Welcome to Secret City, a column by Ian Granville that takes Scout readers across the city in search of its architecture and design secrets every week. Granville studied art history, human geography, and urban planning before completing diplomas in sustainable renovations and timber framing. This summer, he is working with the Architectural Institute of British Columbia to research and conduct the architectural walking tour program.
by Ian Granville | The Adanac Bikeway is one of the City of Vancouver’s oldest and most heavily-used arterial bike routes. For daily commuters, the section of Union St. between Hawks and Princess is a blur of pre-1900 heritage homes and 1960s infill housing indigenous to Strathcona.
However, the disparity in the heights of buildings along these three blocks punctuates the monotony often associated with homogeneous single family neighbourhoods and provides an opportunity to explore another architectural anomaly…
Eschewing the Vancouver Specials and other mid-century houses on the block, the majority of homes found on this stretch were constructed before 1893. The undulating roof peaks of the Edwardian, Queen Anne, and Cottage-style dwellings reveal the original topography of the neighbourhood…
Originally named Barnard Street, on February 27th, 1911, the City of Vancouver passed by-law #806, thereby changing the name to its present day moniker (it is said that the change was due to the phonetic similarity of “Barnard” to “Burrard”). Known as Vancouver’s first “Little Italy”, Union Street, like its Georgia Street parallel to the north, had the distinction of being a streetcar route.
Technology limits of the time dictated the grade in which the streetcars could climb, so the undulating hills of Strathcona had to be softened to accommodate the growing public transportation system. Between 1890 and 1913, major street releveling efforts took place along Union St. and throughout Strathcona. Traditional paving using old growth wooden cobbles topped with creosote and sand made up the foundation of the roadway and can be seen in spots where the more modern asphalt has worn thin.
The foundations of those homes that predate the releveling, including the aforementioned strip of Union St., were largely unaffected. However, their relation to the street changed dramatically. The original street level is best observed in the foundation of the heritage building at 658 Union St. Upon completion of the street leveling in 1913, an addition was appended to the original 1893 building that responded to the new streetscape. It then served generations as a neighbourhood grocery. And today, commuting cyclists have the streetcar and its limitations to thank for their leisurely hill climb.
You can learn more about Vancouver’s historic Strathcona neighbourhood by joining Ian for urban explorations like this on July 22, 28, August 4, 11, 17, 24 and 30th. For more information on all six neighbourhood tours, please contact the AIBC at 604-683-8588 or visit their website.