Canadian Food Fact: Joe Fortes was named after Vancouver’s first paid lifeguard

Seraphim “Joe Fortes” was a staple in the Vancouver community more than 100 years ago

Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Archives

Longtime readers will likely know that we have a bit of a thing for unearthing the inspiration for Canadian restaurant names, so when we found out that Vancouver’s Joe Fortes had an interesting origin story we felt compelled to dig a little deeper. 

As it turns out, the popular steak and seafood restaurant derived its name from Vancouver’s first paid lifeguard, Seraphim “Joe Fortes”. Although accurate accounts of his immigration to Canada are somewhat murky, Fortes is believed to have been born in Trinidad and Tobago around 1963. In 1885, Fortes resettled to what would eventually become Vancouver and began volunteering as a lifeguard and swimming instructor at English Bay beach. Residents eventually petitioned for him to be paid and he was put on the city’s payroll in 1900. 

In addition to being credited with saving at least 29 lives and teaching countless Canadians to swim, for many, Fortes’ legacy is representative of the ways in which Black people, despite the odds against them, found ways to contribute to society while carving out a life for themselves. 

In 1986, Fortes was named Citizen of the Century for Vancouver’s centennial year and earlier this year, the City of Vancouver declared February 9 as the official “Joe Fortes Day” to honour his birthday.