The latest instalment of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s walking tour series brought us to the neighbourhood surrounding Sir Charles Tupper Secondary School at King Edward Avenue and St. George Street, where we learned much about the different market gardens that once dotted this area. An excellent follow-up to John Atkin’s previous walk featuring the unusual street grid of the Cedar Cottage area, this tour similarly focused on some of the housing styles and what their different architectural details reveal about the evolution of the area.
Aktin pointed out that the land where Tupper now sits, like most green spaces or school lots in the city, was once home to a flourishing natural waterway. These spaces, while not particularly well suited for building homes upon, are excellent for parks and sprawling sports fields. Often all one has to do is take note of the changes in slope to see which direction the water was once headed. Sometimes, he noted, you might even hear remnants of these streams and rivers rushing below the streets in the storm drains.
This fish-bearing river that flowed through the Tupper area was once used by local farmers to sustain their agricultural businesses, and eventually fed into the China Creek waterway. The land the school sits upon was once a Chinese market garden, where locals could pick up an assortment of fresh produce. A few blocks west, near David Livingstone Elementary, a cut flower merchant once operated a prosperous business until the economic recessions of the time took their toll.
Often these market gardens belonged to Chinese families who had owned their own farms prior to immigrating to Canada. While Aktin discussed the popularity of their produce among local residents and grocers, he revealed how the Medical Health Officer of the time, Dr. F.T. Underhill, eventually discouraged the housewives in the area against feeding the produce to their family on the grounds that it was “unsanitary”. Underhill was, not surprisingly, also extremely critical of Chinatown and advocated for it to be cleared despite ignoring locals’ requests for basic infrastructure improvements.
We were again toured around some beautiful blocks with an assortment of Craftsman, Early Cottage, and Vancouver Special style homes, and treated to an insider’s look at how historically uncoordinated land ownership left the ‘hood with a few unexpected dead ends and laneways. We even got to hear from a homeowner who popped out to say hello and tell us of her experience with having a house on the terribly incomplete Heritage Register. With the abundance of flowers in nearly every yard and its lush tree-lined streets, it’s certainly not difficult to imagine how this fertile area appealed to growers over a century ago.
Vancouver Heritage Foundation, a registered charity, encourages Vancouverites to reuse, restore and rehabilitate heritage buildings and sites. Walking tours is one way VHF invites Vancouverites to know more about the rich history of the city and aims to inspire action on heritage conservation.