When Expo 86 closed its gates 30 years ago today, it finished as a far more successful world’s fair than it ever expected to be. Sure, Vancouver had high hopes for the fair and saw it as a great way to celebrate its 100th birthday, as well as the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway that brought British Columbia into Confederation. A total of 38 countries participated, but it was getting the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba to all participate that was the real coup. And the number of visitors was far greater than predicted. Most British Columbians credit Expo with bringing the province out of one of its worst recessions.
On October 14, 1986, the question on everyone’s mind was: what happens to the fairgrounds? Prior to Expo 86, the 90-hectare site was an industrial wasteland. Sawmills and railway lands had been expropriated to make room for the fairgrounds (it boggles my mind that Vancouver had working sawmills in its downtown core in my lifetime), but with rezoning came all sorts of possibilities.
In the end, what came to be known as the Expo lands was sold to a single Chinese developer. The price was controversial, but in return for a good deal on the land, the developer agreed to build child-care centres, playgrounds, a community centre, and a school. Furthermore, the condos had to include a certain percentage of family-size units and affordable housing.
The result? A slow and careful development of a entirely new inner-city neighbourhood that, once populated, doubled the number of people living in Vancouver’s downtown core. It’s not completely finished; the last section still remains a parking lot while awaiting the demolishment of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts ― the remnants of the freeway into downtown Vancouver that never saw completion.
Vancouver is consistently rated as one of the most livable cities in the world and the development of the Expo lands has a lot to do with that rating. Today, the area is covered in condo towers. Agreed, they are not the most creative architecturally. But you only have to take a walk through the neighbourhood and marvel that, only 30 years ago, there was nothing there but a wide swath of empty land.
There was a wee bit of excitement in Vancouver today about a couple of visitors. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are in British Columbia for an eight-day visit and today was their whistle-stop tour of Vancouver.
What I find amusing about the media coverage of the Royal Tour is how every story highlights that the Royals are being flown around the province by float plane. Float planes are, to put it mildly, a way of life in coastal BC. For some communities, it’s the only way in or out.
I took this photo of the planes docked at the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre (aka Downtown Vancouver’s seaplane terminal) last summer. The Duke and Duchess arrived here from Victoria this morning ― by float plane.
I have no particular reason for posting this photo, except that I think it’s kind of cool. Granville Street is the heart of Vancouver’s entertainment district and it can get a little zany at night ― especially on weekends.
Those white vertical lights you see in the photo were installed to dress up the street for the 2010 Winter Olympics, as a nod to its neon past. At one time, Granville Street was said to have the highest concentration of neon in the world.
There’s been some big-time reminiscing going on this month in the Vancouver media about Expo 86. Yup, it’s been 30 years since the World’s Fair came to town.
More than 22 million people checked out Expo 86 between May 2 and October 13, 1986. That’s an awful lot of people and Expo has long been considered a turning point in our city’s history. According to Wikipedia, Vancouver went from being “a sleepy provincial backwater to a city with global clout.” A tad excessive on both counts, I’d say, but that’s Wikipedia for you. At any rate, you get the idea. Expo 86 was a really, really big deal for Vancouver.
I wasn’t living here at the time, so my Expo experience was limited to three days at the height of summer when I made a visit home to my parents. I remember some phenomenal pavilions and, yes, a lot of time spent standing in line to get into those pavilions.
The Canada Pavilion was located at what is today known as Canada Place. One of the better legacies of Expo 86 and now an iconic Vancouver landmark, Canada Place is home to the Vancouver Convention Centre, the Pan Pacific Hotel, and Vancouver’s cruise ship terminal.
One other fun bit are the Heritage Horns located on the roof of the Pan Pacific Hotel. Every day at noon, the ten horns sound the first four notes of “O Canada.”
Depending on which way the wind is blowing, I can hear them from my place, more than two kilometres away.
Robson Square Ice Rink was looking mighty festive tonight. I wasn’t the only one who thought so ― check out the line of people on the left side of the photo. They’re all waiting for their turn on the ice.
The Gastown Steam Clock is one of those attractions that visitors to Vancouver love to seek out. Tourists all want their photos taken in front of the whistling clock ― it’s hard to think of Gastown without it.
So imagine my surprise last month when I was wandering around Gastown and discovered the steam clock has gone walkabout. Turns out it’s in the shop for repairs and maintenance. In its place stands a cardboard replica ― which, sadly, doesn’t do it justice.
Why the love affair with the iconic steam clock?
Although designed to blend in with the Victorian architecture that surrounds it (it’s modelled after an 1875 English clock design), Gastown’s Steam Clock was built much more recently ― in 1977. The largest of its five steam whistles comes from the retired CPR steam tug SS Naramata.
