Skateboarders across Vancouver gathered en masse recently to say goodbye to a veritable legend among West Coast skate culture, P.D’s Hot Shop at West 4th & McDonald. The home-base of Skull Skates and cornerstone of Canadian skateboarding has relocated (check them out at Alma and 10th), so while the wheels keep rolling for Skulls Skates, the event was a bittersweet farewell to an icon of Vancouver counter-culture.
On the topic of skateboarding in Vancouver, allow me to share some history about another site that has enjoyed a long and dynamic influence on our community: China Creek Park. You’re likely well aware that for several decades, the name China Creek has been synonymous with the concrete skate bowls constructed in 1979 on East Broadway near Clark Drive – a hotspot for East Van skateboarders, BMXers (much to the chagrin of said skateboarders), and graffiti artists.
What you may not know, however, is that the skate spot and playground are actually located on a piece of land that has extensive environmental heritage. China Creek North (the park by VCC with the big hill) and China Creek South (skate park) are named after what used to be the largest drainage basin in Vancouver. The China Creek system included nine waterways that drained into the area – an approximate 60km of creeks – which, prior to the back-fill of False Creek, flooded the area from Terminal Avenue up to Clark Drive.
The first house built in Mount Pleasant, the Maddam’s Family Ranch in 1888, was located on the this land, and at the time was only accessible by boat. In addition to the numerous waterways which converged at this spot, a large ravine took up much of the area – the remnants of which can still be found spanning the Skytrain tracks from Commercial to VCC. In the 1920’s and 30’s, the area receded into a local garbage dump, and soon became not only an eyesore, but a public health issue.
Subsequently, in 1951, construction began to pipe the China Creek waterway, while civic efforts to revitalize the area, including the creation of public parks, were implemented. The current location of Vancouver Community College, which prior to 1911 was known as Douglas Park, was once home to a large bicycle track built in 1954 for the British Commonwealth and Empire Games.
There are plenty of stories floating around regarding the nomenclature of “China Creek”. Some suggest that Chinese gardens lining the edge of the creeks were the inspiration, while others tell of a local pig farm that may have had something to do with it. Either way, the histories of China Creek North and South run deep, with numerous nostalgic appropriations that reveal how the parks mean many things to many different groups (you may or may not recall the skate-punk stylings of East Van’s China Creeps). Overlapping and, at times, conflicting histories culminated in a lengthy protest against city planners in 2006, wherein Vancouver’s skateboarding community won the battle to preserve the concrete bowls from destruction and re-development. Now a public center for the Clark Drive community, China Creek was nominated in 2011 for the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Places That Matter contest.
With the recent addition of a community garden, a playground, a daycare, and several picnic tables, the once run-down area has again been revitalized into a welcoming place for locals and their families. Even if shreddin’ the gnar isn’t your thing, China Creek is a cool little park to check out – just remember to wear a helmet on your scooter, bro.