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Historic Granville Island

The history of Granville Island is as rich as the flavours of its market offerings. 

Historic Granville Island Factory Photo in Sepia

Before There Was an Island

East Half of Granville Island Before Filling - historical black and white photo West Half of Granville Island Before Filling - historical black and white photo

What is now Granville Island was once nothing more than two sandbars, that would appear and disappear with the tide. The area was inhabited seasonally by indigenous people, who would use the sandbars for fishing, catching shellfish and gatherings. Eventually, a permanent village was created near the sandbars, called Sen̓áḵw in Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish language), or sən̓aʔqʷ  in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ (Musqueam language). 

The sandbar would be exposed at low tide, and members of the local Squamish First Nation would gather to fish for crab and mussels and share stories. So, since the beginning, Granville Island has always been a place of community - a place for people.

Industrial Island- Boom and Decline


With the Industrial Boom of the 20th Century came the demand for an industrial area. False Creek was dredged to create a man-made island. Believe it or not, up until the early 1970’s, this whole area was a declining industrial wasteland. They called it Industrial Island, home to factories, mills, warehouses and shops that produced materials for the local forestry, mining, construction, and shipping industries with over 1200 people employed by 40 industrial companies. However, after the Second World War ended, there was a decline in the demand for this heavy industry, and many of the buildings were closed or abandoned. Left behind were ugly, run-down factories that were dangerous and prone to fires.

"Mr. Granville Island"

Historic Granville Island Hotel Photo in colour Historic Arts Theatre Company Photo in colour

This all changed in the 1960’s thanks to the visionary Mayor Art Phillips. Art Phillips teamed up with Ron Basford, a member of parliament who became known as ‘Mr. Granville Island’, along with many other local visionaries, and they set out to transform this industrial wasteland into the vibrant artistic and cultural peoples’ place we see today. Once a theatre and restaurant opened in the early 70’s, Granville Island became popular with the artists of 1970s Vancouver. And the name? It became Granville Island, after the bridge that runs directly over it.

Today Granville Island is considered one of the most successful urban redevelopments in all of North America, and is the top destination in Vancouver, along with Stanley Park. According to the CMHC, the island sees an estimated 6 million visits a year, and over 80% are locals!; Granville Island is not just a tourist attraction, it’s where people like myself, and the top chefs in the city come to shop for fresh, local, seasonal, and specialty ingredients.

Home of Independent Vendors

You have probably noticed there is no McDonalds or Starbucks on the Island. That is because there are no franchises or chains allowed on Granville Island. (The exceptions are The Keg (1973), and JJ Bean, which are part of the cultural fabric of the Island and have their roots here.) The three pillars of Granville Island are:

1) Unique, high quality local products,
2) Artists’ studios where you can watch local artists and craftspeople at work, and buy directly from the artist, and
3) Keeping the Industrial look and character of the buildings.

 Granville Island Public Market Full Colour Photos with Signage

Granville Island is now home to more than 300 businesses, marinas, fish-mongers, artist studios and cultural facilities, but the jewel of the island is of course the Granville Island Public Market, where generations of local merchants and makers sell their goods.

To learn more about Granville Island's history visit Vancouver Heritage Foundation's Places that Matter Project. Some information and photos used in this blog were from their site with permission.

More information and photos available on Granville Island's website.

Overhead Black and White Image of Granville Island

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