Stanley Park is on the westernmost part of the downtown Vancouver peninsula.
Before the Europeans arrived, the area around the park was an important part of the traditional territory of many indigenous groups. The Europeans treated the peninsula as a strategic military site, and in 1860 the British government designated the western part of the peninsula as a military reserve. In the 1860s and 1880s several companies were allowed to take logs from parts of the peninsula.
There has been some disagreement about the legal status of Deadman’s Island, which is a small island just off the south-eastern part of Stanley Park. Deadman’s Island is currently legally separate from Stanley Park itself, and the federal government uses the island as the site of a naval reserve.
When Vancouver became a city in 1886, the first order of business of the city council was a vote to petition the federal government to lease the reserve to the city for use as a park. (The proponents of the park were not completely selfless, because limiting the commercial use of the park lands would tend to increase the value of other parts of the land in Vancouver, especially in the West End.) In 1887, a federal order in council indicated that the federal government would “hand over” the government military reserve to the City of Vancouver for use as a park. The federal government retained the right “to resume the property when required at any time.”
In 1906, the federal government agreed to cancel the earlier reserve of Stanley Park and to lease the property to the City of Vancouver for park purposes for “99 years renewable.” The lease came into force on November 1, 1908. The rent was one dollar per year.
By the end of the 1930s, a road through the park to Lion’s Gate Bridge allowed direct access from downtown Vancouver to the North Shore; the access road to the bridge still runs through the park.
In 2007, the federal government renewed the lease to the city.
Note: This page is only a very brief outline of the history of Stanley Park. The story of the park is quite complex, and it includes many factors, such as:
- multiple historical perspectives, including the relationship of various indigenous groups to the area, along with the role of municipal, provincial and federal governments;
- the role of human society as it relates to “nature”;
- Canada’s federal constitutional law and how it relates to jurisdiction and authority over military and naval reserves.
This is a small and selected list of sources.
Lease agreement for Stanley Park between the Federal Government and the City of Vancouver; in Request for Access to Records under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act; City of Vancouver; File No.: 04-1000-20-2018-128; letter from Barbara J. Van Fraassen, BA; Director, Access to Information & Privacy April 4, 2018; https://vancouver.ca/files/cov/2018-128-release.pdf.
Stanley Park, National Historic Site of Canada, Commemorative Integrity Statement, 2002, http://stanleyparkecology.ca/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/02/ParksCanada_Commemorative-Integrity-Statement-2002.pdf.
Carlson, Keith Thor, et al. A Stó:lo Coast Salish Historical Atlas. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2001.
Carlson, R.L., and L. Dalla Bona, eds. Early Human Occupation in British Columbia. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1995.
Richard M. Steele, The Stanley Park Explorer, Vancouver, BC, Whitecap Books, 1985.
Jessica Werb, “Stanley Park’s nature was shaped by human hands,” Georgia Strait, Sep 24, 2008.
Carlito Pablo, “Vancouver heritage plaques ignore First Nations history,” Georgia Strait, April 4, 2013, http://www.straight.com/news/368166/vancouver-heritage-plaques-ignore-first-nations-history.
“Before Stanley Park: First nations sites lie scattered throughout the area,” Vancouver Sun, March 17, 2007, pages B1-B2.
Stanley Park History and Archaeology, Field Notes for the Anthropology of British Columbia, Canada, http://www.anthroblog.tadmcilwraith.com/2007/03/17/stanley-park-history-and-archaeology/.
Sean Kheraj, “Improving Nature: Remaking Stanley Park’s Forest, 1888-1931,” BC Studies, No. 158, Summer 2008, pages 63-90.
Sean Kheraj, Inventing Stanley Park: An Environmental History, Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press, 2013; http://www.ubcpress.ca/inventing-stanley-park.
Stanley Park Ecology Society, Historical Overview of Stanley Park, http://stanleyparkecology.ca/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/02/SOPEI-Historical-Overview-of-Stanley-Park.pdf.
Sean Kheraj, review of Jean Barman, Stanley Park’s Secret: The Forgotten Families of Whoi Whoi, Kanaka Ranch and Brockton Point, BC Studies, no. 148, Winter 2005/06.
Selected law cases relating to Stanley Park and Deadman’s Island
Attorney General for the Province of British Columbia v. Attorney General for the Dominion of Canada (British Columbia),  Appeal Cases 552;  UKPC 61 (Judicial Committee of the Privy Council), http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKPC/1906/1906_61.html.
City of Vancouver v. Vancouver Lumber Company and another (British Columbia),  Appeal Cases 711,  UKPC 57 (Judicial Committee of the Privy Council); http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKPC/1911/1911_57.html.
Vancouver Lumber Company v. The King (Canada),  UKPC 101, (Judicial Committee of the Privy Council), http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKPC/1919/1919_101.html.
SPEC v. Vancouver Parks Board, 2000 BCSC 372, (British Columbia Supreme Court), http://canlii.ca/en/bc/bcsc/doc/2000/2000bcsc372/2000bcsc372.html.