While rows of homes, schoolyards, and tree-lined boulevards might not typically express the same grandeur as towering heritage buildings and historic monuments, they’re still excellent ways to trace the trajectory and evolution of a city’s identity. Case in point: the recent walking tour of the Arbutus Ridge neighbourhood I attended as part of my ongoing partnership with the Vancouver Heritage Foundation this summer. Continuing with his residential-themed instalments, Historian John Atkin led our group through the streets of this affluent West Side area to identify some of the architectural and zoning details that reflect its historical development.
Once known as “Asthma Flats” or the similarly grim “Consumption Hollow”, the neighbourhood—which spans from 16th Avenue to 41st Avenue between Mackenzie Street and Arbutus, roughly—was, in its original state, nothing more than a sprawling marsh. The main thoroughfare through the swampland was originally the planked Kay Road, now known as Trafalgar Street. The area’s development from a logging camp in the early 1900s (utilizing the natural waterways) to a residential settlement from the 1920s through the 1960s and beyond is evident in the various housing styles lining the streets, including large craftsman-style homes, modest bungalows with original stucco and windows, updated ranchers, ubiquitous 1980s McMansions, and more.
This tour focused on the blocks surrounding Trafalgar Elementary School, which was initially constructed as the annex to the nearby Lord Kitchener School. Its original 1946 structure (note the whimsical animal reliefs along the southern walls below) is accented by a Modernist addition completed in 1950, and is listed on the Canadian Heritage Register. Along the way, John explained the different sidewalk widths, tree varieties, and lot setbacks within the fascinating context of the historic land grant given to the Canadian Pacific Railway by the federal government. The CPR and its vast land parcels are a common theme along John’s tours, and he does an incredible job weaving the local histories of specific neighbourhoods through the broader strokes of our city’s urban expansion, particularly in the early twentieth century. Alas, for the full story you’ll just have to tag along on one of the tours…
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.