Canada Island

Expo '74 and Riverfront Park Tour - Stop 8

Canada Island has had many different names and faces in the last 150 years. Today the island is a part of Riverfront Park and serves as a natural oasis in the middle of downtown. Forty years ago it was known as Cannon Island and was largely covered by railroad tracks. In other eras it was host to a laundry and called Crystal Island. Today, it is hard to imagine the islands past when you are surrounded by swaying pines and the gentle roar of the upper falls.

James Glover was the first European to see the potential of the falls in terms of water power. Canada Island was chosen as the location for the first water pumping plant in 1884. The island would receive the name Cannon Island, after A.M. Cannon, founder of the Spokane Mill Company whose flour mill was located on the banks of the river just north of the island. Later, the island would be given yet another moniker, Crystal Island, after its main occupant Crystal Laundry and Water Works. After a century of development, changing names, and functions, the island was finally overcome by railroad tracks.

The island we know today is a product of Expo 74, when Spokane leaders hatched a plan to clean up the downtown by bringing a World's Fair to town. The railroad companies were encouraged to donate their land to the effort, and local, state, and federal money was used to restore the natural beauty of the island. By the time the Fair opened in May of 1974, the railroad tracks were replaced by walking paths, and unsightly tresses made way for stunning views of the upper falls.

The city council adopted a resolution in August of 1974 to rename the island Canada Island, to honor the Canadian pavilion during Expo. The Canadian pavilion was a favorite among fair goers due to several attractions. In the center of the island the Canadians constructed a small open air amphitheater which gave visitors a perfect place to picnic, or just sit and chat. Hundreds of Canadian groups performed at this amphitheater, causing the island to resound with song and dance that went on well into the night.

The Canadians also put a focus on their native heritage at their pavilion. Visitors were given the opportunity to watch traditional totem carving practiced by the tribes found along British Columbia's rugged Pacific coast. These totems were meant to signify the environmental heritage of the native groups that carved them.

Today Canada Island is quiet once again, a natural refuge where one can sit beneath a pine tree and listen to the falls.

Images

Crystal Island

Crystal Island

This is a photograph of Crystal Island before Expo. After the fair the Island was renamed "Canada Island" because it hosted the Canadian Pavilion. Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture View File Details Page

Canada Island Drawing

Canada Island Drawing

This is an artists rendition of what Canada Island would look like after the fair. Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture View File Details Page

Canada Island

Canada Island

This is a photograph taken of Canada Island in fall of 2013. The island now serves as a natural oasis in the middle of downtown Spokane. Photo by Cory Carpenter View File Details Page

Canada Totem 1

Canada Totem 1

This totem pole was erected for the 1978 Inland Northwest Wildlife Council's annual Bighorn Outdoor Adventure Show. Photo by Cory Carpenter View File Details Page

Totem Pole 2

Totem Pole 2

This totem pole was carved during Expo 74 and remains on Canada Island to this day. The Canadian pavilion featured totem carving to display the Native heritage of British Columbia. Photo by Cory Carpenter View File Details Page

Open Air Amphitheater

Open Air Amphitheater

This small amphitheater served as the center of the Canadian pavilion at Expo 74. Hundreds of Canadian entertainers performed here over the course of the fair. Photo by Cory Carpenter View File Details Page

Video

Canada Island

Photos provided by Cory Carpenter, the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, and the Washington State Archives Digital Archives View File Details Page

The Trouble with Canada

Interview with Dr. J. William Youngs of Eastern Washington University.

Video courtesy of Lee Nilsson View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Cory Carpenter, “Canada Island,” Spokane Historical, accessed June 28, 2017, http://spokanehistorical.org/items/show/383.
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