There is a lot of history in Vancouver Fire Halls and retired fireman Alex Matches has documented and written about much of it. There are political stories, where firemen in the City of Vancouver in the early 1900s were not allowed to “cross the line” into neighbouring Point Grey to put out a house fire. And there were still a few amazing early stations to go through even twenty years ago. One located on east of Main Street is now demolished~but it had a circular wooden ramp inside for the fire horses to walk up as they were bedded down on the second floor in standing stalls. The standing stalls areas were still there, along with the cribbing marks made by bored horses teething on the wood. In its construction and its use, it was a thing of beauty, something we would have marvelled at today. It was demolished for a more late twentieth century version.
As reported in the Vancouver Courier there are “modernist” fire halls built between 1950 and 1970 that are now facing demolition in Vancouver that have “unique features include huge, open bays and massive hose-drying towers.” As Heritage Vancouver’s Patrick Gunn observes “The architects from the ’50s on, they looked at this use and, instead of hiding it, they really celebrated it and that’s where you come up with the amazing, strong, visual forms.”
“No. 5 fire hall at 3090 East 54th Ave. — one of the earliest of the modernist fire halls — was demolished in 2016. Dating back to 1952, it was designed by Townley and Matheson, the architects of city hall. It’s being replaced with a new building topped with affordable housing. The expected completion date is the end of 2018.
Gunn said while the building needed upgrading there were ways to achieve that without demolishing it. “It’s a community loss. It’s a visual point in the community similar to schools. So you eradicate that and then you have something new built, which is functional and safe, but Vancouver has lost another piece of its architectural legacy, which plaques and photos can’t replicate.”
Fire hall No. 17 at 7070 Knight Street is now going to be demolished with an energy-efficient building replacing it. Even though the modernist fire halls are on the annual endangered sites watch list as “an important part of the movement towards modernist civic architecture in Vancouver during the post-war period” they are not being conserved.
The following other fire halls are described by Heritage Vancouver as potentially endangered:
No. 2 at 199 Main St. at Powell, which was built in 1950 and renovated in 1974.
No. 7 at 1090 Haro at Thurlow, which was built in 1974.
No. 8 at 895 Hamiliton St. at Smithe, which is the reverse design of fire hall No. 7. The concrete building was built in 1973.
No. 9 at 1805 Victoria at East Second Ave., which was built in 1959 with a concrete and masonry façade.
No. 20 at 5402 Victoria Dr. at East 38th Avenue, which was built in 1962. Heritage Vancouver describes it as an “interesting single-storey structure with a window curtain.”
Fire halls that fall under the “brutalist” subset of modernist buildings include fire halls No. 7 and No. 8. “brutalist” architecture as using a lot of raw concrete and being even more massive than mid-century ones.”
Fire department historian Alex Matches book on Vancouver’s Fire Department history and heroes is available here.
From Vancouver Archives taken in Victoria BC