Who doesn’t enjoy a little park time? Whether it be lounging in the sun in a large grass field, or watching the children frolic about in the open space. Imagine now, that there is no such open space at all. In the early days of North Vancouver, prior to the turn of the 20th century, North Vancouver was literally covered with old-growth forest from the distant mountains right to the beach. Homesteaders slowly harvested timber from these giant trees only to leave ugly burned out stumps often well over 3 or 4 metres high. What was left was hardly a place for the family to relax and play. There was however one exception. One beautifully cleared, grassy field known as Tom Turner’s orchard.
As evidenced in the terrific photo (circa 1890) from the Vancouver Archives, Turner’s orchard was an inviting, wide-open, area having been cleared of old-growth as far back as 1860. When Turner took over ownership in 1886, his flat, grass field at the base of Chesterfield was the only one of it’s kind in North Vancouver. The property included a gently sloping field toward the waterfront that was a popular picnic spot for residents of Vancouver. The waterfront at the time was approximately at the present day train tracks that bisect Waterfront Park. On the beach sat Turner’s cedar-shake roof cottage, a barn and a garden.
Turner was believed to have inherited the land from an uncle, whose will was found in a trunk long after he passed away. After clearing in the 1860’s, apple trees had been planted here and by the mid-1880’s Turner’s operation, supplied fresh produce to nearby Moodyville Mill. When the approximately 30 property owners of the area decided to form a municipality in 1891, the first election of council was conducted at Tom Turner’s farm on August 29. J.P. Phibbs was elected reeve of the new Corporation of the District of North Vancouver. Thomas Turner was elected one of the four councillors. In 1902, Pete Larson would build his Hotel North Vancouver above Turner’s orchard on what would be the North side of Esplanade at Chesterfield.
The present day photo of Waterfront Park is a similar view to the one from 1890 and shows how the area maintains the same purpose over 125 years after it first became a popular spot for leisure activities.