Industry in the big city: evolution, decay or disappearance

Fraseropolis Southeast False Creek 1

Automotive shop, possibly c. 1920, at the boundary of Southeast False Creek and the Mount Pleasant Industrial Area

Old-time Vancouverites often describe 1986 as the year that everything changed.

Expo 86, staged on the north shore of False Creek, brought the world to Vancouver. Once a rail, seaport and mill town, Vancouver became a place where the primary economic activity is the purchase and sale of promises.*

The Craft Beer Market on 1st Avenue, Southeast False Creek, Saturday morning

Around the False Creek perimeter, most of the classic industrial structures disappeared or were reimagined as restaurants and bars. In the mid-2000s, the lands in the southeast quadrant were mostly vacant, dotted with a few abandoned mills; today, Southeast False Creek is home to something like 10,000 people, although this is just my guesstimate. Development in the City of Vancouver is so relentless in so many places that the Southeast False Creek Plan has not been updated since 2007, and the City’s website page (at this writing) is dated 2011.

Argo Cafe cropped reduced

The Argo Cafe, a cheeseburger joint on Quebec St. and a survivor from an earlier era in the industrial zone

Across 2nd Avenue from Southeast False Creek, the city government has given a priority to continued industrial land use in the Mount Pleasant Industrial Area, home to a a hodgepodge of small factories, repair shops and labs. However, the City’s definition of “industry” has evolved over the past decade. Since 2017, revised zoning regulations around Quebec Street have allowed the construction of up to six storeys to house animation studios, tech support companies and the design/construction sector. The arrival of these quasi-industrial employers and the popping up of Southeast False Creek’s instant neighbourhood go hand in hand.

Fashion design cropped

Fashion design house, 6th at Quebec

1940s (?) structure next to hundred-year-old home, 6th Avenue

The old one- and two-storey industrial shops, in other words, are giving ground slowly. Some have been taken over by chic retail bakeries and craft beer tasting rooms, or by marketing firms. Others have been demolished in favour of newer, bigger, diversified complexes.

The Mount Pleasant Industrial Area is also dotted with three-storey wood frame houses, dating from before the First World War. These still function as single-family homes or apartment buildings; some are fading and some have been tastefully renovated. I support this integration of residential and industrial land use, although I’m not sure that I would volunteer to live here.

Co-tourist Nathan Gowsell and I started with a bagel and coffee at Solly’s, on the edge of the newish Cambie at Broadway retail and office development. We traversed the Mount Pleasant zone on 7th and 6th avenues, stopping to chat with friends who live nearby.

Crossing into Southeast False Creek, Nathan noted that a few of the streets have a European feel. I said it’s because the automobile has been demoted; the pedestrian and the cyclist have achieved a sort of equality with the driver, although some drivers are clearly unhappy with this notion.

As we left False Creek, one street was blocked off, with auxiliary police constables standing guard. Somebody was testing a driverless shuttle bus, and it crept past us in perfect silence as pedestrians asked, “What is that?”

*By the way, the “1986 transformation” account is an exaggeration. Investment in Granville Island, a former industrial site on False Creek that is now one of Canada’s leading tourist attractions, began in 1973. In fact, the city’s gentrification has been ongoing throughout its history.

A food truck on the main square in Southeast False Creek. The square features an upscale supermarket and a drug store, but is dominated by oversize pubs.

Athletes Way; these buildings were a part of the former Olympic Village during the 2010 Winter Games

This is the back end…

Unnamed pedestrian passage

Empty industrial structure, holding for redevelopment

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