Burnaby Mountain Park
(Picture BC photo)


Culture & History

Burnaby is British Columbia's third-largest municipality after Vancouver and Surrey, and its history is one of constant growth and diversity. Visit a number of cultural and heritage sites and museums that reflect the diversity of this city.

Burnaby Beginnings

The area, bounded by Burrard Inlet to the north and the Fraser River to the south, was originally inhabited by local First Nations, such as the Musqueam and Tseil-Watuth. The Royal Engineers of the Columbia Detachment of the British Army were deployed to British Columbia in 1858, coinciding with the start of the Gold Rush, and the area was surveyed in 1859 by Robert Burnaby, after whom Burnaby and Burnaby Lake were named. What's now Central Park was used as a naval reserve, where timbers were cut for British warships.

Burnaby remained mostly rural, best-known for its berry and fruit farms, until the 1890s. The catalyst for early urbanization was the 1891 opening of the Central Park interurban tram line between Vancouver and New Westminster, which passed through Burnaby. With new homes and businesses emerging near stations and along the tracks, local settlers applied for incorporation as the municipality of Burnaby, which was granted in 1892.

Industry and Growth

Logging was a major industry in the early days, but Burnaby evolved into a working-class suburb in the opening decades of the 20th century. The Great Depression saw Burnaby wind up in bankruptcy in the 1930s. However, after World War II, it recovered.

Industrial growth from the late 1940s onward focused on areas like fish processing plants, steel-making, and trucks. Residential housing continued to expand as well.

Modern Burnaby History

When Simon Fraser University (SFU) was constructed atop Burnaby Mountain in 1965, featuring the modern architecture of Arthur Erickson, Burnaby gained increased international prestige. Another educational milestone was the 1960 establishment of what became the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), which spurred technology firms to set up shop in Burnaby. Film studios, telecom giants, and video game designers would follow suit.

The construction of the SkyTrain rapid transit link in 1986 for the World's Fair in Vancouver made Burnaby an increasingly popular and accessible destination. And building the Metrotown shopping complex in the late 1980s proved to be a magnet for visitors and locals alike.

Burnaby History, Museums and Tours

To get a feel for life in 1920s Burnaby, history buffs can visit the Burnaby Village Museum, an outdoor collection of heritage and replica buildings.

The Shadbolt Centre for the Arts and Burnaby Art Gallery often feature works of historical interest by local artists or visit the SFU Museum of Archeology and Ethnology, which focuses heavily on artifacts from the Northwest Coast aboriginal peoples who first inhabited this region.

In nearby Deer Lake Park, take a 45-minute self-guided walking tour to learn more about heritage mansions, cottages, and gardens. Download the tour from the City of Burnaby's official website.

Festivals and Events

Burnaby also celebrates its culture and history with different festivals. Check out the annual European Festival (end of May), the Hats Off Day Parade in the Italian-heavy Heights neighbourhood on Hastings Street (June), or the Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival in Deer Lake Park (August).

To learn more about Burnaby's dynamic history, check out the Heritage Burnaby web site or visit Tourism Burnaby.