The first consular post of the United States to be established in western Canada was a Consulate at Victoria, in what was then the Colony of Vancouver Island; and the first consular officer was Allen Francis, of Illinois, appointed Consul at Victoria by President Lincoln on November 11, 1861. The Consulate opened for official business on April 14, 1862. Among the reasons why the Consulate was established was the large number of American citizens who had been attracted to the region following the discovery of gold in the Fraser River Basin in 1856. There were also rumors that a group of Confederate sympathizers were active in the area.
On July 29, 1887, one year after the entire city of Vancouver was destroyed by fire, the Department opened a Consular Agency at Vancouver, under the jurisdiction of the Consulate at Victoria. The first office of the Consular Agency at Vancouver was a room nine feet square in a building owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway, which was shared with the British Columbia Inspector of Customs.
By December 1897, there were more than 7,000 Americans living in the Consular district, primarily due to the news of the discovery of gold in the Klondike district of the Yukon Territory. In the same year Vancouver became a full-fledged Consular post, independent of Victoria. In the spring of 1898, the Consulate moved to the second floor of a newly constructed stone building on Granville Street. Until August 1, 1912, the Consulate General’s main duties included the sealing of all railway cars and verification of their contents. After this time, U.S. Customs officers took over the task.
At the outbreak of World War I, the Consulate General took charge of the interests of the Austro-Hungarian and German Consulates. It assumed the task of visiting detention camps and of distributing funds for the relief of the nationals of Germany and Austria-Hungary.
On July 26, 1923, just days before his death, President Warren G. Harding visited the Consulate General on his return trip from Alaska. While in the city, he delivered an address in Stanley Park and attended an official luncheon at Hotel Vancouver. Later, a memorial to Harding, on which was inscribed a portion of his Vancouver speech, was placed in Stanley Park.
The passage of the United States Immigration Act of 1924 brought new problems to the office, as all persons entering the United States from the Vancouver district were required to have consular certificates. This was the beginning of Vancouver’s substantial visa operation. In the late 1920s, the liquor-smuggling situation in British Columbia reached important enough proportions to warrant the stationing of a special agent of the Prohibition Bureau at Vancouver. The increased consular demands and presence of additional agencies led the Consulate General to move again in 1930 to 355 Burrard Street, where it housed twelve offices and two waiting rooms. In 1946, the U.S. government purchased an official residence for the Consul General.
Throughout the 1960s the primary issue the Consulate followed concerned hydroelectric power, specifically, the development of the Columbia River power-sharing project, formulated in the Columbia Basin Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. President Lyndon Johnson and Prime Minister Lester Pearson signed the treaty into law in September 1964 in Vancouver. In the 1970s the Alaska pipeline and Canadian-American cooperation in the development of the oil was the Consulate General’s main interest. In the ’80s, the Cold War and nuclear disarmament were central issues on the minds of British Columbians, and the Consulate was the focus of several large demonstrations. Into the ’90s, the Consulate reported heavily on British Columbians’ feelings of uncertainty toward the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Fishing disputes played a large role in the region as well throughout the ’80s and ’90s. The bilateral Pacific Salmon Treaty of 1985 eased much of these tensions, but the Consulate maintains close contact with the agencies monitoring the equitable distribution and sustainability of this important natural resource.
As the population of the Pacific Northwest continues to rise and the integration of our trade markets continues to strengthen, the U.S. Consulate in Vancouver has grown and adapted. Some of the challenges the Consulate has faced in the past 25 years have been ongoing problems, such lumber duties, boundary disagreements, or periodic disputes over fishing rights. Some of the Consulate’s newest and greatest challenges have come as the Consulate adapted to the changing international security environment after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001. Vancouver created a law enforcement hub with officers from the FBI, ATF, US Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to work with their Canadian counterparts on cross-border crime. This changing security environment has impacted consular services as well as our bilateral relationship with British Columbians accustomed to a virtually open border who have concerns about the effect of tightening security to trade and travel. The Consular section now processes over 30,000 visa applications every year from nationals of 170 different countries. American Citizen Services is busier than ever, providing routine and emergency services to the estimated 90,000 U.S. citizens who now reside in the district.
Underlying every challenge the Consulate faces in the 21st Century will be the priority to maintain the strong U.S.-Canada partnership that has existed in the Pacific Northwest since the earliest days of the Canadian Federation.