Vancouver Centennial Plaque #16 – First City Council Meeting


12 Water Street, Gastown


Buro Coffee Bar and other businesses inside the Water Street Garage building


Missing, but site on Heritage Site Finder and there’s a Places That Matter for all old City Hall sites



May 10, 1886

Mayor Malcolm MacLean and the Aldermen of the new City of Vancouver held their first meeting on this site, in what was then the jail and the courthouse. The balloting for the first election also occurred here.”

Credit: Vancouver Centennial Commission, Historic Plaque Program – list and documentation plaques 1-49 (June 18, 1986). Courtesy of Vancouver Archives


Vancouver’s first city council meeting didn’t go particularly smoothly. To start with, there weren’t even enough chairs, but they borrowed some from the jail calls. The Returning Officer wasn’t there, so a random clerk was called in to administer the oath to the new mayor, Malcolm MacLean (who we’ll learn more about later).

After this initial business, the room fell into silence, before someone asked, “What do we do next?”. William Henry Gallagher replied, “If you wait a moment, I will show you” and dashed out to Tilley’s Book and Stationery Store (another one for later!) to buy pen, ink and paper. He suggested the group appoint an acting City Clerk, then explained to him how to take minutes and discussed general procedures with the Council.

Notes in the Archives suggest that WH Gallagher knew what to do because he had been “involved in a similar situation elsewhere”. However, I haven’t been able to find out what that means! He did attend business college in Toronto, so maybe it just means that he knew about meeting procedures, rather than having experience of establishing a city. He was later an Alderman for the city and died in 1942 – the last surviving person to have attended this first meeting.

The picture I’ve drawn is based on a photo following the Great Fire of 1886. People thought it was taken straight after the disaster in June, but it was actually staged in September. The actual location for the first meeting was in the combined court house, customs house, and jail on Water Street.

Credit: Vancouver Centennial Commission, Tillicum beside plaque (May 1985). Courtesy of Vancouver Archives

The plaque isn’t there anymore, but it was actually the first one installed. It was unveiled by Mayor Harcourt and Tillicum the Sea Otter – mascot of the Vancouver Centennial!

The 1986 City Council re-enacted the first meeting, 100 years to the day it was held, and the four women in the group had to dress up as men.

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