YOU SHOULD KNOW: A Few Cool Things About The Old Salt Building On False Creek

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by Stevie Wilson | It can be a beautiful thing when modern architectural visions and history combine, and the Vancouver Salt Company’s old building on False Creek (Olympic Village) is a case in point. Thanks to its crisp, polished finishes and bold color scheme, the Salt Building could easily be mistaken for a brand new structure leaning on our city’s penchant for industrial design. The truth, however, is that this spot is the real deal featuring a long history that reflects much on our city’s changing industrial landscape and operations.

Built circa 1930, the original 13,000 square-foot space served in partnership with the Bay Area salt trade in San Francisco, whereby unrefined salt was shipped to Vancouver for secondary processing and extraction. The Vancouver Salt Company was at this time owned by Leslie Salt Refining Co. of Newark, California. Later, in 1970, it would come under the control of Arden Vancouver Salt Co. Ltd. and subsequently Domtar Ltd before it fell into disrepair prior to the 2010 Olympics. The structure features a complex roof truss system bearing weight onto numerous columns, with a large clerestory of windows brightening the long stretch of working space. In 1954, the demand for salt became so great that a northern expansion was completed by Wright Engineers Ltd to accommodate new equipment.

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The building is one of the only remnants of the strong industrial history of False Creek, which featured sawmills, steel fabrication plants, logging sites, foundries, shipbuilders and various other businesses dependent on a close proximity to rail and water shipping avenues. The salt processed here was a key component of the fishing trade in Vancouver; many food industries relied on this product to help preserve their own.

The structure has been subject to numerous architectural changes to accommodate the evolving nature of industries along the waterfront. Loading docks, new conveyors, and other modern changes coincided with new methods of shipping, improvements in technology, and increases in product demand. In the late 1980s the building served as a recycling and paper-shredding plant under Belkin Paper Stock Ltd. Decades later, it now operates as a center for the False Creek community, and is apparently the future spot of a new 350-seat “mega” craft beer pub (because of course).

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It’s one of the only buildings in the city with LEED Gold certification (that’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for us laypeople), and the architects of its most recent transformation (Acton Ostry) stayed true to the buildings’ roots in an effort to preserve its cultural and historical aesthetics. It boasts Heritage B designation by the City, meaning that it’s a legally protected structure, and has been the recipient of many awards, particularly in Planning Excellence and Green Design. Back in 2002, the building was shortlisted among the Vancouver Heritage Society’s Top Ten Endangered Sites, so it’s a relief to see it reborn – even if it was for the purpose of an “athletes’ living room”. Check it out the next time you’re on a walk or a ride by. Soon you just might be able to enjoy a nice pint inside, too.

[carousel image courtesy of Acton Ostry Architects]

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Stevie Wilson is an historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she’s decided to branch out with a cryptic agenda: encouraging the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with You Should Know, a Scout column that aims to reveal to readers the many historial things that they already see but might not undertstand.