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Burnaby History and Heritage

Burnaby is located within a large territory on the coast of British Columbia that has been the traditional home of Coast Salish peoples for thousands of years. Archaeological evidence suggests that Burnaby had a number of resources that were harvested by First Nations, including cranberries and large game such as Elk.

Burnaby’s first settler was William Holmes. The first settlers to Burnaby arrived in the 1850’s to find a land of tall trees and wilderness. In 1858 the mainland of British Columbia became a colony with its capital located in New Westminster. British Royal Engineers surveyed the area, under the command of Colonel Richard Moody. Moody’s private secretary, Robert Burnaby, discovered a lake north of New Westminster in 1859. Colonel Moody named it Burnaby lake in Robert Burnaby’s honour.

In 1887 the Canadian Pacific Railway was extended from Port Moody into Vancouver. In addition traffic between Vancouver and New Westminster had increased. A tram line was built through Burnaby connecting the two centres.

In October of 1891, the land along the Canadian Pacific Railway route was subdivided and sold. The population at that time was only about 200 persons who were mainly loggers and farmers.

A group of these regional settlers applied for a municipal charter that guaranteed the taxes they paid would go directly to improving the regions services and road systems. The municipality received its charter of incorporation on September 24, 1892 and was named after Robert Burnaby who had become a local merchant and businessman. Robert Burnaby, originally from England became a local resident and in 1859,  was the first person to explore the Burnaby Lake region. He was active in community affairs and served in the B.C. legislature. Poor health forced him to return to England in 1874.

By 1896, Burnaby had two schools, a church, a general store, a post office and its first park. In 1900 the Barnet Mill opened and a second settlement started within municipal boundaries. South Burnaby reported a population of 400 in the 1901 census.

Burnaby’s first municipal hall was built in 1899 at Kingsway and Edmonds. This was the population centre of South Burnaby and was located on the tram line. Two subsequent municipal halls were built at the same location. In 1911 a large brick hall was built to reflect Burnaby's growth into a large suburban municipality and remained in use for over forty years.

In 1954 it was decided to move the municipal hall to the present location at the geographic centre of Burnaby. This appeased both residents of North Burnaby and South Burnaby. The official opening ceremony of the Municipal Hall at 4949 Canada Way was on June 22, 1956 where Reeve Charles MacSorley received keys to the hall from the contractor.

Now over 100 years later Burnaby's population has grown to over 223,218 (2011 Census). Its economic base has changed from logging and agriculture to service, commercial and industrial activities. Community, business and personal service industries account for approximately 27 per cent of the employment in Burnaby. This reflects Burnaby's growing role as an urban centre.  In 1992, Burnaby celebrated its 100th anniversary and officially changed from the Corporation of the District of Burnaby to the City of Burnaby.

Burnaby's history and heritage is being preserved at the City of Burnaby Archives.

Burnaby's First City Council

Interurban Tram