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Steveston
(Tourism Richmond photo)

Richmond

Culture & History

Richmond has grown from a 19th-century agricultural community into a modern, multicultural city. Its culture and history truly stand out as distinctive among Metro Vancouver's municipalities.

Rural Beginnings

For thousands of years before the arrival of European explorers, the Coast Salish native people inhabited this area. The Musqueam band used what's now Richmond as a base for harvesting berries and catching salmon, setting up temporary camps or permanent residences on these 17 islands in the mouth of the Fraser River.

There are several theories about the origins of Richmond's name. According to the most popular account, Australian farmer Hugh McRoberts set up an estate on Sea Island in 1862 and named it after a place called "Richmond View" in his homeland. In 1863, Richmond's largest island was dubbed "Lulu Island" in a tribute to the visiting American actress Lulu Sweet.

Farming took off, with dairy, grain, vegetables, and berries emerging as staples. But although Richmond's flat terrain abounded with rich, fertile soil, much of it had to be cleared, drained, and dyked for protection from flooding. At last, in 1879, Richmond was incorporated as a municipality.

Fishing and Transportation Industries 

The 1870s saw salmon canning emerge as a major industry in the fishing village of Steveston in southwest Richmond. By the 1890's, nearly 50 canneries existed in Richmond, and fishers of Japanese, Chinese, native, and European heritage flooded into town. The boatbuilding industry thrived too. Many international ships docked in Steveston to load up on canned salmon. Among the fascinating history and heritage sites in Richmond, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site in Steveston reveals the city's canning history and is housed in an 1894-built waterfront facility that now serves as a museum.

Meanwhile, Richmond developed closer links with neighbouring communities. The first bridge to the mainland was constructed in 1889. The railway arrived in 1902, and an airport was built in 1931 on Sea Island, where it remains today as Vancouver International Airport (YVR).

Asian Immigration in Richmond

World War II was a difficult time for Richmond, as many of its Japanese citizens were unjustly sent to internment camps. But after the war, the community rebounded, and more Asian immigrants came to Richmond, including large numbers from China and Hong Kong. In fact, today Richmond's population is 60% Asian, adding to its unique character with great dining and shopping venues.

From the 1960s onward, more and more of Richmond's farmland was converted to residential and retail developments to accommodate the growing population. Asian-themed shopping malls attracted consumers from throughout Metro Vancouver, and high-tech companies also set up shop in Richmond in the 1980s. By 1990, Richmond was incorporated as a city. Its citizens were recently recognized as having the longest average life span in Canada at 83.4 years. 

Richmond's latest coup was being an official venue city for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. The spectacular Richmond Oval was the venue for long track speed-skating.

To learn more about the people and places that make up Richmond's colourful history, check out the images and exhibits at the City of Richmond Archives.