Vancouver City Council, three days after the Great Fire. Mayor
MacLean is the sitting man in the light-colored jacket looking to
our right under the word "Hall".
[Photo: VPL #508]
Malcolm Alexander MacLean
His name was Malcolm Alexander MacLean, so
its no surprise to learn that Vancouvers first mayor
spoke Gaelic like a Highlander. He was born in Tyree, Argyllshire
on Scotlands west coast, in 1844. He arrived in Granville
in January of 1886, three months before it became Vancouver.
MacLean had done a lot in his 42 years before arriving here: three
years of teaching in Ontario, office work for the Cunard Steamship
Company in New York, running a finance management company in the
same city, then into Canada to set up his own wholesale trade in
Winnipeg just before the CPR arrived.
When the railway did get to Winnipeg, MacLeans company flourished
and kept on flourishing for a decade. He bought property, and when
a depression hit the West, he kept that property. That proved to
be a good decision.
MacLean took his family to their summer home in the QuAppelle
Valley in Saskatchewan to ride out the depression, and landed smack
in the middle of the Riel Rebellion of 1885.
It was time to move on again.
An old friend from Scotland wrote MacLean from Honolulu: he was
establishing a sugar beet factory there. Did MacLean want to move
to Hawaii and become a partner? MacLean thought he did, but when
he and his family got to San Francisco, whence the boat to Honolulu
would sail, something told him not to go. Canada was his home, he
said later. He couldnt turn his back on her.
So the family turned north and came to Granville
instead. When they arrived the population of the place was about
600 and, says Derek Pethick in Vancouver Recalled,
there were but a hundred habitable buildings. By May
there were six times as many. One source says there were a thousand
But they were mostly a humble lot of structures. A glance at any
photograph of the time tells the story: clumps of buildings scattered
pell-mell around the landscape, leaning precariously between the
massive chopped-off stumps of once-lofty trees, struggling to emerge
from a wild tangle of weeds, shrubs, creeks and fallen timber.
A dedicated man could make a fast impression in a town like this,
and three months after his arrival Malcolm MacLean was in the race
to be the first mayor of the brand new city, incorporated April
6, 1886. (He was also one of the earliest organizers of the St.
Andrews and Caledonian Societystill active in Vancouverand
served as its first president.)
MacLeans opponent, a one-time longshoreman
named Richard Alexander, was manager of the Hastings Sawmill
and had lived in Granville/Vancouver for 12 years.
The election May 3 was as honest as could be expected for the time,
which is to say not at all. MacLean won by 242 votes to 225, and
successfully fought back a legal challenge by some of his opponents
supporters. (At one point, Alexander led a large contingent of his
Chinese workers to vote, but they were forced back by a larger contingent
of white workers. Besides, Chinese werent allowed to vote,
On his first day in office, during opening remarks to the new council,
MacLean sounded an alarm which in a few weeks would come to fruition.
We require immediately protection from fire, he told
the other council members, and any delay on this matter endangers
a large amount of valuable property. A communication will be laid
before you today in regard to a fire engine which, if you have time,
had better be discussed at this meeting.
They discussed that fire engine. They even bought it, from the
Ronald company in eastern Canada. But by June 13, the day the city
burned down, the engine hadnt arrived and the Volunteer Hose
Company No. 1 had only axes, shovels and buckets. It wasnt
enough. MacLean was wiped out by the fire, but his Manitoba land
holdings kept him going. In fact, in early 1891 they began to appreciate
rapidly, and he soon was prosperous again.
After serving two one-year terms, declining to be paid, MacLean
retired as mayor.
Early in 1895 he was appointed stipendiary magistrate for Vancouver
district, but his health was failing and he never served. He died
April 4, aged 51.
Wife Margaret Anne MacLean made her mark,
too. In 1909 she founded the Womens Canadian Club in Vancouver,
and was the first president of the Womens Pioneer Society.
She lived on to 1934, dying at 87, survived by a son and two daughters.
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[Photo: VPL 13275]
Vancouver rebounded quickly after the fire.
This is Cordova Street five weeks later.