David Oppenheimer left his native Frankfurt for New Orleans in 1848 with his three brothers. In 1853, they moved to California which was just beginning to burn with Gold Rush fever, but by 1857 the fever was beginning to cool, so they looked North. They moved to Victoria in 1858, a tiny village back then and entered the grocery business. Just as gold was being discovered in the Cariboo, the brothers realized they needed to be closer to the gold miners operating along the banks of the Fraser, so they moved their operations to Yale with sternwheelers bringing supplies from New Westminster and Fort Langley to the Oppenheimer Brothers’ store and warehouse.
By the early 1880s, the Cariboo Gold Rush was over. David, the second-youngest of the brothers, had begun looking elsewhere at the Canadian Pacific rail terminus in the tiny village of Granville (called Gastown today) on the Burrard Inlet. He and Isaac, the youngest brother, moved to Granville in 1885. By 1886, the year of Vancouver’s incorporation, their company was firmly established and David and Isaac played a part in its incorporation and carried strong voices in local politics.
Elected mayor of Vancouver by acclamation in 1888, David Oppenheimer is often called the “Father of Vancouver” for his contributions to the city. During his four terms in as Mayor, he oversaw the development of the city water works, sewage system, fire department. He was involved in the start of street paving and was instrumental in bringing the city’s first transportation system which included the introduction of streetcars in 1890. The first Cambie and Granville Street Bridges were also opened while he was in office. Mr. Oppenheimer served as Mayor without pay and donated his own land for schools and parks. He established the lighting company, now called BC Hydro, and encouraged council to offer special inducements to new industries. This led to, among other things, the construction in 1888 of the city’s first engineering plant, Vancouver City Ironworks and concessions for BC Sugar Refining Co. to build a refinery that still sits on the city’s waterfront.
The Oppenheimer food-brokerage business, The Oppenheimer Group, still exists today, nearly 150 years after it was established in B.C., and 120 years after it arrived in Vancouver.