Sailing Boat

Appellation Anarchy

Before ‘Vancouver’ became its official title in 1886, the fledgling city changed names faster than a thirsty sawmill worker could down pints at Gassy Jack’s saloon. From the late 1870s onwards, hundreds of nomenclatures were formally road-tested here, only to be rejected and superseded within days.

 

Most of these alternative names were soon forgotten––until 1924, when elderly local Percy ‘Fibber’ McGee produced what he claimed was an official handwritten ledger of all the adopted appellations. Quizzed by a reporter from the Vancouver Advocate, he said he’d rescued it from the ashes of the Great Fire, pointing to a faded burn on his left hand as proof.

 

Among the hundreds of names it contained––each with the date of adoption and the date it was discarded (usually less than a week apart)––were several that echoed the area’s weather or topography. These included Treeville, Drizzleton, Fogtropolis and Mudpatch-on-Sea. Others reflected local wildlife, including Beaverton, Eagleford and, intriguingly, both Unicornia and Port Sasquatch.

 

According to McGee, some of the names resulted from a popular drinking game at Gassy Jack’s bar. Participants would yell out suggestions, and fellow drinkers would reply “Hell yeah” or “Stick it where the sun don't shine.” If your name was rejected, you had to drink a Sour Nut Cocktail. Made from absinthe and molasses, it contained the decaying left testicle of a long-deceased donkey.

 

Gastown is the only name we remember today from this tipsy contest. But McGee’s ledger provides a full rundown of other suggestions that won boisterous favour in the bar. These include Burpville, Fartington, Free Beer Town and New Abbotsford. Gassy Jack himself was likely behind some of the other bar-derived names, especially Deightonia and Jackchester.

 

McGee recalled that this period of nomenclature volatility eventually took its toll on the locals, leaving many confused and demoralized. With the name of their townsite changing almost weekly, they were unable to tell people where they lived. The mail service also frequently failed to deliver––the 1881 festive season was blighted by suicides when zero Christmas cards arrived in the area.

 

Eventually, the chaos was resolved in London by Queen Victoria, after officials implored her to settle the matter with a new name. Rolling her eyes and glancing around her gilded dining room for inspiration, she suggested Tabletown, Creamerville and Teacake-on-Sea, before one of her 73 children ran in clutching a velveteen toy rabbit he called Verity Vancouver. Luckily, she failed to spot the other toy he was carrying: a saggy clown named Prince Poopington.

Read more from Vancouverandom: A Miscellany of Untrue History About the Birthplace of the Ear Trumpet here.