The City of Richmond sits at the mouth of the Fraser River where Indigenous Peoples have been gathering, sharing knowledge and storytelling, and planning for future generations. Indigenous Nations travelled along these waterways, harvesting berries and roots, hunting deer and beaver, fishing for salmon and sturgeon at a place they called sp`’ele k w`e k s (Spall-uk-wicks) — or “Bubbling Water”. Indigenous Peoples were drawn here by the richness of the land and continue to hold important connections to the area.
Richmond was incorporated as a municipality on November 10, 1879 and was designated as a City on December 3, 1990.
Richmond's islands were built up and shaped by the mighty Fraser River and it is the river that has shaped our growth. The fishery and the rich delta soil provided by the river has been the basis for our economy and industrial development. Richmond's history is rooted in fishing, agriculture, shipping, aviation, and later in manufacturing, service and technological industries.
The first European settlers to this area were farmers in the 1860s. The pattern of early settlement was oriented to the river, since it was easier to get around by boat than to cross the low-lying, often boggy interior areas of Lulu Island. The Fraser River also provided transport access to Richmond from the nearby City of New Westminster.
Although the nature of the islands at the mouth of the Fraser suggests they were ideal locations for farms, farming was not easy; clearing, dyking and, in some cases, draining the land was a major task that had to be dealt with before the main work of farming could begin. Once begun, the diversity of agriculture was remarkable. In addition to grain and feed crops, vegetable and berry growing was highly successful. Perhaps the two facets of local agriculture of greatest renown were dairying and berry growing, the latter of which remains important to this day. Two berry crops in particular, blueberries and cranberries, thrive in the more peaty soil of central and eastern Lulu Island.
The need to build dykes was a significant factor in causing the early settlers to petition the Lieutenant Governor-in-Council to grant status as a municipality to Richmond in 1879. Local government was a necessity if dykes, roads, bridges and other services were to be developed and maintained. This early start means that Richmond is seven years older than our neighbouring city, Vancouver.
The abundance of the fishery attracted many more people to our shores. From the early 1880s Richmond's fishing fleets brought their catches home to be processed in one of the numerous canneries that sprang up all along the river. This industry did more than bring fish to market. Related industries such as boat-building also thrived.
The vitality of the fishing industry attracted Japanese fishermen to Richmond, adding not just to the industry but to the richness of our community as a whole. The growing cannery and boat building industries brought more migrant workers to the area. Among these were Indigenous people and the Chinese contract workers who originally came to British Columbia to build the railway. Steveston, in particular, became the centre of the fishing industry, gaining international fame for the quality and bounty of its canned salmon. Despite the pressures of changing times, Steveston has survived as a unique, diverse community that maintains strong ties with the sea.
Richmond continues to attract in-migration from many other countries and from other parts of Canada with recent migration most notably from China and Hong Kong. Our cultural diversity has enriched our city and made Richmond an exciting place to live.
Richmond is often seen as a new community because it has seen such dramatic growth over the last few decades, but you do not have to look far to see the factors that have shaped our history. The land, the river and the sea made Richmond unique over a century ago, and that is still true today.
In recent history the airport has been a major factor in Richmond's ongoing development. Proximity to the airport has helped attract a large number of manufacturing and high technology industries to Richmond. Vancouver International Airport has become an important gateway between Canada and other Pacific Rim countries.
Who or What was Richmond Named For?
One is that it was named after the Township of Richmond in Ontario from which three of the signers of the petition to incorporate the Township of Richmond B.C. came.
Another is that it was named “Richmond View” by the daughter of one of the first setters on Sea Island because the view across the Fraser River brought back memories of her former home in New South Wales, Australia.
The last is that it was named after one of the first settlers’ birthplace, Richmond, Yorkshire, England.
Unfortunately members of the first municipal government (formed in 1879) did not leave any written confirmation of how the new municipality got its name. Subsequent research and information donated from the first settlers here have revealed the above connections with places in Ontario, Australia and England.
In 1990 the municipality of the Township of Richmond was designated a City – now the City of Richmond.
Other Information Sources
To view more historic photos, see Photo Search in the Archives section.
To learn more about historic sites, see the Heritage Inventory and the public Heritage Sites sections.