By Nadin Hassan, Guest Curator
If you don’t know much about the history of Latin American communities in North Vancouver, you’re not alone. Histories of such marginalized communities in British Columbia have generally not had a high level of public awareness, as they have been almost wholly absent from published histories of North Vancouver.
In recent years, however, historians and descendants have come together to explore the little-known history of a Chilean settlement established on Vancouver’s North Shore as early as the late 19th century, named “North Valparaiso” after Chile’s main port.
During Latin American Heritage Month, we reflect on this history.
In the 1860s, the North Shore’s lumber industry was in its boom years. Along with the many international ships coming to the Inlet in order to load lumber came young sailors, predominantly from Chile as well as a few from Mexico and Peru, who abandoned ship in order to escape difficult on-board conditions.
They stayed and worked at the local mills and docks, and the community generally had a large celebration every year for Chilean Independence Day on September 18. They worked and lived in close proximity with members of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) Nation residing at Mission Indian Reserve No. 1 (or Eslha7an), and many Chilean men intermarried with local Sḵwx̱wú7mesh women, or descendents of the children of such interracial marriages, adding to the complex social fabric of North Vancouver.
One of the oldest residents of North Vancouver, Pedro (or Peter) Gonzales first arrived in 1875 in a Chilean vessel. A ship boy at the age of 14, he jumped ship and proceeded to work in Moodyville as a handlogger, millhand, and fisherman.
Gonzales adapted to the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh culture and language, married the daughter of a Sḵwx̱wú7mesh chief and had several children, and was formally given Indigenous status by the federal government. According to one branch of the Gonzales family, upon his death in 1942 he left behind four children, 24 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren.
Francisco Miranda, also from Chile, arrived at the Burrard Inlet just shortly after Gonzales, in 1878. He jumped ship in Port Bleakly, Oregon, and made his way north to British Columbia.
He first worked in Hastings Mill, south of the Inlet, then later at Moodyville Mill on the North Shore. He had a relationship with Cecelia of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Nation, and together they had a son named Louis Miranda, who would later become an influential Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Nation Chief who worked to support Indigenous language revitalization.
Although the first generation of Chilean men often married into and became assimilated into the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh community of the North Shore, the Indian Act of 1876 significantly impacted the situations for their descendants. The Act revoked Indigenous status for Indigenous women married to non-Indigenous men, along with their descendants.
With the few exceptions of Pedro Gonzales and Louis Miranda who continued to be part of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Nation, community members including the Campos, Silva, and Cordocedo families lost their right to live on the reserves. Only in 1985 was it possible for them to legally reclaim their Indigenous descent.
Celebrating Latin American Communities Today
From the 1970s onwards, Canada’s immigration policy shifted and North Vancouver saw an influx of newcomers from Latin American countries. Many Latin American immigrants who arrived in the 1970s started working with unions, political parties, and social services, providing support for immigrants and newcomers on the North Shore. Today, numerous Latin American businesses line the streets of Central and Lower Lonsdale, and the community is thriving.
This is just a glimpse of how Latin American communities have contributed greatly towards North Vancouver’s cultural landscape. MONOVA celebrates these histories, and continues to explore ways to deepen our connections to the Latin American communities of North Vancouver.
On Sunday, 16 October 2022, MONOVA: Museum of North Vancouver (115 West Esplanade) is hosting the Vancouver Latin American Cultural Centre for Diálogo: A Conversation About Latin American Art in North America. Join us for conversation between visiting Xicanx artists Linda Vallejo, Debora Kuetzpal Vasquez, Vancouver-based curator Miret Rodriguez, and Ximena Velázquez, an artist from the Volver exhibition currently on exhibit at CityScape Community ArtsSpace.
- The Polygon Podcast: Episode 11 featuring The Archivists
- Parallels 02 – North Valparaiso by The Polygon Gallery
- Asia-Pacific: Latincouver adds business focus to growing cultural ties in B.C. | Vancouver Sun
- Berdichewsky Bernardo, La Presencia Hispanica en la Colombia Britanica: Una Vision Historica, Vancouver, BC, 1990.
We rely on contributions, monthly or one-time gifts, to help MONOVA safeguard and expand our community’s archival and museum collections, build learning experiences and inspire future generations.
Donations are accepted through the Friends of the North Vancouver Museum & Archives Society, Registered Charity No. 89031 1772 RR0001.
We respectfully acknowledge that MONOVA: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver is located on the traditional lands of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations, whose ancestors have lived here for countless generations. We are grateful for the opportunity to live, work and learn with them on unceded Coast Salish Territory.