History and Birds: Stanley Park (Vancouver, BC)

Vancouver’s Stanley Park is one of Canada’s important urban parks, not only because of its large size, but also because of the richness of the ecosystems it shelters. More specifically, it features an important, year-long bird population, particularly during the migratory seasons and in the winter. In fact, the coastal waters surrounding most of the park – English Bay and Burrard Inlet – are considered by Nature Canada and Bird Studies Canada to be an Important Bird Area (IBA) of national and even international importance. In general terms, IBAs are “sites that provide essential habitat for Canada’s bird populations.” A map of this vast IBA may be found here.

A quick comment is in order regarding the archival photos featured in this post: I found all of them in the superb collection of the City of Vancouver Archives, much of which is available online. All of the photos featured here are in the public domain. Aside from the name of the photographer when appropriate, basic information about the photo has been included in the caption.

Stanley Park covers 405 hectares, making it about the same size as Golden Gate Park in San Francisco (412 hectares), but considerably bigger than Central park (342 hectares) and twice the size of Mount-Royal Park in Montreal. As the maps below demonstrate, even the ground on which it sits has changed quite a bit over the past century:

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If you would like to see a fairly detailed map of the park as it now looks, take a look at the Official Guide published by the city of Vancouver.

Although vast areas of the park look quite untouched, the entire are was clear-cut at least once before the park was officially opened in 1888 by David Oppenheimer in the name of Canada’s Governor-General, Lord Stanley of Preston. But the forests are not the only part of the park that have been changed by human activity over the years.

One of the more important of these changes was the “creation” of Lost Lagoon, which, as can clearly be seen if you compare the three maps above, used to be part of Burrard Inlet. The water of the lagoon is in fact still brackish, making it possible to see a wide variety of water birds. An impressive number of ducks winter here: On some days, in fact, several hundred may be found, even though the lagoon is rather small. The following photos show the lagoon as it was some years ago and its current appearance. You will no doubt notice that one of the older photos features a very large number of ducks:

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Stanley Park features a wide variety and a large number of water and land birds… but I will say more about this in my blog next month, when I will tell you more about the Stanley Park Ecology Society. For now, here is a small sample of the many wonderful birds that can be seen in this wonderful urban oasis:

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