It’s no secret that one of Vancouver’s many charms is its natural landscape. From Sunday strolls on the seawall to hikes along the myriad trails and forest paths of the North Shore, Vancouverites are never too far from the great outdoors. One of the most familiar symbols of this landscape – and indeed our city – are the Lions, the two eye-catching twin peaks perched high above North Vancouver. They’re visible from just about any place in the Greater Vancouver area, and they have more than a few stories to tell.
Though popular with the local hikers and climbers of today, the peaks and their surrounding trails have a long history with local First Nations. As E. Pauline Johnson, famed Canadian writer and daughter of a Mohawk chief, explained in her 1911 work, “Legends of Vancouver”…
“[T]he Indian tribes do not know these peaks as “The Lions.” Even the chief whose feet have so recently wandered to the Happy Hunting Grounds never heard the name given them until I mentioned it to him one dreamy August day, as together we followed the trail leading to the canyon. He seemed so surprised at the name that I mentioned the reason it had been applied to them, asking him if he recalled the Landseer Lions in Trafalgar Square. Yes, he remembered those splendid sculptures, and his quick eye saw the resemblance instantly.”
The Chief she references is Joe Capilano, and he shared with Johnson his people’s own story of the peaks. The legend of “The Two Sisters” recounts the twin daughters of a powerful chief who ask their father to make peace with a warring tribe. In ending the conflict and bringing peace and brotherhood to their tribes, the women are made immortal as monuments in a high place (you can read the entire piece here).
The climbing history of the Lions dates begins in 1889, when a group of hunters led by Chief Capilano first encountered the base of the peaks. Legend has it that at the behest Dr. Henry Bell-Irving, a wealthy industrialist who was along for the hunt, one of the younger men in the group ran up the west peak summit. He clocked in at 20 minutes, round trip. The east peak wasn’t ascended until 1903, when brothers John, Robert, and William Latta climbed the summit without the use of ropes (they brought one, but didn’t know how to use it). This feat was particularly impressive due to the steep granitic face of this formation; many had previously deemed the climb impossible. John F. Latta, who went on to become a decorated fighter pilot during WWI, wrote about his adventures in a book called The Ascent of the Lions. Both peaks remain popular today, luring hikers and climbers from across the world and various local organizations, including the BC Mountaineering Club. One may hazard a guess, however, that a 20-minute round trip is a record not many have beat.