History & Heritage
February 11, 2011

PT FilmFest (1): West Van in a hundred seconds

Next to the those fast-motion video essays a la Koyaanisqatsi, I really like chronological montages a la the Oscars – a city’s history captured in pictures. And the best one I’ve seen recently is this:

It’s part of the repositioning of Ambleside – West Van’s commercial district.   Hopefully this is an indication of the quality to come – and, thanks to the technology, an example of the quality being achieved in video production these days at a reasonable price.

Thanks to Pamela Goldsmith-Jones.

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… two things you’d like to avoid, particularly if you’re financing and upgrading a heritage building or house.  

The Vancouver Heritage Foundation has a couple of courses to help you out:

Avoid the Money Pit: Planning & Managing Your Project  February 19th 2011, 9 am – 5 pm $125 & HST 

Strathcona Community Centre, 601 Keefer Street

Successfully planning and managing a renovation or rehabilitation project is key to finishing on time and budget, and being happy with the results (vs divorced, allergic to the idea of a reno for the rest of your life, bankrupt, etc.). This course is taught by architect James Burton, MAIBC, Birmingham & Wood Architects and contractor Jake Fry of Smallworks. It will focus on locally-based case studies and it will bring together principles and practices which strive for cost-effective, efficient and creative renovation and rehabilitation projects.


Navigating City Hall: Permits, Zoning and more  Wednesday, March 16th 2011, 5 – 9 pm $60 + HST
East Wing of City Hall, 453 West 12th Avenue, Strathcona Room.

Join City of Vancouver Senior Heritage Planner, Marco D’Agostini, and James Burton, MAIBC, Birmingham & Wood Architects, to learn strategies & tips for obtaining permits, potential incentives and creative solutions to working with older buildings in BC municipalities.


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February 2, 2011

“The Mountain View Cemetery tour schedule is up and running.”  (A little cemetery humour there, eh?)   Details here.

February 16th at 6:30pm

Grab your flashlight and join our guides John Atkin and Lorraine Irving for an evening exploration of the cemetery.

May 11, at 6:30pm

Chris Mathieson from the Police Museum leads a tour honouring those officers who have fallen in the line of duty.

June 19th and August 21st at 10:00 am

It’s a look at union organizers, murders & headstone symbolism.

September 11th at 1:00pm

The second annual bike tour of the cemetery. Back by popular demand. Rain or shine, and no reservation is necessary.

All tours are $10.00 per person.

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This just out from the Vancouver Heritage Foundation:


Places That Matter

Marking 125 historic sites that matter to Vancouverites

Celebrating the 125th anniversary of the incorporation of the city, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation is asking for the public’s help to indentify and mark 125 sites commemorating people, places and events that have shaped the city.

This grassroots, broad-based commemorative plaque project will focus on recognizing places, people and events that matter to Vancouverites and that have not been formally recognized by the City of Vancouver’s Heritage Plaque Program. Markers help to animate public spaces, create points of interaction for pedestrians, and provide education to locals and tourists.

From February 1st to March 15th, the public can nominate their favourite sites on the Vancouver Heritage Foundation website. In the middle of the nomination period, on Saturday, February 26th, the VHF will hold a nomination fair in the entrance concourse of the downtown Public Library. This event is a great opportunity to ask questions, view the sites nominated so far and add your own suggestion to the Vancouver map.

From March 16th, until April 6th (The City’s 125th birthday) the public will be able to vote, on the same website, for their favourite nominated sites.

More here – including site nomination form.

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The always opinionated (in a good way) Knute Berger, columnist for Crosscut, has been sifting throught the civic storage unit to come up with a little list that shows how Seattle has changed.  Examples:

Old Seattle: Anyone out after 10 p.m. is up to no good. New Seattle: A 24-hour city.

Old Seattle: Free downtown street parking. New Seattle: Bikes rule!

Old Seattle: Dick’s, Dag’s and Herfy’s. New Seattle: The $12 burger at Luc.

Old Seattle: Deep-fried captain’s platter. New Seattle: Sustainable seafood.

If you don’t get all the references, you’ll get a sense of the changing city.  More here.

Or if San Francisco is more your style, Tom Durning sends along a link to “The Year in Urbanism” from SPUR – the member-supported research organization. (Wouldn’t it be great to have a Vancouver equivalent.)

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Jean Chong makes a fascinating point in her post documenting monuments to Chinese-Canadian railway workers:

 At different times during the 1960’s-1970’s, each Chinatown in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, was threatened  with development plans for a freeway. Each city with the local Chinese community, fought back and stopped such development.  It would have meant not just cutting into and cutting out a heart of community and history, but also destroying adjacent long-standing neighbourhoods in each city core.

Not surprising, really, that freeway proposals cut through Canadian Chinatowns – just as the Interstates in the U.S. were invariably thrust through the Black ‘slums’ adjacent to downtown cores, frequently accompanied by urban renewal projects. 

In Vancouver, here was the rendering for one of the Chinatown freeway proposals:

This right-of-way would have skirted the southern part of Strathcona and Chinatown, to join up with the viaducts.  The following map from 1968 gives a better sense of the impact on the business section of Chinatown, requiring an elevated viaduct to the north to join with the ‘waterfront highway’:

More devastating to the human fabric of Chinatown was the urban renewal proposal for Strathcona, the residential neighbourhood to the east.  (The sentiments of the time were captured in this NFB/CMHC ‘documentary’ – To Build A Better City.)

Some of it was built: the Raymur and MacLean Park housing complexes were architecturally bleak but still provide low-income, secure housing.  Nonetheless, the neighbourhood itself thrives as an eclectic combination of heritage housing, ethnicity and class.