The clock serves a more utilitarian purpose than merely decorative, though. It was built to cover a steam vent on the northwest corner of Cambie and Water. (An aside: did you know that a large section of downtown Vancouver, including BC Place, Rogers Arena, the Pacific Centre Mall, and the Vancouver Central Library, is heated by steam? I did not. The things I learn doing research for this blog.)
Gastown’s Steam Clock sounds the Westminster Chimes on the quarter-hour, so I guess you could say it is Vancouver’s Big Ben. That’s probably stretching it a tad, but the clock is beloved by tourists and locals alike.
Repairs are due to be completed sometime this month. When the steam clock is once again back in its place, all will be right in Gastown’s world.
And it’s yet another birthday post, this time for Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral. The congregation worshipped together for the first time 125 years ago today at 720 Granville (which, funnily enough, is now the site of a Starbucks) and was made the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of New Westminster of the Anglican Church of Canada in 1929.
Although Christ Church is not the oldest congregation in Vancouver, it does worship in Vancouver’s oldest church building. That would be the stone building standing at the corner of Burrard and West Georgia. It was constructed on land bought from the Canadian Pacific Railway, but for several years the congregation didn’t get much beyond finishing the basement, which was nicknamed the Root House. When the CPR objected to what they called an eyesore, the current building was built in the Gothic Revival architectural style. The exterior is sandstone, its ceiling is cedar, and the beams and floor are made from old growth Douglas fir. The building was dedicated in February 1895.
Christ Church is located right in the centre of Vancouver’s downtown district. In the 1970s, the congregation voted to tear down the existing building and replace it with an Arthur Erickson–designed high-rise tower, but public opposition was so strong that in 1976 the cathedral was declared a heritage building. The building has been renovated six times; its most recent renovation was completed in 2004 with the installation of a new Kenneth Jones organ. The congregation had plans to build a bell tower, but before it had the chance to do so, the city passed a by-law restricting church bells. Christ Church is the only church in downtown Vancouver without a steeple.
A special treat this Christmas season is the almost life-sized nativity figures on display in the west alcove of the church; these are on loan from the Hudson’s Bay and are the same nativity figures that used to be displayed in the store’s windows at Christmas time. They were carved in Italy in the 1950s and belonged to Woodward’s before they were passed on to The Bay. Christ Church Cathedral asked to borrow them this Christmas season as the congregation begins a year-long celebration of its 125th anniversary.
I’ve been to the cathedral for many a worship service ― these photos were taken last night after the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols ― as well as several concerts and author readings for which the cathedral is a popular venue. After arriving very early many years ago to get a good seat to hear Timothy Findley read from his newest novel (and, as it turned out, only months before his death), I eavesdropped while a woman seated behind me explained to her companion that Christ Church was known as the church of lawyers because the funerals for the city’s most powerful lawyers are typically held there. It was one of the more bizarre bits of trivia I have ever heard about the cathedral.
But then, I like to think that there are 125 years’ worth of weird and wonderful stories to be told about Christ Church Cathedral. If only its walls could talk.
Remember Chihuly in Seattle? After I got back from my two days in Seattle, I was telling a friend here in Vancouver about Chihuly’s remarkable art work. And that friend then informed me one of Chihuly’s glass works is permanently on display at Bute and Alberni.
“Bute and Alberni?” I looked at him, puzzled. “I used to work at Bute and Alberni. Where ―?”
And then the penny dropped. The glass flowers in the glass box! I would stare at them from my seventh-floor office window whenever I was stuck editing a page, a paragraph, a sentence, … basically anything with words in it. It happened ― a lot.
This photo isn’t the best because, well, there was this massive, not very clean, glass box between my camera lens and the art work. But, there you have it, Vancouver readers. Know that we have our very own Chihuly glass work.
I’m always glad to see the back side of November. I know, I know ― it’s a miserable month everywhere in Canada, not just here, but for some reason, out of all the places in Canada (and elsewhere) I’ve wintered, I find Vancouver’s Novembers the hardest to get through. Which is pretty ironic given the Lower Mainland’s nickname: “The Tropics of Canada.”
As soon as I flip the calendar over on the morning of December 1st (metaphorically speaking, of course, since I don’t actually have a wall calendar anymore), I feel so much better. December is when I shake off my November blues, and realize that the city has put on its glad rags when I wasn’t looking. Even the Scroogiest of Scrooges cannot help but feel a little festive.
Here’s an example: Robson Square. I’ve loved its light displays since my first ever office job in downtown Vancouver as a fresh university grad, when I would wander through the square after dark on my way to catch the bus home. The ice rink ― shut down for many years ― was refurbished for the 2010 Olympics, and has been open every winter since.