Lights at Lafarge

Vancouver History: Stanley Park Zoo


Monday, April 2nd, 2012 — 3:24pm PST
Comments 7

Walking around Stanley Park nowadays there are hardly any remnants of the zoo that once housed over 50 species of animals, from monkeys and cobras to penguins and kangaroos. However, the old cement polar bear habitat still haunts the grounds just west of Brockton Oval and south of the Vancouver Aquarium.

Stanley Park Zoo

Stanley Park Zoo Stanley Park Zoo

Stanley Park Zoo

When I was young we would take day trips into the city and visit the animals in the zoo. The penguin tank was up closer to the aquarium. They would march up a platform, lie on their bellies, and slip down a slide into their pool of water. The process was repeated incessantly.

Around the miniature railway there were also animals and I remember wolves in particular. While it was fascinating to see an emu or monkey up close, I’ve heard many express sentiments, even from their childhood, of sadness seeing these creatures confined in such small spaces.


1916 – Deer pen at Lumberman’s Arch. Archives item# SGN 1594. Photographer: C Bradbury.


1928 – Kangaroo enclosure. Archives item# CVA 260-24. Photographer: James Crookall.


1943 – Grizzly pen at Stanley Park Zoo. Archives item# CVA 586-1337.


1965 – Polar bear den at Stanley Park Zoo. Archives item# 2010-006.021.

  • The zoo was started by the first park superintendant (1888–1896), Henry Avison. There’s a trail named after him that now leads up to the Lions Gate overpass.
  • Avison originally captured an orphaned black bear cub and chained it to a stump. The zoo’s collection grew from there.
  • In 1905 a large number of animals were donated that included a monkey, a large seal, four grass parakeets, a racoon, a canary, and a black bear. [source]
  • In 1956, the first baby penguin born in Canada was at the Stanley Park Zoo. [source]
  • In 1994 there was a referendum to expand the zoo. There was strong opposition and residents voted to do away with the zoo altogether.
  • The zoo was shut down in 1996 and the animals were either moved to the petting zoo area, the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove, or to other facilities.
  • The zoo closed completely in December 1997 after the last remaining animal, a polar bear named Tuk, died at age 36 [source].
StanleyParkPolarBears
1963 – Archives# 2010-006.107. Photo by Ernie H. Reksten

Stanley Park Zoo

The polar bear habitat was used as a part of the Stanley Park Salmon Stream in the late 1990s, becoming part of a larger protected salmon network through Stanley Park and around the aquarium.

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7 comments

  1. I’ve a lot of memories here from family-visits and school field-trips …

  2. Tyler says:

    I remember seeing the Polar Bears there. One of my first memories of Vancouver before we moved here from the island.

  3. Colleen says:

    There is NOTHING creepier than an abandoned zoo!

  4. Christina says:

    Just a note – the Greater Vancouver Zoo is actually in Aldergrove. Come visit it!

  5. Phyllis says:

    I spent many a Sunday afternoon at Stanley Park and going through the zoo. I am 58 now and Stanley Park is my favorite place and memory.Sad to see the zoo is gone now.

  6. Rachel says:

    why did the zoo close down? what happened to all the animals that lived there, did they all die?

  7. Here is a film of the polar bears at Stanley Park Vancouver Aquarium from 1965
    Looks like black bears were in the same pit with the polar bears ?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUCMkrvHg18
    More old films from Vancouver and British Columbia from the 1940’s to the 1970’s
    https://sites.google.com/site/timelapseproductionshd/home/sample-clips/canada/british-columbia

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