July 26, 2021

Vancouver’s 1905 Flashback: Automobile Drivers & Stanley Park, Is History Repeating?

Stanley Park and its access by automobiles have historically been a point of contention, and that goes back over a century ago. A major challenge to the political structure of the Parks Board came out of automobile usage of Stanley Park, which became a touchstone that could have ameliorated the Park Board in 1905.

Take a look back 120 years ago, when vehicles were just a thought but had not been seen in Vancouver.

On July 14 1899 , way before automobiles were in Vancouver, The Province newspaper had a small article called “The Automobile”.

In that article were rather prescient words:

“Few people even now recognize how far-reaching an effect of the introduction of the horseless carriage will have in the very near future. Even in Vancouver, a city which has just claims to being up-to-date, the automobile is little more than a word at present, yet it is safe to predict that in a comparatively short time the machines will be seen on every street and automobile rides round Stanley Park will be one of the chief attractions that this city will have to offer” .

The article identifies the cost of vehicles as being prohibitive, but notes that bicycles used to be expensive too. The “durability of pavements” was  a problem for engineers, and the Province mentions that “Even to suggest that the horse as a locomotive power for domestic use is doomed would seem to many perhaps to be a rash prophecy, but there seems to be no other conclusion possible”.

Early automobiles in Vancouver had flimsy convertible tops, were hard to drive and did not stay on the road. It was not until 1904 that a licensing system came in for vehicles, and early on the license numbers were just painted on the vehicle.

The words of the The Province newspaper writer in 1899 were accurate, in that Stanley Park became a major drive for automobile use. Of course horses were not used to sharing Park Drive with  gas and steam powered vehicles, and neither were walkers or cyclists.

Stanley Park from its inception has been a place for picnics, walking, biking and riding through with a horse and buggy. The automobile was the twentieth century technological change and there were no rules on how conflicts between users would be accommodated in the use of Park Drive.

On April 27  1905 at a Park Board Commissioners meeting that the Province says “took up a great deal of time”  “strong deputations” were presented for and against automobiles in Stanley Park. The “case of the antis” had a long petition, and noted that in Montreal’s Mount Royal Park no automobiles were allowed, nor in Yellowstone Park or in San Francisco’s  Park (which was later called Golden Gate Park).



The “anti automobile” faction proposed that automobiles be allowed to go in only one direction through Stanley Park, and that automobiles be prohibited from the park during afternoon hours, for everyone’s safety.

After lengthy presentations, the Park Commissioners approved a motion that automobiles were banned from Stanley Park between 2:00 and 5:00 p.m, and at all other times must go one direction only. This was to be an interim measure until horses got used to automobiles in Stanley Park. The Province newspaper headline calls the vehicles “confined” by these new rules, and one way directional driving.

The automobile lobby was having none of that.  Mr W. J. Annand wrote the Parks Board Commissioners and said he would flaunt the regulation by driving in the park and hoped to be detained by the Police. They could come and get him.

William James Annand was angry about the ban, having brought the first automobiles into British Columbia in 1903 through his company East End Cycle Co. He’s in the Vancouver Archives photo above, sitting in his automobile.

Mr. Annand, who had come to British Columbia in the 1898 Gold Rush was  of course eventually stopped in his vehicle  in Stanley Park.  He was duly charged for driving in the park during the banned hours.

The first “right to drive vehicles” in Stanley Park debacle was on.

Mr. Annand immediately got a lawyer and appealed to the City’s Police Magistrate in court that the Park Commissioners did not have the authority to limit the “automobile men“. The case was heard on the 20th of June 1905 and the judge’s decision was not what the motorists were hoping for.

As The Province newspaper’s reporter noted there was a “full representation of chug-chug wagon-owners” in court. Police Magistrate Williams confirmed that the Park Board Commissioners had the right to regulate the driving in Stanley Park and to the approaches, as their by-laws govern the use, protection and government of the park, and that Park Drive was not a highway subject to the Province’s regulation. Judge Williams also mentioned that in Montreal’s Mount Royal Park automobiles were banned between 7:00 a.m and 11:00 p.m. daily.

He charged the guilty driver,  Mr. Annand a charge of $1.00 and costs. Mr. Annand’s lawyer immediately said he would appeal.

“I supposed that you would” replied Judge Williams. “It was understood to be a test case and I made the penalty accordingly”.


Happily even on appeal the Court found for the Park Board, confirming the jurisdiction of the Park Board Commissioners in governing roads through the Vancouver park system.

An apt thing to remember as we go forward to the new temporary bike lane on Park Drive through Stanley Park scheduled to open in the next few weeks. Please note that the Park will be closed July 25 to July 30th from 10:00 p.m to 6:00 a.m for barricade and new sidewalk installation.



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  1. It would be interesting to follow the history of vehicles in Parks. In the early 20th C, cars were prohibited in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, and that their park board struggled with the issue (according to newspaper stories in the 1970’s when there was some thought of removing cars again.) And in the 1890’s San Francisco papers did a regular feature on Sunday activities in Golden Gate Park. Oftn included was a cartoon- a frequent subject for a few years related to “scorchers”- i.e. the bicyclists who rode too fast and scared the pedestrians and carriages. Change is hard and developing new equitable rules is even harder. Of course, it is possible that Portland’s Park Bureau wishes it was dealing with mountain bikers in Forest Park rather than homeless camps.

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