Today, Prospect Point is easily lost within the myriad tourist attractions dotting Stanley Park, but like many of these landmarks it has its own unique story to tell. Before it was a popular lookout for Instagram-worthy photos, it played an important role in the lives of local First Nations communities, and helped guide multitudes of passing ships through the First Narrows.
Opened on July 27th, 1939, the Prospect Point Signal Station helped alert and inform all vessels passing into Burrard Inlet about tide conditions, winds, and other potential hazards. Given that it was the highest point in the park, the two-storey structure likewise offered visitors an excellent view of the North Shore. By 1926, both the Prospect Point lighthouse below and the nearby Brockton Point lighthouse had been de-staffed and converted to auto-control. Prior his death in 1936, keeper John Grove’s experience included time at both lighthouses. Ultimately, the completion of the Lions Gate Bridge in 1938 meant the services of the towering signal station had also become redundant, and it closed the following year.
In his seminal historical text, Early Vancouver, Major J.S. Matthews makes note of the original Squamish term for Prospect Point: Chay-thoos, meaning “high bank”. The area is discussed in its relation to the nearby First Nations monument of Sunz Rock (on the banks below) and as a special place to Chief August Jack Khatsalano:
At Chay-thoos, “high bank” (Project Point) is a grassy clearing where the Capilano water pipe enters Stanley Park. Here Chief Haatsa-lah,nough (Kitsilano), most recent holder of that historic name, lived, died, and was buried with pomp about 1880. Hay-tulk (Supplejack) his son, died there too, and lay in state in a mausoleum of reeds and red blankets. Stanley Park is largely ancient graveyard. The remains of Haatsa- zah-nough and Haytulk were exhumed when the park driveway was cut; both now rest at Squa-mish, and August Kitsilano, the old chief’s grandson, is head of the family.
Chief Joe Capilano completed the original Thunderbird Dynasty Pole, which once adorned the entrance to Prospect Point, in 1936. Unfortunately, carpenter ants eventually destroyed the monument. The work was designed to commemorate the first meeting between Captain George Vancouver and the local Squamish people in 1792.
Perhaps the most well known aspect of Prospect Point’s history is its role in the infamous demise of the S.S. Beaver, the first steamship to sail the west coast of North America. On July 26th, 1888, just a few months before Stanley Park opened, Captain George Marchant took a tight turn to avoid an eddy and became caught against the leeward shore. The ship was stuck on the rocks and debris just below Prospect Point, and the crew was forced to evacuate, despite attempts to help by the S.S. Muriel. In the following weeks the wreckage was picked apart for souvenirs and valuable remnants, and was ultimately sunk in 1892 by the waves of the passing steamship Yosemite. Fortunately, the wreck has not been forgotten: the Vancouver Maritime Museum features several items rescued from the ship, including its anchor and paddlewheel, as part of a dedicated exhibit.
Years on, Prospect Point has become somewhat of a caricature (albeit, a beautiful one) of its former self; another stop along the landmark trail for tour buses. The Observation Point was opened as a public landmark in 1889, and eventually a new Prospect Point Lighthouse was completed in 1958, followed by the Tea Room in the 1950s. While the lookout has certainly been transformed from the sacred forested area it once was, it’s worth appreciating that the landmark continues to represent an important park of Vancouver’s identity and history as a gathering space open to everyone.