YOU SHOULD KNOW | About The History Of Lost Lagoon, Stanley Park’s Watery Jewel

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by Stevie Wilson | Known for its scenic views, photo-op fountain, and its few graceful swans, Lost Lagoon is one of Vancouver’s most recognizable landmarks. Situated at the southern entrance to Stanley Park, it’s a welcoming start or finish (depending which route you fancy) to a walk along the seawall, and a unique link between the busting downtown core and the adjacent 1000-acre park.

The lagoon holds the title of being the largest body of water in Stanley Park, but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, the lagoon is actually a lake – it was landlocked in 1916 by the construction of the Stanley Park Causeway. Previously, this stretch of water was used as a food-sourcing site for First Nations – Musqueam, Squamish, and Burrard peoples were the first settlers in this area – back when it was known as Ch’ekxwa’7lech, meaning “dry at times”. The area was then a tidal mud flat connected to the Burrard Inlet via Coal Harbour, and was rich with clams and other sea critters ready for harvesting.

When the causeway was first proposed various groups lobbied in support and in protest. Many wealthier Vancouverites, beholden to the cause of civic beautification, were opposed to any destruction of the park on purely aesthetic grounds. Conversely, groups such as the blue-collar Trades and Labour Council were eager to see developments on the site for public and recreational use, and even supported filling in the lake to create a sports field.

Map-of-Stanley-Park-copy

In 1922, the area was officially named Lost Lagoon, and in 1929 was converted into a freshwater site with funds raised by a fly-fishing organization. The small area originally earned its name from Canadian writer Pauline Johnson, who recalled:

“This was just to please my own fancy, for, as that perfect summer month drifted on, the ever-restless tides left the harbour devoid of water at my favorite canoeing hour, and my pet idling place was lost for many days – hence my fancy to call it the Lost Lagoon.”

In addition to receiving water from a municipal stream, the lake feeds off a nearby creek and is home to a diverse group of birds and small animals. The famous Mute Swans are not indigenous; their wings have been pinioned to avoid migration to elsewhere in the province. The first swans are said to have been a gift from England circa 1890. By 1950, over 75 birds were gliding across the lagoon and neighbouring Beaver Lake.

The Jubilee Fountain, installed in 1936 to coincide with the city’s 100th anniversary, was purchased from the 1934 World Fair in Chicago [correction: see comments]. The installation proposal was fraught with public outcry, particularly due to its $33,000 price tag in the midst of the Great Depression. However, the infamous Mayor McGeer would not be swayed, and the lake was drained temporarily to erect the landmark.

The lagoon is currently plagued by a number of ecological issues, including pollution and invasive non-local species, which the Stanley Park Ecological Society and Vancouver Parks Board look to remedy in the coming years. Care for local and migratory birds, beavers, and trees are of prime concern. Their protection is a large and complicated task considering how this is one the largest urban parks in North America.

So go for a stroll hereabouts the next time you’re on the lookout for an idling place of your own. Though the lagoon is no longer lost, it’s a neat spot for lovers of local lore.

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6 Responses to “YOU SHOULD KNOW | About The History Of Lost Lagoon, Stanley Park’s Watery Jewel”

  1. John Atkin on May 2nd, 2014 3:28 pm

    The Lost Lagoon fountain did not come from the 1934 Chicago Worlds Fair. The August 8, 1936 Vancouver Sun carried a story called ‘Secrets of the Fountain’. In there it talks about Robert Harold Williams, Chief Electrical Engineer with the Vancouver firm of Hume and Rumble Ltd. who conceived, designed and supervised the construction of the fountain.

  2. Scout Magazine on May 2nd, 2014 3:40 pm

    Hi John. Astounded to learn that the Chicago connection was a myth. It’s certainly an exceptionally prevalent one (I grew up believer it to be gospel). There are countless references to the purchase of the fountain in 1936, and yet a quick search of the terms/names you provided bears out the attribution to RHW. Many thanks for the correction!

  3. John Atkin on May 2nd, 2014 3:48 pm

    I was always curious about the Chicago connection and couldn’t see the sense in dragging a big chunk of concrete back from the east for a fountain here. But urban legends can be like gum on a shoe.

  4. Stevie on May 2nd, 2014 7:11 pm

    Hi John! Thanks for the clarification, it’s very interesting how quickly myth becomes truth; I took this bit of info from Chuck Davis’ History of Metropolitan Vancouver!

  5. LaPanthere on May 5th, 2014 3:56 pm

    Also I think ’100th anniversary’ in 1936 is also an error. Would have been the 5oth, Vancouver was officially founded in 1886.

  6. Glenn Williams on July 20th, 2014 5:04 pm

    I am very proud to say I am his grandson and proved it was his design and creation. Thank you so much for clearing this up here, I only wish you could do the whole article again Aug 1936 – front page SECRETS OF THE FOUNTAIN for the non believers, It mentions always my grandfather and is his interview as well.
    i talked to chuck be fore he passed and he was going to correct the VANCOUVER BOOKS next publishing.
    Sincerely, Glenn Williams