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Hiking the Stawamus Chief, Squamish (Picture BC photo)

Hiking the Stawamus Chief, Squamish

(Picture BC photo)

Squamish

Culture & History

This community emerged in the 19th century as a result of core British Columbia industries including farming, logging, and mining. It also has a strong native people's heritage.

The First Nations

The word "Squamish" means "Mother of the Wind," and with the strong winds that still blow at the north end of Howe Sound, it's not hard to understand how the original Coast Salish inhabitants came up with the name for this territory. The Squamish Nation lived on this land for centuries, hunting for bear, moose and deer in the lush coastal forests and fishing in local rivers.

The Coming of the Europeans

The first documented contact with European explorers was in 1792 when Captain George Vancouver sailed into Darrell Bay, south of Squamish, and engaged in trade with the local native people. Although British Columbia came alive in the 1850s th the Fraser River Gold Rush, it wasn't until the late 1880s that the Squamish area was first settled with farmers hailing from Eastern Canada. The first school was built in 1893 and the first hotel in 1902.

Economic Growth for Squamish

Hops, hay, and potatoes were among the key early crops for farmers. The Britannia Mine opened in 1904, and would produce 56 million tons of copper over its 70-year life span. Also, forestry took off at the turn of the 20th century, and by the 1920s, new technologies like high-lead logging (using cables, yarders, and loaders) had increased the yield in areas like Valleycliffe, Crumpit Woods, and Alice Lake.

Squamish Becomes a Modern Municipality

Squamish was incorporated as a village in 1948 as a district municipality in 1964. But geographically and culturally, Squamish remained isolated into the mid-20th century since the only transportation link was the boats that came carrying supplies up Howe Sound.

That changed dramatically when a railway link to Vancouver was completed in 1956. Two years later, Highway 99 (now generally known as the Sea-to-Sky Highway) between Vancouver and Squamish opened. This enabled upwards of 25% of Squamish's population to start commuting to work in Vancouver or Whistler, a trend which persists to this day.

In 1961, Squamish gained worldwide attention when Jim Baldwin and Ed Cooper became the first climbers to scale the Grand Wall of the Stawamus Chief granite monolith over a period of six weeks. That set the tone for the outdoorsy, adventure sports magnet that Squamish would become.

Eco-Tourism and the Outdoors

Modern Squamish is focused on sustainable development and sports and eco-tourism. There's also a renewed emphasis on education with the privately operated Quest University and the Capilano College campus in Squamish.

Today, thousands of visitors flock here for mountain biking, wind-surfing, rock climbing, bird watching, and easy access to downhill skiing at Whistler and cross-country skiing at the Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley.

For an up-close look at the history of Squamish, two excellent local historic and heritage sites to visit are the Britannia Mine Museum and the West Coast Railway Heritage Park (the home of the famous Royal Hudson steam engine).