Brockton Point, Stanley Park

Brockton Point, Stanley Park

by | Jul 16, 2022

Brockton Point is a prominent peninsula in Stanley Park on the southern coast of Burrard Inlet that forms the north shore of Coal Harbour in the city of Vancouver, about 19 miles (30 km) north of Tsawwassen and 2.6 miles (4 km) southeast of West Vancouver, British Columbia. The point was named after Francis Brockton who was the ship’s engineer of HMS Plumper under the command of Captain George H. Richards. In 1859, Brockton found a vein of coal, and subsequently, Governor James Douglas named the embayment Coal Harbour and the point after Brockton. The coal deposits discovered by Brockton are part of the Nanaimo Group, a sedimentary rock formation that is mainly exposed on Vancouver Island from Campbell River in the north to Nanaimo in the south, but a smaller exposure occurs along the southern shore of Burrard Inlet at Coal Harbour and Stanley Park. The coal was formed from organic matter that accumulated in nearshore swamps. The swamps were periodically inundated and buried with sediments derived from the eroding Coast Mountains during the Cretaceous period from 90 to 65 million years ago. About 32 million years ago, an intrusion of magma erupted as a basalt flow along the present-day northern shore of Stanley Park between Prospect Point and Siwash Rock. Over thousands of years, as waves eroded the sandstone, the basalt was exposed forming a dramatic cliff. Most of British Columbia was glaciated during the Last Glacial Maximum which locally was the Fraser Glaciation. Ice more than 5,900 feet (1,800 m) thick flowed from the Fraser Lowlands into the Strait of Georgia where it merged with other southward-moving ice to feed the Puget and Juan de Fuca ice lobes. The weight of the Fraser Glaciation depressed the land until it was 820 feet (250 m) below sea level. As the glaciers retreated between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago, the land rebounded at a faster rate than the sea level rise from the melting ice. The retreating glaciers also left a layer of unconsolidated sediments blanketing the peninsula with glacial drift. From 9,000 to 7,000 years ago, the sea was roughly 16 feet (5 m) below its present level and did not stabilize at the present level until around 4,500 years ago.

Humans have inhabited the Fraser Lowlands for more than 10,000 years, and the earliest archaeological evidence shows that the Stanley Park peninsula was occupied more than 3,000 years ago. The area is the traditional territory of different Coast Salish peoples. The Squamish Nation had a large village called Whoi Whoi, or Xwayxway, roughly meaning place of masks. The village had several cedar longhouses one of which measured 200 feet (61 m) long by 60 feet (18 m) wide. These houses were occupied by large extended families living in different areas of the house. Another settlement was on the western shore of the peninsula and was called Chaythoos, meaning high bank. The first European explorers to visit the peninsula were Spanish Captain José María Narváez in 1791,  and British Captain George Vancouver in 1792. By 1860, European settlers had started building homes, first at Brockton Point and later on nearby Deadman Island. From the 1860s to the 1880s, early settlers used Brockton Point, Anderson Point, and Deadman Island as a cemetery. In 1865, Edward Stamp cleared away part of the site in order to build a sawmill, however, the mill was never built due to rough currents around the point and a reef offshore that would impede the construction of log booms. He ended up moving the sawmill to Gastown and what would become Hastings Mill. The cleared point then became the primary sports field of early Vancouver. In 1888, the park was officially opened and named after Lord Frederick A. Stanley, who had recently become Canada’s sixth governor general. Both village sites were still at that time and some indigenous residents were forcefully removed to allow a road to be constructed around the park, and an ancient midden was used for construction material. Brockton Point is now the most easterly part of Stanley Park and the site of a lighthouse, and like the rest of the park coastline, the point is lined by the Vancouver Seawall.

Burrard Inlet and Coal Harbour became an important port of entry starting with the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush in 1858, and the risk of ship collisions prompted the construction of a navigation aid on Brockton Point. In 1880, William P. Anderson became chief engineer of the Department of Marine and Fisheries in Ottawa and served continuously until his retirement in 1919. During his career, he designed and built more than 500 lighthouses and fifty fog-alarm stations across Canada. He likely designed the first light at Brockton Point which was established in 1890, consisting of a rudimentary light with red and white lanterns mounted on a mast to mark the sharp turn toward First Narrows for outbound ships and toward Coal Harbour for inbound vessels. William D. Jones was hired as the first keeper of the light. Jones built a cottage out of driftwood collected from the nearby shore and lived in this home attached to the bell tower for many years. In 1902, a house was built with a bay window from which a fixed white light with a red sector was displayed to replace the original pole light, and a separate wooden bell tower was constructed. In 1914, Brockton Point was transformed with the construction of the current square tower that was painted white with a red horizontal stripe and has a red lantern and an arched base with a walkway underneath. According to the property transfer document, it was designed by British landscape architect Thomas H. Mawson who also constructed the lifeboat house and other landmarks in Stanley Park. The lighthouse has a focal plane of 41 feet (12.5 m) and has been managed by the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation since 2006. The light has been officially inactive since 2008 but may still be displayed occasionally for decorative purposes. The lighthouse was destaffed in 1956, and the house and surrounding gardens were paved over for a parking lot, but Brockton Point continues to be one of the most popular spots in Stanley Park. Read more here and here. Explore more of Brockton Point and Stanley Park here:

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About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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