VHF Yaletown Walking Tour

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.

Here’s the last of the 3 walking tours for 2013 that I attended. We started off this Friday afternoon at the Roundhouse Community Centre.  This day, we even had a gentleman from Germany joining our tour.  It’s fun to have a little out-of-town view of our own city at the same time. Maurice gave us a little background on Yaletown.  He actually grabbed a black and white photo from the community centre desk to show what the area looked in the very early days.  

Yaletown in the early 1900’s (Roundhouse website)

Many of the rail companies had operations along the north shore of False Creek.  Hence, the presence of a roundhouse here.  Many of the workers and railway operations had been transferred from Yale, BC up river along the Fraser River.  So the area inherited the name Yaletown.  Yaletown was then quickly filled with mills and warehouses served by all the rail lines.

Engine 374 (Roundhouse website)

We then headed out to the corner of Davie and Pacific and took a look at the old train Engine 374.  I then just realized that it was strange that a transpo-fan like myself has never actually gone in to take a closer look at the train.  I’ll have to come back some other time and explore.

We headed to the back of the Roundhouse and took a closer look at how the old Roundhouse had been transformed from railway facility to community and entertainment festival.  In fact, the Roundhouse was preparing for Beerlesque that day. The old train engine turntable has been fixed in place now and is now a little plaza that is used for public enjoyment.  Big events like the Vancouver Jazz Festival often descend on the Roundhouse, as well.

Where Hamilton and Mainland Streets converge

After snaking through the condos surrounding the Roundhouse, we went up and across Pacific Boulevard and skirted along the old warehouse area of Yaletown.  When I think Yaletown, I think of those few blocks along Mainland and Hamilton that are dominated by the old brick warehouse buildings and the elevated sidewalks that were formerly the loading areas for freight trains delivering and loading goods.

Normally, most people just walk up and down Hamilton and Mainland Streets for their trek through Yaletown, but Maurice took us up another block to Homer Street. To me, Homer Street is the edge of Yaletown and has a different feel of the warehouse blocks.  However, there are some little nuggets of urban eye-candy to be discovered along Homer Street. It turned out to be more interesting and varied than I thought.

Maurice “Every time i pass by, more letters go missing”
Poor guy at least has a job

Maurice often likes to take us into the lobbies of different buildings during his tours.  This time we ducked into 1190 Homer Street. There was what looked like an old bank vault door there.  There was also a beautiful three-storey staircase with a skylight at the top.  I discovering these little gems on these tours.

Maurice then took us back down a block to the geographic centre of Yaletown at Hamilton and Helmcken.  Maurice pointed out above at United Front Games. Yaletown was at the forefront of a lot of video game production for a while. In recent times, that production has curtailed and many of the studios have relocated.  However, United Front is still in Yaletown for now.

I talked with one of the other tour members, and we both noticed that Yaletown has changed over the years. For a few years, Yaletown was the centre of everything chic and trendy.  All the fanciest restaurants and clubs were here. However, there are noticeably more For Lease signs in the neighbourhood these days.

Then Maurice did another very Maurice thing and took us through the Mini Yaletown car dealership.  I hope they didn’t mind 🙂  We walked through the car showroom and up the stairs in the back. That brought us back up to Homer Street.

It also happened to be international Park(ing) Day this late September Friday.  It’s an annual worldwide event where artists, designers and citizens transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks.  Today, we came across the fine folks at VIA Architecture creating their own temporary urban oasis in place of two metered parking spots.  They set up a few tables with stools and umbrellas for cover (but the wind was starting to pick up).  They even had a small BBQ set up on one end.  A couple of tour members even contributed to their meter so they could keep up the good work.

Then we came to The Homer.  This heritage building on the corner of Smithe and Homer was restored as a part of the construction of the neighbouring 33-storey condo tower. I’m sure the developer got some heritage credits for preserving The Homer.  There’s a cafe that occupies the corner retail spot of The Homer.

We looped around the northeastern edge of Yaletown and went through Yaletown Park.  Yaletown Park was a park at one time, but now it’s a 3 tower condo complex.  What is left for a park by a developer is a narrow strip of gravel and benches in between the towers. Unfortunately, most of this linear park, if you can call it that, is in the shadow and feels a little dreary on this cloudy autumn day.

We then headed back into the heart of Yaletown and looked more at the how the old warehouses had been converted to apartments and storefronts.  Much of the feel of the warehouses were preserved.  Anything new in the area would have been added on top of the pre-existing structure. However, the “old” feel at street level is very much preserved.

We ended the tour at the Yaletown-Roundhouse Station along the Canada Line.  Another great tour with a neat look at the history and heritage of our great city.  I’m looking forward to another round of walking tours next year.  At $12 per walk, I think it’s a bargain.  Maybe I will see some of you next year.

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