West Southlands History
THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE
Archeological evidence indicates the Indigenous people have lived along the Fraser River for thousands of years. Coast Salish Musqueam people lived in cedar-plank houses along the waterfront in several villages. Explorer Simon Fraser recorded meeting the Musqueam people on the north arm of the river in 1808.
In 1864, British colonists created the Musqueam Reserve; it was restricted to 314 acres in 1870. A series of court battles in the 1980s and 1990s restored some of the lost land and rights.
AGRICULTURE & RECREATION
British subjects were offered land rights for farming along the Fraser starting in 1860. Between 1862 and 1876, seven 160-acre parcels were allotted throughout the Southlands area, including West Southlands.
Chinese people were brought in by the federal government to farm on part of the Musqueam reserve lands in 1877. Some Chinese farms there and in the Blenheim Flats area remained until the 1960s.
Aerial photos show that as late as 1965, there were farms in West Southlands (in the area bordered by Alma, the Wallace Trail, 48th and 49th Avenues).
Parts of West Southlands near the Fraser River is on a former tidal lake. After flooding in the late 1880s spread out over much of the area, authorities decided it should be designated mostly for agricultural and recreational purposes. Point Grey Golf Course was built in the 1920s, with 70% of it on the flood plain below sea level. Musqueam Golf Course was built on similar land in the 1960s.
Southlands became part of the newly incorporated District of South Vancouver in 1892. South Vancouver amalgamated with the City of Vancouver in 1929.
The land use restrictions remained for around four decades. Residential development began just below SW Marine Drive in the 1920s. City hall permitted housing on higher land in the area but required large lots in order to facilitate drainage and restrict density.
Over the years, city council gradually allowed more houses on smaller lots, closer to the Fraser River, with many homes built in the post-war period. Street lighting was installed in the 1960s. The municipal sewage system began to replace septic tanks and tile fields around that time. The Highbury sewage tunnel that runs under the Wallace Trail, and the Iona Sewage Treatment Plant it serves were completed in 1963.
PROTEST TO MAINTAIN SEMI-RURAL CHARACTER
In the mid-1980s, City trucks began dumping fill in the wetlands at the end of 48th, 49th, and 50th avenues as part of a plan to clear land for housing.
Local residents rallied to stop the proposed development and to have the forest and marshland added to Musqueam Park. This was the beginning of the local residents group now known as the West Southlands Residents Association. They participated in developing the Southlands Plan, finalized in 1988. It specified the semi-rural aspect of the neighbourhood. Almost four decades later, West Southlands remains a semi-rural setting with forested parkland and an assortment of native plants and wildlife.
Recent residential development in West Southlands has led to the construction of tall single-family homes spread over a large portion of the lot replacing smaller craftsman homes and post-war bungalows. Duplexes and laneway houses have also been built.