Vancouver’s Chinatown: heritage site, urban village, tourist zone

Gore Street at Keefer in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Vancouver City Council voted in November 2017 to seek World Heritage Site status for the Chinatown district. This founding neighbourhood began as a segregated zone for Chinese-speaking labourers and merchants outside the railway and lumber camp that covered today’s Waterfront and Gastown areas.  It functioned for many decades as a commercial and cultural hub for Chinese-speaking immigrants, and takes a prominent place in the modern English-language literature of  the Chinese-Canadian community. The retail hub, it should be said, has been supported by apartment housing, Chinese seniors’ housing and small-lot detached housing, either in the core or in the old Strathcona neighbourhood to the east. Continue reading

Sapperton in bits

Columbia Street, showing the Sapperton area’s “Brewery District,” a nearly-complete development built on the site of a vanished industrial brewery. The head office of the regional transportation authority (TransLink) sits in the foreground. A new residential tower peeks out from behind.

An abandoned house, pre-1900, across looking across Columbia Street to the new Brewery District offices

Sapperton, as defined in the City of New Westminster maps, is a long rectangle with no adjacent residential neighbourhoods to the east or north. With recent development, Sapperton has become more self-contained and livable; proposed further development would add thousands more residents at the eastern edge, with unforeseeable results.  

As I drove to meet co-tourist Bob Smarz for a walk through Sapperton, an item on the radio reminded me that this is, in one sense, the birthplace of British Columbia. The Fraser Cemetery on the hill is the oldest in the Lower Mainland region: its dead include veterans of the American Civil War who moved to Canada, and presumably some Sappers, or British Royal Engineers, who landed on the Fraser River shore around 1860 to build B.C.’s first administrative capital. Continue reading

Revisiting the Heights

Confederation Park, Burnaby Heights, Friday morning

At the suggestion of a reader, I returned to Burnaby Heights this past week, five years after my first visit to the community.

Hastings Street in northwest Burnaby is the city’s most interesting commercial strip, with an array of ethnic food outlets, cafes and specialty shops. The urban trees have grown up quickly, providing cover for architectural flaws. The border with the City of Vancouver is just blocks away, with frequent bus service to downtown. Burnaby’s city government has laid on excellent services such as playing fields, an aquatic centre and a big library. All this makes a great foundation for an urban village, if you’re prepared for the heavy traffic and noise as you shop or stroll. Continue reading

Pitt Meadows 2 – Uptown (aka Downtown)

An apartment/commercial complex at Harris Road and Ford Road in Pitt Meadows. This was built in about 2010 on the site of a failed shopping plaza

Pitt Meadows City Hall, at the southern end of the commercial zone

Municipal governments in B.C. have a limited menu of responsibilities. They send delegates to regional bodies to haggle over various things, but their direct control is restricted mostly to fire protection, local streets, community recreation space and urban land use. And policing, in the odd handful of municipalities that have opted out of using the federal Mounted Police… Continue reading

Semiahmoo: 2030?

A 2008 proposal for the Semiahmoo core, looking up 152 Street from 16 Ave. captured in early 2017 from the Amanat Architect website

A 2008 proposal for the Semiahmoo core, looking up 152 Street from 16 Avenue. This rendering was captured in early 2017 from the Amanat Architect website

The City of Surrey’s 2014 official plan contemplates a city of 300 square kilometres organized around a city centre, intended to rival downtown Vancouver as it grows up, and five large-scale town centres.

Semiahmoo Town Centre within South Surrey, 2014 city plan

The Semiahmoo Town Centre within South Surrey

Each town centre is supposed to act as “the distinctive social, cultural commercial centre for its community… Support transit-oriented development…and build complete, walkable and green neighbourhoods.”  A successful town centre offers housing choice, walkable services, business and employment opportunities, and frequent transit. Continue reading

Steveston village: this ain’t Manhattan


The neighbourhood business association promotes Steveston as a place to visit, with its waterfront, cafes and gift shops. Co-tourist Robert Smarz and I walked the  ocean-facing pathway on the west side of the community and enjoyed lunch at the Shady Island pub on the boardwalk; we didn’t have time to stop at the Georgia Cannery National Historic Site, so there’s more to see.

development-reducedBut the designated core is attracting new residents as well as visitors, part of a general upscaling of Vancouver-area real estate. Postwar bungalows on the back streets are disappearing in favour of low-rise apartment buildings of three and four storeys. There are now enough essential services in place — such as food markets and professional offices — to make this a livable urban village with an affluent tinge. Rapid transit to downtown Vancouver is about 20 minutes away by bus, and bus service is frequent. Continue reading

Lynn Valley Town Centre: from humble beginnings

Intersection of Lynn Valley Road and Mountain Highway. The

Mountain Highway at Lynn Valley Road. The “Lynn Valley Life” site says the structure on the right, dating from 1912, is the only surviving commercial building from the original settlement. The photo is from

In the 400-page official plan of the District of North Vancouver, Lynn Valley’s commercial area is the designated “municipal town centre.”

On the first pass, this town centre is a crossroads row of shops flanked by gas stations and strip malls. And to an outsider, it seems an odd location for the action centre in a municipality of 80,000 people. It’s closer to bear habitat than to the Municipal Hall or the District’s busiest east-west street. But there are services and public amenities tucked away in various corners, and rapid new development may bring transformation over the next three to five years. Continue reading