Local History Advent Calendar 2022 – Day 19 – Tea Swamp

It’s back! I has been 3 years since I published my last Local History Advent Calendar! So much has happened since that last time—including the publication of my first book, Mount Pleasant Stories—that I figured it was about time to dust off the Local History Advent Calendar once again. Similar to a regular advent calendar but instead of chocolate treats, each day you “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder– 24 facts or stories about local history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

“Thousands of salmon trout, following an unerring instinct, which impels them at this season of the year to ascend the small streams in order to spawn, are now choking the waters of Brewery Creek, a small stream in Mount Pleasant. The fish, after entering False Creek from English Bay, make a beeline for Brewery Creek, which winds its way from the height of land in the woods in South Vancouver.”

The Province, November 23, 1905

Contour plan of District Lot 200A (part of Mount Pleasant) showing Brewery Creek. Source: CoV Archives Map 690

Mount Pleasant is the only neighbourhood  in Vancouver that developed around a creek.  Brewery Creek flowed from its source under Mountain View cemetery to the eastern end of False Creek. Early settlers established industries–tanneries, slaughterhouses, and several breweries–along its ravine. 

For over 10,000 years the waters and lands of Mount Pleasant were places of natural abundance for Indigenous people. The area  was primarily a dense rainforest of first growth fir, cedar, and hemlock, traversed by an ancient Indigenous and animal trail that  would evolve to become Kingsway. Salal and other berry bushes grew in the sunny edges of the coniferous forest. The creeks that flowed through the area held trout and spawning salmon and were an important source of freshwater. Beaver built dams along the creeks, creating marshes that allowed plants like Labrador tea to thrive.  

Block 396 is the location of today’s Tea Swamp Park 1905, MAP 625, Plate 131, CoV Archives.

Early settlers called the wetlands from today’s  22nd to 15th Avenues east of Main Street  to Fraser Street the “Tea Swamp”, after the Labrador tea plant that grew here in abundance. Also known as “swamp tea”, the plant’s leaves were used medicinally by Indigenous  people and by early settlers to make tea. It is believed that this tea helps with respiratory problems. Today, you can try Swamp Tea (and other indigenous plant medicines) through Raven & Hummingbird tea Co., a Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) owned, indigenous herbal tea company, run by the mother daughter duo Cease Wyss and Senaqwila Wyss. 

Evidence of this former wetlands is still seen today in the area’s heaved streets and buckled sidewalks of the area.

Tea Swamp Park was established in 1985.

You can find more Mount Pleasant stories in my walking tour book, Mount Pleasant Stories. Copies are available for purchase in Mount Pleasant at Pulpfiction Books – 2422 Main Street and in Chinatown at Massy Books – 229 E Georgia St. It makes a great gift or stocking stuffer for your favourite local history buff!

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