November 5, 2015

The Historical Irony of a Great Place: The West End

A nice surprise this morning: I woke to find my ‘hood is the greatest!  At least according to the Canadian Institute of Planners:


Great places


All the winners here.  West End here.


What a change.  Decades ago, the West End would, by popular dislike, have been considered one of the worst neighbourhoods to live in by those who didn’t.  Here’s a bit of the history as described by a nameless writer for the CIP:

By the turn of the century, a mix of modest and grand Victorian homes had replaced the WE forest. In the 1910s, a second stage of development took place: apartments were built, residences along Robson, Denman and Davie Streets converted into shops, and larger homes remodeled into rooming houses. Additional low-rise apartments sprung up in the 1930s and 40s.
New zoning bylaws passed in 1956, as well as technological advancements that allowed for cheaper and higher quality multi-storey construction, brought a further transformation to the WE. By 1972 more than 220 high-rise apartments had been built. Today over 80% of WE residents rent their homes.


Here was the West End in 1956, the year it was rezoned for highrise (you can see the first one at the back – Georgian Towers – at Nicola and Georgia.




The irony, of course, is that this neighbourhood of old converted single-family homes was largely bulldozed to create the Great Neighbourhood of today.   The West End, during the boom era of highrise construction in the 1960s, was considered a concrete jungle – what most Vancouverites didn’t want anywhere near them: everyone’s best bad example of urban redevelopment.

Impossible to do that today.  Imagine taking a square mile anywhere south of 16th Avenue and rezoning it for the kind of development that characterizes the West End.

That’s also something to keep in mind when reading, for instance, Shelly Fralic’s column in today’s Sun – literally three pages before the story on the West End win.

… a significant piece of the architectural history of our still young city is rapidly disappearing before our eyes.
In blithely allowing the wholesale bulldozing of perfectly good houses to make way for new, big and rich, we are ripping out our neighbourhood roots and filling them in with ghost houses and absentee owners, with streets devoid of families, of connectedness, of life. We are killing communities. …
An email from Chilliwack’s Philip Tingey, who grew up near West Vancouver’s Ambleside in the 1960s, said it best:
“It saddens me that often what we gain with progress is tempered by what we lose. And I think what we lose are values — honour, a sense of community, a sense of caring …

Tell that to West Enders, most of whom would never be able to live in the community if its original housing stock had been saved and gentrified.
Again, the author of the CIP commentary:

When I stroll about my neighbourhood, people often stop me and say, “What a beautiful boy. How old is he?” They’re asking about my dog, not my grandson in the stroller. Friendly people. Pet friendly. And more. Vancouver’s West End is a great place to live. …
To cross Burrard Street into the WE is to leave behind the bustle of downtown Vancouver and enter an oasis, a neighbourhood so quiet, shady and lovely you almost forget you live in Canada’s third largest city. Yet this same area sloping gently towards the sea and Stanley Park is also one of the most densely populated communities in North America and a destination for millions of visitors every year. Living, working, playing, visiting and … dog walking: the WE covers it all, magnificently!




UPDATE: Tales From the West End

JJBean Coffee Shop, 1209 Bidwell Street, Bidwell & Davie
Tuesday, November 17
Please note the change in time: 6:00-7:30, story telling begins at 6:30
Admission: Free, Complimentary coffee and tea thanks to JJBean
“Tales From the West End” is an evening to explore and experience our community through stories about our common past.
This month Vancouver historian, sessional instructor of History at SFU, and tour guide Maurice Guibord is our featured story teller.



UPDATE: Parking survey for the West End.



Posted in


If you love this region and have a view to its future please subscribe, donate, or become a Patron.

Share on


  1. “Awards are like hemorrhoids; sooner or later every asshole gets one.”
    Sarah Morton, played by Charlotte Rambling, in La Piscine (The Pool)

  2. The West End in 1956 was full of decrepit rundown housing stock which is not true of the city south of 16th today. And Vision didn’t seem to have much problem ramming the Marine Gateway development into Marpole nor any qualms about consigning the affordable housing at Marine Gardens to the landfill.

  3. Baffled why people are complaining about finding a parking spot in the West End. It’s the easiest place outside of Manhattan and San Fran to live car free. Modo’s on every corner, Car 2 Go’s on every street. Number 5 & 6 and C23 buses every 6 minutes or so.

    1. Here’s a thought: some Westenders actually have friends or family who might like to visit. Having mom and dad take transit it in from Langley for dinner isn’t practical.

  4. Tell that to West Enders, most of whom would never be able to live in the community if its original housing stock had been saved and gentrified.

    Agreed. If densities had remained the same (i.e. with new housing stock at the same density), Beach Ave. would be Point Grey Road “north”.

Subscribe to Viewpoint Vancouver

Get breaking news and fresh views, direct to your inbox.

Join 7,296 other subscribers

Show your Support

Check our Patreon page for stylish coffee mugs, private city tours, and more – or, make a one-time or recurring donation. Thank you for helping shape this place we love.

Popular Articles

See All

All Articles