The next building on our Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Historic Walking Tour of Hastings West is one that many in Vancouver have visited, but probably ever only go there once every few years. It’s Sinclair Centre. Sinclair Centre is a historic gem, but a commercial anomaly Downtown.
Sinclair Centre actually consists of four separate heritage buildings that were amalgamated into one. The original buildings are the Winch Building in the southwest block, the Customs Examining Warehouse in the northwest block, the Federal Building in the northeast block, and the Old Post Office in the southeast block. The laneways between the buildings have either been covered over and made interior lanes or simply filled in. The first building we entered on our tour is the Winch Building. It makes up the southwest block of Sinclair Centre and is occupied by Leone, a high end clothier.
We were entering via Leone and Maurice warned us not to take any pictures inside since it is a private luxury brand store. However, I managed to take one shot before going through the doors. The entrance to Leone off of Hastings Street still has the original tiles. I couldn’t fit the entire tile work into a photo, but I got the first half – the Winch half of the Winch Building words.
Inside the store, some of the original molding and tiles are still there as well. So you can still walk through the old Winch Building during Leone’s business hours, just don’t be surprised if they ask you to try on some very high end brands.
We then entered the atrium walkway between the Winch Building and the Customs Examining Warehouse. On the floor, you still see evidence of this previously being an outside area. There are glass tiles on the floor. These glass tiles used to line many a Vancouver street. There are still some that exist. Many of them are actually tinted purple and some are covered up now.
Maurice said that the basements of many of these buildings didn’t have windows, so the glass tiles were one way to illuminate the underground floors. Either Maurice or another tour participant said that when they did an Underground Seattle tour, there was a different reason given for the existence of these tiles. In Seattle, at least, ladies of the night used to purposely stand over these tiles. Then prospective clients were able to examine from below which lady they would like to spend the night with. Whether this juicy piece of trivia also applies to Vancouver is unknown.
In the centre of the atrium, just above the food court, is the original bell from the Old Post Office building. According to Wikipedia, the bell and clock were made in 1909 and is the largest clock movement in Western Canada. Plus, it still is in working condition. So anyone in the atrium at the top of the hour can hear it.
We made our way out past an empty store front. It’s an ominous sign of how quiet and unused this historic gem is. We walk out onto Granville Street and go back up to Hastings Street. From here, you get the best on-street view of the Old Post Office and it’s clock tower. The Old Post Office is built in the Edwardian style and houses Service Canada offices, including the Passport Office. This spire is absolutely the symbol of Sinclair Centre and is a very noticeable landmark from the street.
Sinclair Centre has existed in its current restored form since Expo 86. However, I’ve been in Sinclair Centre a few times over the years either for lunch or to get my passport renewed. I’m always struck at how quiet the retail shops are. It makes me wonder how commercially viable Sinclair Centre is. Even though it has a direct connection to Waterfront Station, it is unable to draw rapid transit commuters through its halls and shops. If Leone ever leaves the premises, what other retailer would be able to be the anchor in this complex. What happens then to this historic gem?