Joe Fortes Fact Sheet

Joseph Seraphim Fortes (Joe Fortes):

  • Joe Fortes was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1863. He left Trinidad in his mid teens and moved to England, where he worked for a number of years. At the age of 21 he left England and sailed from Liverpool, and around Cape Horn. He arrived at the Burrard Inlet in 1885 on the ship ’Robert Kerr’ which had been damaged on a reef in the Straight of Georgia. The ship was not repairable, and Joe was laid off.
  • After the fire in Vancouver of 1886, he worked at the Sunnyside Hotel where he acted as a shoeshiner and porter. He also worked at the Bodega Saloon on Cordova and Carrall as a bartender.
  • During the warmer months Fortes lived in a tent on English Bay, but later in a cottage at Bidwell and Beach, then eventually at Alexandra Park.
  • He worked as a self-appointed and unpaid lifeguard until 1900, when he was made first official lifeguard.
  • Roedde granddaughter Kathleen Frances Cather (Kay) was the first certified female lifeguard in British Columbia and was taught to swim by prominent Vancouver lifeguard Joe Fortes.
  • Joe passed away February 4, 1922 and was given a civic funeral by the city of Vancouver.
  • In 1927 a monument was erected in his honour, with the inscription "Little children loved him".
  • Named "Citizen of the Century" in 1986 by the Vancouver Historical Society.


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