The Walking Tour season for Vancouver Heritage Foundation has just finished. If you would like to go on these tours, contact the Foundation or check their website some time next year to see what tours they have in store for us in 2014.
In August, I had the pleasure of joining the Vancouver Heritage Foundation and Maurice Guibord on yet another wonderful walking tour. This time, we were delving into the West End of Downtown Vancouver. We met up just outside St. Paul’s Hospital. St. Paul’s is not only key to Vancouver for its place in our medical system, but it is also a historic landmark downtown.
A few years ago, St. Paul’s considered moving the hospital to the False Creek Flats between Main Street and Clark Drive along Terminal Avenue. That’s the reclaimed land used mostly by the rail companies. However, Maurice retold his story of the public consultation. The new hospital, said the builders, would still be standing in the event of the megaquake. However, Maurice asked how would anyone get to the hospital if all the roads leading to the hospital liquified in the megaquake. Good point. St. Paul’s stayed put downtown.
From the old to the new, the City of Vancouver just spent the summer installing the new Comox-Helmcken Greenway. The greenway cuts east-west through the West End and then continues through the rest of downtown towards False Creek. The bright painted green of the bike boxes really grab your attention.
As we walked away from the hospital to Thurlow Street, Maurice pointed out a few of the buildings that were built in a Miami/South Florida style. There were corner windows that were reminiscent of the South Florida apartments. Apparently quite a few of the apartments in the West End were built in this style. The giveaway of the Florida reference would be the names of some these buildings.
Then we came across a small Queen Anne style home. This was the home of Ewing Buchan who penned one of the first English versions of our national anthem. Hence, the home is known as ‘O Canada House.’ Today it is a small bed & breakfast of the same name.
In the early part of the 20th Century, much of the West End was made of the mansions of the rich. However, that changed once Shaughnessy developed as the enclave for the elite of the city. Many of the mansions were converted over to rooming houses and eventually apartments started to change the landscape of the West End.
Highrises started to take over much of the neighbourhood in the 1960’s and 70’s. Large concrete brutalist and modernist structures started to pop up. One of the first were the infamous Beach Towers near English Bay. From there, a steady march of modern concrete highrises sprouted throughout the West End.
However, there are still many charming, character apartments that survived the concrete redevelopment of the area. Apartments like the Beaconsfield and the Queen Charlotte can be found along little closed-road parklets dotted within the West End.
At the end of our West End walking tour, some of us had some extra time and had a delightful visit to the West End Guest House along Haro Street. We were invited in for tea and biscuits. It was all very British. Highlights of the Guest House were the monochrome paintings of old West End homes in each guest room, the wonderful balcony in the back (complete with lazing feline companion), and the working gramophone!
Even in a city as young as Vancouver (127 years young!), we can find little bits of history interspersed throughout neighbourhoods like the West End. As always, I’m grateful for these tours and the little tidbits of heritage and history they offer on familiar places.
- West End History according to Gordon Nelson rental company
- James Johnstone’s own West End History Walk
- A VHF guest post on Vancity Buzz about the Timeline of Development in the West End