Vancouver Centennial Plaque #18 – Deadman’s Island


Deadman's Island, Stanley Park


HMCS Discovery Naval Reserve, on the gatehouse, visible through the fence





The name of this six acre island comes from its use as a burial ground by the Salish Indians. Early settlers used it as a cemetery and as a quarantine area during the 1893 smallpox epidemic. In 1944 it became a naval station, H.M.C.S. Discovery—named after one of Captain Vancouver's ships.”

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


The Squamish name for this place is "skwtsa7s", meaning simply "island”, but the more fanciful title was designated by the non-indigenous settlers due to its historical use as a burial ground.

Originally, the Squamish people used the island for tree-burials – red cedar boxes were tied on to the upper branches of trees. It is also said to be the site of the massacre of two hundred northern warriors, who had been traded to a rival southern tribe for the release of their kidnapped women, children and elders. When the southern tribe returned to the spot, it was said to filled with “flaming fire flowers” where the warriors had fallen.

Early settlers began using the island as a graveyard, as Vancouver’s only cemetery (Mountain View) wasn’t built until 1887. Victims of the Great Fire of 1886 were buried there, as were Canadian Pacific Railway workers and residents of the townsites of Granville, Hastings Mill and Moodyville. Between 1888 and 1892, the island was used for a smallpox epidemic – both as a quarantine zone for the infected and as a graveyard for those who died.

From 1899 to 1930, Theodore Ludgate leased the island from the federal government, but was subject to a long legal battle in his attempt to start a sawmill there. In the early 1940s, the island became the naval base for the HMCS Discovery, which it still is today.

This plaque is still there – just peer through the fence at the gatehouse.

The island is called ƛ̓ces in Musqueam and the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations are working with the Park Board on the Stanley Park Intergovernmental Working Group to ensure the development and preservation of important heritage sites in the park.

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