A few weeks ago in the Vancouver Sun, John Mackie wrote about “What Might Have Been.”

The most mind-boggling plans were for the freeway systems in the late 1950s and 1960s….
The wackiest proposal was to build a giant trench through downtown so that cars could vroom non-stop from the Burrard Bridge to a new third crossing of Burrard Inlet in Stanley Park.
A 1960 drawing of the big ditch at Comox and Thurlow shows a dizzying complex of roads and cloverleafs. Try to imagine the Trans-Canada Highway in Burnaby plopped down in the middle of the West End, only bigger (it was eight lanes wide, and 10 metres deep).
Big Trench
The big ditch was one of the elements in a $340-million plan to build a freeway system in Metro Vancouver, including an ocean parkway that would have run along English Bay….
Many Vancouverites were incensed at the proposal, and packed public meetings in the late 1960s to denounce it. The only element of the plan that was built was the Georgia Viaduct…
Project 200 drew its name from the $200 million that was supposed to be invested in the scheme by Canadian Pacific, Woodward’s and other investors. It was an incredibly ambitious plan, including a highrise forest of office and residential towers, a hotel, a department store, enclosed malls and a waterfront freeway.
Project 200
[More renderings on page 12 of Price Tags 20.]

These days, it’s hard to find anyone who was in favour of these proposals. In fact, it’s amazing the number of people who say they were on the front lines in the fight to oppose them.

Public outrage contributed to the demise of the freeway plans. But (heritage expert John) Atkin says the deciding factor was probably the bickering between the federal and provincial governments over who would pay for the freeway system.

“The feds finally said, ‘Forget it. We’re taking our money and going home,'” says Atkin. “So they left, and the whole Project 200 collapsed because of that. They walked away.

John, I think, has it right. The freeway proposals died for lack of fiscal oxygen, not directly from the vociferous local opposition.

“There’s a total reinvention of history going on within the world of early politicos in Vancouver: They talk about how Vancouver made the decision not to have a freeway. Well, no. If the feds and the province had agreed, we would have had a waterfront freeway. “

Of course, the provincial and federal politicians were aware of the stakes locally, but much of the support was coming from North Shore officials, for whom the idea of a Third Crossing was most appealing. By 1972, when the NDP were elected provincially, senior governments had pretty much decided that it was far more popular to lay asphalt in the hinterland than spend tax dollars to serve the ungrateful wenches in the city. No final vote was necessary.
When TEAM under Art Phillips got a majority that year at Vancouver City Hall, that was the end of the debate. Every council since has affirmed that there will be no new roads to serve traffic coming into the city – which has, in fact, started to drop. And will likely continue to do so, as both population and transit service within the city increase.


  1. In that last Project 200 rendering, its interesting to note that that vision will likely come to fruitition, but without the highway. The tall tower is Granville Square (the only part of Project 200 to be constructed) and the two smaller towers look as if they sit behind the CP Station. The tracks behind the CP Station will eventually be decked over and office towers built close to that important transit hub.

  2. I think Ron Aitken is probably right to focus on the fiscal side of the question. Without senior government help, Vancouverites would have had to pay for any freeways or major highways inside the city themselves, on their property taxes, given that the City Charter Act gives highways to Vancouver City within its boundaries.
    A similar thing happened years later with the Transport 2021 “plan”. It was really intended to do one thing. Reduce the costs of building transit infrastructure, and at one point it actually said this in a handy little chart.

  3. I am so thankful they never did all of that infrastructure, and it makes sense that the deal was killed about money.
    Vancouver tore down a lot of nice things back then, and I always found it hard to believe that this freeway vision didn’t come to pass.

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  5. I’m so glad to hear the financial side of the story being spread. I hear “the people stopped the freeway” so often, and while I’m sure the protests played a role, I imagine the financing was the deciding factor. Would be nice if we could be more accurate in our storytelling of Vancouver. Thanks Gord.

  6. Thanks for the link.
    Those port improvements looks like they will in part reduce the impact of trucks rumbling through local neighbourhoods (which made the news last year).
    The Stewart St. elevated road looks like it will provide a link between Clark Drive and Victoria Drive. Remember that the port changed the traffic pattern so that Clark Drive was “exit only” (to avoid inbound line-ups along Clark Drive), but that caused truckers to take Nanaimo Street to access the port entrance to the east. Local residents complained.
    The elevated road looks like it will allow truckers to take Clark Drive north and then use the elevated road to access the entrance to the east – without cutting through residential areas or blocking local roads.

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