I stumbled on this map a few years ago, while searching for precedents in the Pacific Northwest for disappeared streams similar to Portland.  The image below is a fold out map insert from a book by Sharon Proctor ‘Vancouver’s Old Streams’ (1978), which incorporates streams from 1880-1920.


The hand-drawn quality of the map is a nice touch, with the original shoreline, rivers/streams, and what is called in some cases, ‘Educated guess of waterways’.  The description of the map alludes to the varying nature of information and hydrology.

“This map shows the natural drainage of Vancouver, as it was before the City was built.  Based on old maps, Archival records and interviews with pioneers, it continually changes as additional sources of information emerge or as people dig new holes in the ground.”

I’m still trying to track down a copy of the book that has the original map, as many I’ve found are missing the map, or only found in libraries.   A search yields a link for the Featured Digitization Project at from UBC’s Koerner Library, Vancouver’s Secret Waterways, where Proctor’s map was updated by Paul Lesack in 2011 and available in a new PDF format, as well as GIS shapefiles and Google Map KMZ.  A quick summary of the project:

“Vancouver’s vanished streams and waterways can now be seen again in Google Earth, PDF form and other digital formats. UBC Library digitized the content of the Aquarium’s old paper maps, allowing both scholars and the public to see the paths of old streams and the original shoreline of Vancouver. The digitized maps encompass only the area of the City of Vancouver, and show the large area of land reclaimed since the 1880′s.”

The map was subsequently published by the Vancouver Aquarium and although a bit less DIY than Proctor’s original, perhaps easier to read and based on the more recent city grid.


A variation on this comes from the False Creek Watershed Society, created by Bruce Macdonald with drawings and design by Celia Brauer, provides a bit more habitat and cultural context to the story, along similar lines to the Waterlines Project in Seattle, with indigenous villages, flora and fauna, and historical place names.  These are available to purchase from FCWS.

1394827650The earliest map I’ve found for Vancouver was towards the end of the centry, this one from the Vancouver Archive showing a plan of a relatively developed city “Drawn in 1893 by Allen K. Stuart, pioneer, May 1886, in the City Engineer’s Office, City Hall, Powell Street, where he was Assistant City Engineer”  which coincides with the founding on Vancover a few years earlier in 1886 (many decades later than Portland and Seattle, which were formally established closer to the 1850s).  Some of the creeks remain, but many are no longer evident, maybe to show the relatively developability of the gridded plan, or due to the fact that they had already been piped.


Also available to tell some of the story are some of the aerial lithographs popularized in most cities in the late 1800s.  A black and white version of the Panoramic view of the City of Vancouver, British Columbia, from 1898, shows a view looking south over Burrard Inlet, across the modern downtown towards False Creek and areas south.


The colored version is also available in reasonably detailed high resolution also, which reveals that many of the streams documented on the 1850s map were lost to development within the 40 plus year time-frame when this was published.


Proctor’s map of Vancouver is an interesting example of the disappeared streams concept being investigated back in the 1970s, and makes me think that in many cities, there were probably efforts even earlier by others.  Carrying on that tradition and modernizing the maps were a good attempt to reconnect people with place and ecological history.  Also, the early plans, surveys and aerial lithographs allow us to connect landscape change over time.  They offer a bit more margin of error, since they don’t have the same fidelity of aerial photography was not in continuous practice until well into the 20th Century.

6 thoughts on “Vancouver’s Secret Waterways

  1. Big historic North Arm of the Fraser River salmon marshes and back sloughs just got covered over and were never mapped , but little bits can still be found ! Just discover two little pieces of a once long tidal slough this past week end !

    1. Very cool – do you know of any groups currently actively working in Vancouver to map/explore these hidden streams and waterways? I remember there as a subgroup of the Toronto Lost Rivers group that was based in Vancouver, but don’t know if that’s still the case.

      1. No groups that I know of are doing” eyes on research” of lost slough and marshes on Vancouver Riverfront ! Those very little clumps of Bullrush, Marsh Grass , growing in a grass filled ditch some times i think they cry out to me “I was once much bigger and drained to the river on a certain tide ” Terry from the North and Middle Arms of the Fraser River “

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