I had the joy of joining one of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s walking tours. My work allows me to have Fridays off and I finally found an event I can attend on a Friday. This fall, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation is organizing two-part historic walks of Hastings Street. I missed part one in September, which was the Hastings West walk, but I jumped all over this Hastings East walk last Friday.
The tour started at 12 noon in Victory Square. There were about 16 of us taking the tour today. The weather was gray and intermittent rain kept us guessing whether we needed our umbrellas or not. Our guide, Maurice Guibord, greeted us at Victory Square, complete with a large umbrella.
One of the first things he pointed out was that we were at the confluence of five neighbourhoods. Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, Gastown, was just to the north of us. The main Downtown core was just to the west of us. The newly growing Downtown South was starting to creep up from the south. Chinatown was just to the southeast of the square. Then finally, the Downtown Eastside, laid east of the square along Hastings.
So Victory Square and the Cambie/Hastings intersection is really a key point within the City of Vancouver. I seldom think of Victory Square except for Remembrance Day. Maurice told us that before Victory Square existed, it was the Courthouse. He passed around a black and white printed photo showing the original courthouse. As the city grew, the courthouse outgrew itself and moved elsewhere. In it’s place came Victory Square.
Kiddie corner to Victory Square is the beautifully restored Flack Block. It’s an sandstone building which has had new life breathed into it. As we looked up at the building, somebody noted that there was some very new and modern looking glass just visible on the rooftop. Maurice mentioned that the developer likely was given extra square footage above the original building in return for preserving the Flack Block. He also pointed out how the modern glass is set back from the edge of the building so that it is somewhat concealed from the street view. Thus, helping not to take away from the presence of the historic sandstone facade.
It also has one of the most beautifully carved entries to any building that I know. It’s also very bold in proclaiming its name.
Just beside the Flack Block is another architectural gem. I believe the address is 155 West Hastings and the building might be called the Ormidale Building. I’m going on the fact that the word Ormidale is carved above the round window. It’s a very interesting piece of architecture except for the ground floor which house Asia Imports Ltd.
As we go further east, there is a tension architecturally and socially about what the Downtown Eastside should be. A window display and a “development permit” are two signs of this tension.
A photo of a model of a new shiny tower sets the backdrop for little toy soldiers defending their buildings against a Japanese fortune, or lucky, cat (also known as a maneki neko). Is this meant to represent a neighbourhood under siege from developers trying to make a fortune by demolishing the neighbourhood?
Then there’s this lovely twist on the common development application sign that pops up whenever a building is going to be redeveloped. Very sarcastic, but it drives the point home.
In the next part, we cross the street and we enter a whole new world in the Downtown Eastside that didn’t exist not too long ago.