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.


Canada Island
Photos provided by Cory Carpenter, the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, and the Washington State Archives Digital Archives
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The Trouble with Canada
Interview with Dr. J. William Youngs of Eastern Washington University. Video courtesy of Lee Nilsson
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