by Stevie Wilson | If you live or work in Mount Pleasant – or simply enjoy visits to its plethora of shops and coffee joints – you’ve likely strolled past the towering Heritage Hall on the on the corner of Main and 15th Avenue (either that or you recognize it as a classic X-Files filming location). It’s the neighbourhood’s go-to wedding reception spot in summer, and for the rest of the year it’s home to a number of community events, art collectives, and meetings of all sorts. But enriching all of the Hall’s modern uses is its century-long history, the outline of which we’ll trace today.
The land upon which it sits once belonged to the Federal Government. It was purchased in 1912 to the cool tune of $40,000. The building got its start in 1914 as a civic Post Office. Postal Station “C”, to be exact. It was designed by Englishman Archibald Campbell Hope and lead architect David Ewart. Hope was also responsible for several historic apartments, halls, stores, and other buildings across the Lower Mainland, including Britannia High School and Fort Langley’s imposing Community Hall.
It’s unusual to find such a large, expensive (original cost was $92,000), and elaborate building like this in an area that was, despite being a major thoroughfare, not prime real estate or a commercial hotspot at the time of its construction. In fact, it was among the very few contemporary buildings in the neighbourhood – such as the 1912 Lee Building – that were poised to spur economic growth south into Mount Pleasant from the Gastown area. The commercial tide, however, would take several more decades before it reached the top of the hill.
By 1950, the Beaux-Arts-inspired pile was no longer being used as a Post Office and was operating as the Dominion Agricultural Building. In 1963, a special investigations branch of the RCMP moved in, taking advantage of the office spaces until 1976, when the building fell into disrepair, a mere two years after its “heritage” status had been cemented by the City (the hall was among the first buildings in Vancouver to be officially imbued with historical importance). Both the interior and exterior were in need of significant overhaul.
Heritage Hall was left dormant until 1982, when Main Source – a community group made up of passionate volunteers – rallied to initiate its reconstruction and the development of the site into the multipurpose resource space that it is today. Among its many Edwardian features are a sandstone portrait of King George V on its Main Street facade and a working bell inside a clock tower, which was built by the same company responsible for Big Ben in London. Late Vancouver historian Chuck Davis noted how animal and plant fossils in the interior marble were evident to the naked eye. The interior boasts a 3,300 square foot, French-inspired ballroom that features many re-conceived details, including a large mural, a tile floor, and stained glass chandeliers.
Stevie Wilson is a 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.