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Our History


Ever wonder where the name Capilano comes from? It is actually a First Nations name belonging to the Squamish Nation and originally spelled Kia’palano, meaning “beautiful river”. Kia’palano was the name of a great Squamish chief who lived in this area in the early part of the 1800s. Over time “Kia’palano” was anglicized into “Capilano”: a word that has become the namesake of our bridge and park as well as the river and surrounding area.


In 1888, George Grant Mackay, a Scottish civil engineer and land developer, arrived in the young city of Vancouver in Canada. Mackay purchased 6,000 acres of dense forest on either side of Capilano River and built a cabin on the very edge of the canyon wall. In 1889 he suspended a footbridge made of hemp rope and cedar planks across the canyon with the help of August Jack Khahtsahlano and a team of horses who swam the ropes across the river. The ropes were then pulled up the other side and anchored to huge buried cedar logs.


The bridge, and Mackay’s cabin, became a popular destination for adventurous friends, dubbed Capilano Tramps, who made a long journey by steamship before ‘tramping’ up the rough trail to Mackay’s property. After his death, the hemp rope bridge was replaced by a wire cable bridge in 1903.


Edward Mahon arrived in Vancouver in 1888 and began mining operations in the Nelson-Slocan area, naming the camp Castlegar after his ancestral home in Ireland. Returning to Vancouver, he purchased and developed land and businesses on the North Shore, among them Capilano Suspension Bridge. In 1910, 48 year old Mahon met and fell in love with Lilette, the 19 year old daughter of his deceased friend, James Rebbeck. He arranged for Lilette’s mother, Elizabeth to manage his bridge property. The plan worked – he married Lilette a year later. Mahon built the Tea House in 1911 and continued to improve the Capilano Suspension Bridge property, reinforcing the bridge with additional cables in 1914.


Elizabeth was lonely after Lilette married, until she met a handsome young forest ranger, “Mac” MacEachran, who was 20 years her junior. Mac swept her off her feet and they married in 1921. Mac was an aggressive promoter, advertising the bridge as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. Meagre earnings forced Mac to seek employment elsewhere in the off-season and for several winters he managed warehouses in Tahiti for rum-running friends.


In 1934 Mac announced to Elizabeth that he had a 19 year old daughter, Irene, whom he wished to bring to Capilano. Arrangements were made to build a new and larger house across the street from the bridge but sadly, Elizabeth died. Mac purchased the Bridge from Mahon in 1935 and invited local First Nations to place their totem poles in the park. In 1945, he sold the bridge to Henri Aubeneau and moved to California.


In 1953 Rae Mitchell purchased the bridge property from Henri Aubeneau and aggressively promoted his attraction world-wide. He completely rebuilt the bridge in 5 days in 1956, encasing the cables in 13 tons of concrete at either end. He developed the trails on the west side of the bridge and converted the Tea House into the Trading Post Gift Store.


Nancy Stibbard purchased Capilano Suspension Bridge in 1983 from her father Rae Mitchell. Her goal, to elevate the park from a mere stop-off to a destination attraction, was realized in less than ten years. Nancy’s success has resulted in expansion to other popular visitor destinations: Moraine Lake Lodge (hotel, restaurant, retail) in Banff National Park, Alberta and Cathedral Mountain Lodge (hotel, restaurant, retail) in Yoho National Park, BC. Once involved in the management and operation of her own business, Nancy recognized the need to serve and advance tourism in the province. Nancy’s success has included induction into the Canadian Tourism Hall of Fame in 2000.


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