Bob Ransford added this comment to the post below, providing delicious details to the story about how the post-Expo lands on the North Shore of False Creek were sold by the provincial government. It’s a backroom saga few are aware of – and certainly deserves a foreground treatment:
Vancouver might have been a very different city or, at least, have a very different downtown, had it not been for a series of political battles and ultimate outcomes within the provincial government over the sale of the former Expo lands. I worked in the Premier’s Office between 1986 and 1988, when the decision was made to sell the lands to Li Ka-shing’s Hutchison Whampoa Company of Hong Kong.
That decision was a VERY controversial one within the Vander Zalm government. Few will remember that the Premier was very much in favour of selling the lands to a local group– primarily led by the late Peter Toigo and backed by a few financiers, including the late Jack Poole. Their plan for the site was much less ambitious than what we see there today and they included a permanent amusement park on a large portion of the site. They claimed to have had initial discussions with the Disney Corp at the time. BCDC was responsible for the site post-Expo and I believe David Podmore was working there with the President Kevin Murphy. Peter Brown chaired BCDC’s board. Grace McCarthy was the Minister responsible for BCDC.
Most at BCDC were skeptical of the ability of the Toigo consortium’s ability to execute a development and strongly resisted the Premier’s intervention. Minister McCarthy had been approached by one of Li’s North American representatives about Hutchison Whampoa bidding. She travelled to Hong Kong to meet with Li’s group and returned and instructed the BCDC board to begin talks with them, without letting the Premier know this. Toigo learned of this and went to the Premier and encouraged him to stop the sale.
I remember a particular morning in the Premier’s Office when the Premier, his Chief of Staff David Poole and I were taking a conference call on a speaker phone from one of the BCDC directors immediately following a Board meeting where David Poole had been barred from attending. I don’t recall who the director was, but they advised that the Board has just decided to reject the Toigo bid. The Premier was not a happy man. That’s when an internal political war was launched, eventually leading to Mrs. McCarthy and AG Brian Smith both resigning from Cabinet. That began the slow demise of Vander Zalm’s government.
To her credit, Mrs. McCarthy persisted in her efforts to have Li’s bid accepted. She believed he had an international focus, a vision for the site and an ability to turn that vision into a reality.
So began False Creek North and the Yaletown of today and the first wave of late 20th century Asian immigration to Vancouver, as Li’s group launched residential pre-sales in Hong Kong as fear around the turnover to China was first setting in.
Any other insiders care to contribute? Read more »