Despite fears of record crowd crushes, the parking lots were not completely full as Tsawwassen Mills, the 1.2 million square foot mall built on Class 1 agricultural land on the floodplain went live on Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. As reported in the Vancouver Sun by Pete McMartin  “The mall is alarmingly big, and its construction on what used to be prime farm land between Ladner and Tsawwassen was greeted by both loathing and eager anticipation by locals — of which I am one. Some saw it as a welcome addition to the retail landscape, which was limited, or an abomination that would forever destroy the cozy feel of their communities.”

And another article in the Vancouver Sun by Susan Lazaruk notes that the Chief of the 470 member Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Bryce Williams “called the mall reconciliation in action referring to the federal government’s initiative to acknowledge and move past a dysfunctional relationship with Canada’s indigenous people through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

There is no doubt that this partnership between the Tsawwassen First Nation and developer Ivanhoe Cambridge is innovative, and will create a revenue stream for the band members supportive of social programs and further economic development. Because of the unique partnership I had expected a higher level of finishing and adaptive use of First Nations design and practices. There is some, but not what I had anticipated. After the outstanding art and design in Vancouver Airport arrivals hall I had thought there would be more inherent reference and education about the remarkable First Nations culture in this mall.

Starting from the exterior, the sidewalks next to the mall are hard on the curb with no continuous grass boulevard. The crosswalks are adorned with First Nations design markings, but there are no bike lanes, only share alls. This was a surprise as there certainly was an opportunity to create separated bike lanes that could also be used for disabled mobility devices.

The entrances are organized around long curving suburban interior mall streets, with no bisecting “lanes” to make it easier to get from one end of the mall to the other. To break up the very long interior mall streets, the developer has created  living rooms full of husband chairs to bring the eye down to scale, and to provide respite. These are framed with little white planters full of plastic replicas of boxwood shrubbery. The long suburban streets are organized into “neighbourhoods”as an orienting  reference. And be prepared-the background music in this mall is LOUD. Studies show that loud background music makes people more impulsive and more likely to spend more. It also means that you will not be chatting too long with a friend or hearing your cell phone ring during your shopping  “experience”.

There is some wonderful First Nations art incorporated in the mall but not to the thematic level that would have given the mall the “wow” factor. Instead there are pieces throughout the mall and some imaginative incorporation within light fixtures. There are also three First Nations shops carrying local crafts.

For tiny tykes in strollers, the mall provides a baby stroller with an interactive video screen. And that food court? It is just a very big open communal eating space, with food stalls lined up against the walls. Its intent as a celebratory space indicative of a longhouse is not yet apparent.

One of the big regional draws is the Bass Pro Shop that proudly sees itself as the flagship for hunting and fishing. From the interior of the mall you enter through a log cabin entrance and encounter a number of stuffed animals. There are tons of eager staff, and there is stuff that you really don’t want to see-like a score of electronic zapping collars for hunting dogs, walls of knives, cross bows, and a breathlessly long rack of rifles. There are also plastic decoy ducks, a camouflage massage chair, and a lot of things in forest colours.

A quick run through the mall racked up about 2.5 miles/4 kilometers on my pedometer. What I particularly enjoyed was the range and diversity of people who were in the mall, which was much more reflective of  metro Vancouver in the age and languages. Whether that diversity will be sustained after the initial shopping opening remains to be seen. I did hear several people inquiring from mall personnel how to take transit from the location, and finding that no one knew. Many stores staffed up today with employees from other locations, and most staff I spoke to had driven their own cars to the mall. While it was an interesting one-off experience, it remains to be seen if there is enough  level of detail or diversity in product to make this mall more attractive than a cross-border trip.


  1. It seems okay as far as malls go. I like the bear sculpture. It’s good that there are stores with locally made things. This will make it different than every other mall so might be a draw for some.
    It’s really too bad about the sharrows. There should be an off-road AAA path to cycle to and from the First Nation, the town of Tsawwassen and from the Massey Tunnel’s bike shuttle to this mall. Maybe this can still be added. Whatever happened to that Blue Heron Trail idea?

    1. Who goes shopping by bike, in the middle of nowhere .. or rather what % of shopper bike there ? 1% ? 0.5% ? 0.05% ?
      Where are the motorcycle stalls ?

      1. This is and easy bike ride from anywhere is Tsawwassen and a reasonable bike ride from Ladner or Richmond. I have often cycled to Tsawwassen from Vancouver and I am a senior, so pretty well anyone should be able to do it. Why do some people diss cycling so much? It is by far the most enjoyable and time efficient mode of transportation for distances even as far as Tsawwassen from Vancouver.

        1. I’m on board with more cycling infrastructure and all that as my post history would suggest. But this kind of attitude irks me and I know drives others crazy and I would imagine it’s partly why people diss cycling so much.
          ‘I can do it so everyone else should be able to do it’ is the height of arrogance and such a self centered view point it’s remarkable.
          ‘It is by far the most enjoyable’ is totally subjective and just cause it’s true for you does not therefore mean it is for everyone ‘and time efficient’ definitely not always true and to use such a blanket statement is silly.
          Maybe some perspective on your part is needed. Thomas is right, the % of people cycling to this mall outside of those living in Taawwaasen I would imagine is minuscule. Even if it’s easy for you, most people aren’t humping back whatever garbage they buy at these mega strip malls in their bikes.
          Keep on fighting the good fight, but step outside your own shoes once in a while.

