Stanley Park's Secret / By Jean Barman

By Jean Barman. Harbour Publishing, 279 pp, $36.95, hardcover.

Stanley Park may be Vancouver's leafy refuge of choice, but the 400-hectare peninsula has seen its share of atrocities, including bloody battles between warring Native tribes, the as-yet-unsolved deaths of the two children known as the "babes in the woods", and the nearly unpunished killing of West End resident Aaron Webster by suburban thrill seekers.

None of those feature in local historian Jean Barman's latest volume, yet the story she outlines is nearly as shameful as any murder. Stanley Park's Secret tells how our city systematically dispossessed a thriving community of First Nations fishermen, Hawaiian stevedores, and working-class Europeans, all so that Vancouver's Anglophile aristocrats could have a place where they could cultivate their roses, whack their cricket balls, and reflect upon the rising spires of the business district.

Beginning in the 1890s, our civic fathers and the courts brought all the power of the law to bear upon an unwanted outpost of racial tolerance and sustainable living. This was no slum: Barman has unearthed a trove of historical photographs that show neat cottages and float homes, many accessorized with a picket fence, a pocket garden, and, often, a gaggle of healthy children. But between lying surveyors and crooked politicians, the Stanley Park "squatters" were evicted, then erased from history-until now.

Thanks to Barman's careful research, we learn that some of our region's earliest colonists were the Hawaiian settlers who farmed the Kanaka Ranch near where the Sylvia Hotel now stands. We're told that a Salish longhouse once occupied the site of Lumberman's Arch, and that the first roads through Stanley Park were paved with millions of shells excavated from a centuries-old midden. And we find that the municipality's claim to the park was so shaky that one obstinate resident, Tim Cummings, was allowed to retain his waterfront cottage until his death in 1958. The structure itself survived for five more years, at which point a young alderman named George Puil pushed for its demolition. With that, the last vestiges of the old days were gone-save for a single lilac tree, which now blooms above an empty shore that once played home to a lively village.