The story of how Chinatown and Strathcona were saved is now part of the mythology of this city – still insufficiently documentedArguably it was the second time in our history that the Chinese community rose up to save the only part of Vancouver that was theirs (the first being the race riot of 1907).   We should more explicitly acknowledge the contribution of people like Mary Chan and the Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants Association who led the first stages of the fight against the freeway that profoundly changed the direction of Vancouver.

Indeed, it appears the same events were analogously occurring in other cities, other Chinatowns across Canada – a part of the stort that needs to be told, even as some of the participants are still alive to tell it.

[More backstory here.]

UPDATE: Fascinating news clip from that era, featuring Bessie Lee, another key player in the Chinese community that was fighting City Hall proposals:

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Now this is fascinating:

This is the Las Vegas Strip seen from ab0ve – the same view a half century apart – 1950 on the left, 2006 on the right.   The yellow line is the 1-15 Interstate in the location where  it would eventually be built.  The Bellagio fountain is the big green blob just right of centre.

You can watch the progress of development, if that’s what you care to call it, over ten different years by clicking on a year in the  respective date boxes (after choosing “Slide” in the “Compare” drop-down box).

All these wonderful geo-referenced air photos have been compiled on Historic Aerials, with an interface map that is almost as convenient to use as Google Maps.  (Amazing not only what’s available to us with a few clicks but how demanding our expectations are for convenience of use.)  The dark green indicates where data are available (U.S. only, regrettably).  But you can also search by address.

Best of all, you can compare the different stages and ages with a divided screen that allows you to move the map back and forth to compare in detail exactly the same aerial view over time.   Endless amusement!

And some serious lessons in urban geography too.  Here’s a comparison of Southwest Washington (that’s the Capitol in the upper right.):

This quadrant of DC went through massive urban renewal, along with the construction a freeway that crosses at an angle mid-way through the right-hand aerial.  The intimate block pattern on the left was destroyed, of course, to create the superblocks that were all the fashion.  Access to the Potomac waterfront was drastically reduced by high-speed arterials.  While never completely declining (it continued to offer affordable middle-income housing), Southwest is just now recovering from these unhappy interventions (Bing Thom’s Arena Stage is just one of the more recent successes). 

So go and discover.  And if you find some interesting images and comparison, pass them along in the Comments.

Thanks to Gladys We.

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December 17, 2010

The Vancouver Heritage Foundation has come up with a traditional gift – a calendar – that at first glance looks like it’s been done in the traditional way: ‘before’ scenes of Vancouver juxtaposed with what the same place looks like now.  But they’ve done something much more clever.   They’ve chosen to illustrate changes (and similarities) in our way of life – our pastimes in our past times.  For instance, how Vancouverites exercise,  in this marvellous pairing from August:

But if there’s one month that shows how our culture has changed even as it maintains its traditions, then it has to be these comparative images from January:

The first image is taken on New Years Day in 1930.  That’s old English Bay pier in the background, long demolished, with the Englesea Lodge behind – an apartment building that came down in the mid-1980s after a suspicious fire.

The second image, of course, is the Polar Bear Swim.  But take a closer look at the first shot, particularly of the life guards.  They’d look darn good in their own calendar, even today, but I doubt they’d be holding hands.  Nonetheless, an insight into culture appropriateness over the decades – and a great find by the Heritage Foundation.

You can order the calendar directly from the VHF off their web site.  Only $12.

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November 22, 2010

Chuck Davis was the voice of Vancouver’s collective memory.

I first heard him on CBC radio when living in Victoria – a very CBC voice, distinctive and intimate, conveyed in a way that radio does best, typically on air to regale us with some anecdote about the city’s past.  He was a natural, I guess, because as far as I know, he was never vocally trained.

I think I assumed – because of Chuck Davis – that the people of Vancouver were inordinately aware of and interested in their past.  That was only reinforced when I got my first copy of  “The Vancouver Book”, an indispensible guide for anyone who was intrigued by both the big story and the small nuances of a place that had been around only slightly longer than the author.

Meeting Chuck in person was as pleasant and as gratifying as hearing him over the waves.   He was genuine, in every way.

So now at the moment of his departure, it’s appropriate to say he will be missed.  But in truth, his literary voice will be heard for ages to come, even as more storeys are built upon the foundation he laid.  But I also hope that maybe the CBC will put together a montage of his broadcasts, so we can hear his literal voice as well.   And believe, perhaps, that collectively we might continue to be intrigued about Vancouver’s past – because of Chuck Davis’s commitment and contribution.

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November 9, 2010

Went for a walk last week – with an engaging group of students whom I met in the Woodward’s Atrium.  From there, a saunter through the Downtown East Side towards False Creek.  It’s part of a learning experience called Walking Home.

Walking Home Carrall Street is an experiential education project exploring the history and development of Carrall Street with the overlays of contemporary life and use, and the subsequent intersections.

Walking Home Projects, in partnership with The Dr. Sun-Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden, works with a group of proactive youth in grades 11, 12 and university, to host talks and tours from specialist architects, planners, historians and community representatives including John Atkin, Annabel Vaughan and myself.

Natually, they’ve summarized their experiences on a blog – here – to capture their observations.  Example – these observations on Woodward’s:

One thing we all agreed on was the impressive scope of this social and architectural endeavour. Gordon explained that, because of the massive construction required in the area, none of the original Woodward’s building was used in the rebuilding except two original facades that were kept for heritage value. For Gordon, this compromise was understandably the only viable option but he admitted that for many others, like his friend and fellow urban planner, Michael Short, even this small tribute was too large a concession on the design and budget of the project. Many of us found this idea shocking, especially after hearing from historians for so many weeks previously! But hearing from the urban planning perspective gave us a more informed picture into the debate of historical preservation versus progress and contemporary usage.





Lots more here.

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