who traveled across Canada looking for work, often by hopping on boxcars. This was the end of the line and had for years been a "Mecca of the Unemployed" because, as some cynically joked, it was the only city in Canada where you could starve to death before freezing to death. "Hobo jungles" sprouted up in the earliest days of the depression, where men built makeshift shanty towns out of whatever they could find (or steal). The largest of these was shut down allegedly for being unsanitary. Vancouver was also the launching pad for the Communist-led unemployed protests that frequented the city throughout the decade, culminating in the relief camp strike and the On-to-Ottawa Trek in 1935. Communist agitators and their supporters also led strikes in other industries, most notably the 1935 waterfront strike, and organized a large proportion of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion from Vancouver to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War as Canada's (unofficial) contribution to the International Brigades.
Vancouver was the site of major celebrations in 1936, in part to bolster civic spirit in the midst of the depression, as well as to celebrate Vancouver's Jubilee. Mayor McGeer provoked considerable controversy by organizing expensive celebrations at a time when the city was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and civic employees were working at a significantly reduced pay rate. Nevertheless, he did find a great deal of support from those that agreed a celebration would ultimately be good for the city's prosperity. While some large expenditures were roundly criticized – for example, the "ugly" fountain erected in Stanley Park's Lost Lagoon – others drew significant financial and public support, such as the construction of a new (and the current) city hall on Cambie Street. The next major civic celebration was the 1939 Royal visit of the King and Queen as part of their tour of Canada which marked the end of the depression and the likelihood of another world war.
World War II
- See the related article Japanese Canadian internment
The outbreak of the Second World War resulted in major changes for Vancouver. Local militia units quickly recruited extra members and Vancouver's Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, for example, had a battalion overseas in England within 4 months, and they remained in Europe fighting until the end of the war. The British Columbia Regiment, 15th Field Regiment RCA, 6th Field Engineers, HMCS Discovery and others all contributed to the war effort. Massive new spending by the governments and employment in the military and factories provided a much needed economic boost after the Great Depression of the 1930s. Among the many products and weapons for war service produced in the Vancouver area were minesweepers and corvettes for the Royal Canadian Navy; anti-aircraft guns in Burnaby and the Boeing aircraft factory in nearby Richmond produced parts for B-29 bomber aircraft. The old defences for Vancouver Harbour were upgraded with coast artillery positions at Point Grey (the Museum of Anthropology is built on top of this); Stanley Park; under the Lion's Gate Bridge and at Point Atkinson. In 1942, a few months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Canadians were "evacuated" from the West Coast. The Americans did the same with their citizens of Japanese ancestry. Canadians of Japanese descent were placed into holding areas such as the barns at Hastings Park and then interned in camps in the interior by the federal government which evoked the War Measures Act. Due to the fear of bombing and of poison gas attacks, a blackout was imposed on the West Coast in 1942 and school children and others were issued gas masks. Japan did indeed attack the West Coast. A Japanese submarine shelled Estevan Point Lighthouse, Japanese soldiers invaded and held island in Alaska and Japanese balloon bombs (Fire balloon) were floated across the Pacific Ocean on air currents to wreak their havoc on the forests and citizens of Canada and the USA. Locally these ballon bombs landed as close to Vancouver as Point Roberts, but their existence was kept a secret until very late in the war.
1950 – present
CBUT, the oldest television station in Western Canada, first went on the air in December 1953. The Oak Street Bridge, connecting Vancouver to Richmond across the Fraser River, opened in 1957. While the Second Narrows Bridge and the Lions' Gate Bridge had provided a connection to the North Shore since 1925 and 1938 respectively, the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing followed in 1960. The last vestiges of British Columbia Electric Railway's streetcar and interurban rail system were dismantled in 1958.
Another major bridge across the Fraser River, the Port Mann Bridge to Surrey, opened in 1964. Two new universities were established, the British Columbia Institute of Technology in 1964 and Simon Fraser University in 1965; both have satellite campuses in Vancouver. Residents of Strathcona – most of them Chinese – formed a protest movement led by civic activist Mary Lee Chan and prevented the construction of a freeway which would have resulted in the bulldozing of the neighbourhood. In 1967, the Greater Vancouver Regional District was incorporated. Greenpeace, one of the leading international environmental organizations, was founded in Vancouver in 1971.
In 1968 the Canada Council awarded a $3,500 grant to Joachim Foikis of Vancouver "to revive the ancient and time-honoured tradition of town fool." He made a habit of attending all city council meetings in full traditional jester's outfit, adding wit, nursery rhymes and interest to the normally pedestrian meetings and bringing international attention to Vancouver.
As Pacific Central Station replaced Waterfront Station as the main railway station in 1979, the latter was transformed into the terminal of SeaBus and the future SkyTrain (which opened six years later). Canada's first domed stadium, BC Place Stadium opened in 1983. The SkyTrain and the BC Place Stadium, as well as Science World, Canada Place and the Plaza of Nations, were constructed for Expo 86. This significant international event was the last World's Fair held in North America and was considered a success, receiving 22,111,578 visits.
In 1951 the population stood at 562,000; by 1971 it reached 1,000,000. The Park Royal Shopping Centre, in West Vancouver, became the first in the city in 1950 and Empire Stadium, was built to host the 1954 British Empire Games. Vancouver became the western anchor of the new CBC national television network in 1958 and the western hub of the newly completed Trans-Canada Highway in 1962. The giant Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, was built in 1959 for passenger and vehicle ferry service to southern Vancouver Island and the nearby Roberts Bank Superport coal terminal was finished in the late sixties. A second, Second Narrow's Bridge was built in 1960 and the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, was completed in 1967.
The establishment of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in 1959 and of Simon Fraser University in 1965, enriched city cultural life. Canada's first purpose-built auto racing track, the Westwood Motorsport Park was built in nearby Coquitlam, that same year. The first McDonald's restaurant outside the United States was opened in Richmond in 1967.
- History of Canada
- History of British Columbia
- List of heritage buildings in Vancouver
- Timeline of Vancouver history
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- Eric Nicol, Vancouver. Toronto: Doubleday, 1970. On page 50 Nicol writes that "in addition to the substantial grant of land from Smithe's [provincial] government, the company secured appreciable holding from a private syndicate, including original residents Morton, Brighouse and Hailstone. Some of these owners of small losts made what they thought was a killing, till the rapid increase of land values proved the corpus delicti to be their own." On the setting aside of Stanley Park as part of real estate development in the West End, including the role of CPR Land Commissioner, L. A. Hamilton, see Robert A. J. McDonald, "'Holy Retreat' or 'Practical Breathing Spot'? Class Perceptions of Vancouver's Stanley Park, 1910–1913," Canadian Historical Review LXV, no. 2 (1984): 139–140.
- Mike Steele, The Stanley Park Explorer, Vancouver: Whitecap Books, 1985, and Eric Nicol, Vancouver. Toronto: Doubleday, 1970.
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- Jean Barman, "Neighbourhood and Community in Interwar Vancouver," Robert A. J. McDonald and Jean Barman, eds., Vancouver’s Past: Essays in Social History. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1986: 97–141.
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McCallum, T. 2014. Hobohemia and the Crucifixion Machine: Rival Images of a New World in 1930s Vancouver, AU Press.