7 Things You Probably Never Knew About Lost Lagoon

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Lost Lagoon is one of Vancouver’s most well known landmarks, connecting downtown Vancouver with Stanley Park. It is well known by locals as a great place to meet up with friends or go for a stroll, and tourists around the world come to see the Jubilee fountain and view the wildlife. Here are 7 things you probably didn’t know about this iconic body of water.

1.  It Wasn’t Always a Lagoon

The lagoon was part of a tidal marsh connected to Burrard Inlet and it was known to the Squamish Nation as Ch’ekxwa’7lech, which means “gets dry at times”. The waters were so shallow that when the tide would go out, the lagoon would disappear completely.  The Squamish First Nation stewarded a very productive clam bed in the tidal marsh and a midden on the north side of the lagoon suggests that a large dwelling stood there at one time.

Arial view of lost lagoon 1919
Arial view of Lost Lagoon 1919 CVA #1123-6 photo credit: Stuart Thompson

2. The Great Debate

Back in the early 1900’s there was much debate over what would happen to the area we now call Lost Lagoon. The debate was largely separated by class, with the middle and upper class calling for the area to be used as a way to beautify the city, while the working class pushed for it to be used for recreation. The parks board originally settled on a design that pleased both sides in which the area would be turned into an artificial lake, with a museum at one end and a sports field at the other. However, the costs of constructing the museum and sports field were too high, and only the lake portions of the proposal were approved.

 

bridge to Stanley Park 1889 ST PK P115 Photo credit: Maj. James S. Matthews

3. Poetic Irony

It was officially called Lost Lagoon in 1922 during construction of the causeway, which cut it off from Burrard inlet and turned it into an artificial lake. The name Lost Lagoon was based on a poem by Canadian artist Pauline Johnson, who often celebrated her aboriginal heritage through her work. Ironically, the poem describes the lagoon before the construction of the causeway and references Johnson’s dismay at being unable to paddle her canoe across it when it would disappear with the tide.

portrait of Pauline Johnson
Photo credit: Major James S. Matthews Ref#54-S4-:P1633 Portrait circa 1902

4.  Money Makers

When the pipes to Burrard Inlet were shut off in 1929 the lake became freshwater. It was stocked with trout by the BC Fish and Game Protection Association and members of the newly formed Stanley Park Flyfishing Association would pay to fish there. The Parks Board also benefited from by charging fees for canoe and boat rentals

lost lagoon boating
Photo credit: Stuart Thomson CVA 99-1957 boating on Lost Lagoon circa 1927

5. Controversy

One of the main attractions of the lagoon is the Jubilee Fountain, which was constructed in 1936 to commemorate the city’s Golden Jubilee Celebrations for it’s 50th birthday. It was an expensive endeavor that received much public outcry for it’s lavish $33,000 price tag during a time of economic crisis. Nonetheless, the proposal went through and the lagoon was drained so that piles of concrete could be set in time for the celebrations. Harold Williams, one of the engineers touted the fountain as a “symphony concert in motion and colour instead of music” The fountain has been restored twice since then, once for Expo in 1986 and again in 2010 for the Olympics.

Lost Lagoon Fountain

Went out today with my buddy Keith for a little bit of a photowalk to try and capture some of the fall colours in Vancouver’s West End. I love how Mount Seymour has a light dusting of snow on it’s peaks. Can’t wait for the winter season to begin!

6.  It’s a Bird Sanctuary

In 1938 a 1.75km walkway was constructed that went all the way around the lake. It was at this time the area was declared a bird sanctuary and the fishing and canoe rentals came to an end. This was a turning point in the history of the lagoon, as visitors still use the walkway and the area is still considered a bird sanctuary. Today the sanctuary is managed in part by the Stanley Park Ecology Society.

Heron and ducks in Lost Lagoon
Heron and ducks in Lost Lagoon

7.  Rise and Fall of the Iconic Mute Swans

Mute Swans became the main attraction of the lagoon during the 1960’s with an estimated 70 swans residing there. The birds were brought over from England by one of Stanley Park’s curators, who would clip the wing tendons of the birds to stop them from spreading to other parts of the province. Mute swans are highly territorial and it was not uncommon for them to battle for territory.  In a natural setting, a lake that size would only have one resident pair.

In more recent years, management of the lagoon and surrounding area has focused on encouraging native species of flora and fauna. The mute swan population was managed and eventually their numbers began to decline. Finally, in August of 2016 when the safety of the last 3 swans was threatened by predators, they were moved to a sanctuary to spend the rest of their days. Today the lagoon is still a birding hot spot where migrating waterfowl, raptors, herons and songbirds can be found.

Visiting Lost Lagoon:

The easiest way to get to Stanley Park is by transit.  Take the #19 bus from downtown and get off at Pipeline Road and Stanley Park Drive.  From there it’s just a short walk under the highway before you are standing at the edge of the Lagoon.

You can also bike or walk from downtown. Head towards the Lions Gate Bridge and the lagoon will be just before the causeway on your left.

If you are driving or need more detailed information on how to get there, have a look at this page from the City of Vancouver.

Don’t forget to visit the Lost Lagoon Nature House, Vancouver’s only ecology center.  It is open in the winter on weekends only from 10am to 4pm, and in the Summer months from Tuesday – Sunday from 10am to 5pm.  Admission is free.

 

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