Wilderness on the Doorstep: Vancouver's Mountain Playground
North Vancouver Museum and Archives

Vancouver's mountains, the British Columbia city's most prominent feature, are a natural playground. Since the late 19th century, day-trippers, hikers, climbers and skiers have been exploring the forested slopes and snow-capped summits of the Grouse and Seymour peaks, while anglers try their luck in the rivers of the Capilano, Seymour and Lynn valleys.

To get there, early visitors cross Burrard Inlet on ferries. During the 1920s and '30s, BC Electric Railway streetcars ease access, carrying people to trailheads promoted by the company.

Capilano Canyon develops into one of the area's major attractions, boasting two hotels, various teahouses and the famous suspension bridge. Walkers enjoy catwalks along the area's shingle-bolt flumes, which young daredevils use as water slides. Fishing holes offer up huge salmon, and picnickers favour Lynn Canyon Park, with its children's playground and rival swaying bridge.

Iconic Canadian artists, such as the Native poet E. Pauline Johnson and Group of Seven painter Frederick Varley, immortalize the dramatic landscape in their works.

Early mountaineers band together in the BC Mountaineering Club, with its cabin on Grouse Mountain. Girls and women get in on the action, some shedding their cumbersome skirts to scramble up the peaks in their bloomers. Popular climbing challenges include the Camel and the Lions.

With the help of a Seymour road, cabin culture peaks in the 1930s, when over 200 makeshift structures dot the slopes. The parking lot's mushroom shelter, made of a giant cedar trunk, doubles as an information centre for outdoor enthusiasts.

The 1925 Second Narrows Bridge and a highway put the focus on Grouse Mountain and its rustic-style grand chalet. Skiers of the Grouse Mountain Ski Club--some captured by amateur photographer Lindsay Loutet--and tobogganers make good use of the mountain and its facilities. By 1949 it offers the world's first double chairlift.

The mountains remain a popular all-season destination. As the city expands, attention will be needed to preserve the wilderness on Vancouver's doorstep.