        2. It’s common sense to include bike infrastructure with any road built in the Lower Mainland. The point is not that most people are expected to bike to the mall, but to give people the option, including the people who work there.
          A road is built to connect to a destination and you will always find people who walk or bike there instead of drive. Sidewalks and bike paths take up a minor share of the land and construction cost of roads. They are important not only from a transportation point of view, but also economically and socially.

        3. I agree with Arno and Antje. Struggling to understand Don’s comments.
          I’m not quite sure why someone would be irked by Arno’s attitude. I don’t think that it’s arrogant to share that something works for them and might for others? If you’re not into something then don’t do it. Don’t get irked because somebody suggested something. The world is full of different experiences and people get enthusiastic about something that works for them. It’s gonna happen. Make your own decisions for you own life.
          I’m starting to suspect that some people interpret inclusion of another choice as a move to remove existing choices. I had someone say to me once that the Hornby bike lane was the first step in banning all cars from the entire city of Vancouver. It amazes me how anyone could imagine such a bizarre idea but they do. (Fortunately nobody has any plans to do that.)
          What Antje wrote is right. Cycling and walking infrastructure is a social equity issue. Most people don’t need it but the ones that do have no other choice. It’s similar to wheelchair ramps at every corner. Only a small percentage of people need them but for those that do it’s the different between personal mobility or staying home and never going outside.
          The cost of having an off road cycling and walking path in any new construction is peanuts in the overall budget. Traditionally it’s been what has been cut to save money but it should not be. They should look for savings elsewhere otherwise they’re not serving all.

  2. There are usually speed bumps in parking lots and drivers typically don’t drive quickly in parking lots because of the pedestrians randomly darting to and fro (i.e. a bit like a woonerf).

    1. Large mall parking lots are unpleasant and unsafe to bike. Drivers tend to look for parking spots and often drive erratically. Given the footprint of the mall it would have been easy to incorporate a separate path system. Even old Park Royal Mall in West Vancouver was able to add several bike lanes to their existing road system.

  3. Adanac,
    I agree, build more bike lanes, cycling facilities, pedestrian infrastructure–all of it. I’m 100% on board.
    But it’s the attitude and sweeping generalizations that irk me.

    1. I see. So Arno should instead have written “I find it to be by far the most enjoyable and time efficient mode of transportation for distances even as far as Tsawwassen from Vancouver.” instead of a general statement?

    2. Don, you could say the same of statements by others who don’t bike to Tsawwassen and conclude nobody else would do it either.
      It’s not difficult or physically demanding to pedal in a flat area, whether it’s a couple of km from Tsawwassen, 5km from Ladner or a bit further from Richmond. North Vancouver did a survey among residents a few years ago and found that the average bike commute trip was 13km one way. Not flat. I’m not saying that’s the norm just that the mall is in pretty easy cycling distance for many people. The infrastructure (lack thereof) is the main challenge.

      1. And you typically go to a mall to purchase things and though some do, it’s not that easy to carry a bunch of stuff on your bike. It may be easy to do it, but contrary to what Arno said if I needed to go to this mall on a Saturday it’s a hell of a lot faster and easier to drive there. That’s what the majority of people do. If I need to go to Pacific Centre, Metrotown, Oakridge, I ride my bike/take transit. Guess why.
        And yes, that’s the society we’ve built outside of downtown Vancouver and it’s a much bigger issue that this one mall. I’m not supporting it or saying it’s positive, but it’s reality. We shouldn’t be allowing this kind of mall in the first place. Building bike lanes to malls in the middle of nowhere is not the right way to plan your metro region. Don’t build the freaking mall in the first place!
        Look, all I’m saying is we have this myopic view of what people should or should not do. It’s something we’re all guilty of but maybe we should all be more aware of that inherent bias. This blog is a great example of that. Constant photos of these serene scenes with people happily cycling along Jericho beach. That’s great and we should be happy we have that. But that’s not the experience for the vast vast majority of people who live here. Come take a photo of E. 29th near my place with bikes constantly being run off the road by asshats trying to beat lights and speed around traffic buttons.
        I’m off on a tangent 🙂 Have a good weekend.

        1. I don’t think anybody is suggesting that everybody should bike to the mall to do their shopping. But why deny the option of biking to people who want to by not providing safe infrastructure? Quite a few live in reasonable cycling distance. There is no transit. Not everybody has access to a car, especially young people who work at the mall.

  4. Large parking lots are unpleasant for pedestrians as well as for cyclists. There is almost never any thought put into how drivers and their passengers will get from parking spot to mall entrance. Some malls deliberately block the most logical walking paths with extensive landscaping resulting in plants getting whacked and beaten down by people taking the safest and most logical routes. The centre pathway at Superstore on SE Marine Drive is a rare exception.

  5. ‘I don’t think anybody is suggesting that everybody should bike to the mall to do their shopping’
    Agreed, and I never said that.
    ‘But why deny the option of biking to people who want to by not providing safe infrastructure?’
    Good question but not a point I made, I said the opposite.
    ‘Not everybody has access to a car, especially young people who work at the mall.’
    Agreed, and I never said that either.

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