The Old East End

The Vancouver East End in 1890

The East End in 1890

The old East End is the cradle of our city, the origin of the City of Vancouver, Canada’s capital on the fiery Pacific Rim.

John Atkin tells us that it was called, “the East End… until the 1950’s when planners began using the name Strathcona”:

Strathcona, Vancouver’s first neighbourhood, has been called a slum, “home of the working man,” and absolutely charming. Starting out as a collection of shacks and cottages around the Hastings Mill, it developed into a residential area that quickly moved south and east away from the mill…

John Atkin. Strathcona: Vancouver’s First Neighbourhood. (Whitecap Books, Vancouver, 1994), p. 1.

The Charrette shows how unlocking the potential of the Vancouver Historic Quartiers requires deciphering a lost urban past :

  1. By identifying the footprint of the historic settlements in order to rediscover their physical relationships.
  2. By reversing the insults of Modern planning, and returning the quartiers to viable urban and social functioning.

At the top of the Atkin map we see the origin of the future City of Vancouver—the Hastings Mill Townsite. The 1884 Subdivision plan (left) shows the mill lands extending from Carrall Street to Boundary Street (renamed Glen Drive); and from Burrard Inlet to False Creek. By September 1885, the CPR controlled a one third interest in all the mill lands. This joining of private syndicate, and corporate railway interests created the East End, and the West End with the CPR in full control of the middle. This, the City of Vancouver was born with no authority to mediate between private and corporate interest, and the public good. In 1929 the Bartholomew report likened the lack of planning and urban design to a “Topsy”.

Modern planning in the new century turned a back on historic values. By the 1920’s the old East End was targeted for total eradication. As the century wore on planning pitted one tradition against another intentionally creating winners and losers. The infamous Freeway Fight; the plan to raze Strathcona and rebuild it as Social Housing Projects; and the labeling the old East End as “blight”; are all instruments of failed Modern planning solutions.

In the 1891 photo above we see a complete settlement, the plume of smoke rising from the mill, and the waters of Burrard Inlet in the background. Together with the 1890 plan, this is an urbanism few would recognize today:

  1. Hastings puts transportation and services within walking distance of every door.
  2. The mill employment site is also within easy walking distance of every home.
  3. Gore Avenue, the only street off-axis to the cardinal points, is the original “Skid Road”. Known as a corduroy road, with the road bed built out of logs, teams of horses used it to drag logs to the mill.
  4. Railway Avenue, a crescent that the Atkin plan fails to represent in its true curving nature, is platted by the CPR to replace Hastings Mill’s townsite. The names of the mill managers, and the directors of the real estate company they founded, dot the map: Oppenheimer, Dupont, Barnard, Prior, Powell, Alexander, Campbell and Raymur.
  5. Grove Crescent (south), is a promontory looking out over False Creek tidal flats.
  6. Westminster Avenue (today’s Main Street), with the first bridge built in 1872, connects to Mount Pleasant, and New Westminster.
  7. Boundary Street (today’s Glenn Drive) is the western boundary of the old East End. Gastown is one mile west, and Hastings Townsite one mile east.
  8. Later subdivision makes Glen Drive the first of the twelve “Drives” platted between the East End and the Hastings Townsite.
  9. Chinatown, set aside for Asian settlement, is first established on Shanghai Alley just west of Carrall Street, and south of Princess Street (today’s Pender). Today, Chinatown businesses extend as far as Gore Avenue.
  10. Hogan’s Alley, home to an ad-hoc concentration African American families, is located either in the vicinity of Park Lane, east of Main Street, or on the lane running between Prior and Barnard (Union) streets.
  11. Japantown lies along Powell Street on the two blocks east of Skid Row (Gore Ave.).

John Atkin explains the early years this way:

“By the time the century turned [1900], Strathcona had started to become a neighbourhood of individual homes reflecting their owner’s tastes. The sidewalks were wooden planks and the streets were paved in wooden blocks.”

John Atkin. Strathcona: Vancouver’s First Neighbourhood. (Whitecap Books, Vancouver, 1994), p. 29.

© Lewis N. Villegas, Vancouver, January 2012.
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