Vancouver city council minutes from 1800s being digitized

Amateur historians are digitizing and cataloguing Vancouver city council minutes from the late 1800s. First order of business after the Great Fire of 1886? "The matter of the proposed Fire Apparatus." Probably a smart move.

Transcribimus project is digitizing and transcribing council minutes starting after the Great Fire

Vancouver City Council meets in a tent after the Great Fire of 1886. Council minutes from this period are being digitized in the Transcribimus project. (City of Vancouver Archives)

Before Vancouver City Council debated stereotypical "Vancouver" issues like pot shops and whether or not $5 million was too much to pay for a single-family home, issues like plank sidewalks and the latest lamppost technology dominated proceedings.

That's what volunteers like Chris Stephenson have discovered through the Global Civic Policy Society's Transcribimus project, which is digitizing council minutes from the first five years of Vancouver's history in the 1880s.

"These are the early records in which you can see the city being built, block by block. This is what was happening in the command centre of Vancouver in that period," Stephenson told On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko.

"This is picking up right after the great fire of 1886 and you can literally watch as the streets are being expanded and built, sidewalks are being planked, citizens are writing in to complain about potentially having their neighbourhood upgraded, because as you can imagine, it was probably a pretty muddy place."

Some of the major business from the day involved buying the then-privately owned water system and making it public, the development of the library system and upgrading of street lights as technology improved.

Stephenson says being involved with the project has changed the way he looks at the city.

"I'm a firm believer that there's something in these minutes for everyone," he said. "As Vancouver changes and goes through different iterations of development, I think it's important to be mindful of where we came from."

You can read transcripts of early city council business, or apply to volunteer, at

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Early Vancouver city council minutes show 'city being built, block by block'


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