British Columbia

City formally acknowledges First Nations who saved Vancouverites during 1886 Great Fire

The role of First Nations who paddled across Burrard Inlet to rescue Vancouverites during the devastating Great Fire of 1886 was acknowledged by the City of Vancouver in a motion.

Fire left only 3 of about 1000 buildings intact and killed dozens

Kristen Rivers is one of the descendents of the First Nations people who saved Vancouverites during the Great Fire of 1886. (Sadie Rivers )

The City of Vancouver passed a motion to formally acknowledge the role of First Nations' members who saved lives during the city's Great Fire of 1886.

The fire — which took place on June 13, 1886 — devastated the newly established city.

According to historians, only three of the estimated 1,000 buildings in the city were left standing after the fire swept through the city in less than 30 minutes. Dozens perished.

Many people jumped into the Burrard Inlet to escape the flames and would have perished if they weren't rescued by Indigenous paddlers who arrived from North Vancouver when they saw the destruction.

Kristen Rivers is from the Squamish Nation and a direct descendent of one of the rescuers.

Rivers says her great-great-grandmother Agnes was one of the woman who led the rescue.

"Our oral traditions through song and story telling tell us that dozens of canoes came over and my great-great grandmother led the way.

"She saw people in the water. They picked them up in their canoes and brought them back to North Vancouver."

She said some of those rescued remained in North Vancouver and developed close relationships with her great-great-grandmother.

"During holidays, they would have dinners with them or the families would bring treats like cakes and all of that sort of stuff to my great-great-grandmother," she said.

A 'wonderful' idea

Councillor Andrea Reimer, who brought the motion forward, said acknowledging the courage, sacrifice and honour of the families — who had been evicted from the area and relocated to a North Vancouver reserve —  is a matter of justice.

"It's such a testament to the families that they came to rescue Vancouverites despite the harms inflicted upon them," she said.

"It's taken 131 years to finally consider formally acknowledging the role these families played in the establishment of modern Vancouver [and I hope Council] moves forward with a permanent commemoration so all Vancouverites will know this story and honour the families."

Rivers said council's move to recognize the historic efforts of her community is a wonderful idea.

"It represents reconciliation in that it changes the narrative. Any future relationships will be based on truth rather than these misconceptions that we were a nuisance or we were in the way and we didn't belong there." she said.

"I think all these little steps of reconciliation will lead to... contributes to the overall bigger movement."

The motion includes a public thank you and instructs city staff to appropriately recognize the efforts of the First Nations families in city records and archives related to the fire.

With files from The Early Edition