The Purple Lights Of Our Ancient Basements


Have a stroll around the older parts of Vancouver – specifically in and around the periphery of the Downtown Eastside – and it likely won’t take long for you to spot the little 3″ purple glass squares embedded in the oldest sections of sidewalk. These are known as vault lights or sidewalk prisms.

4288396873_c7e50b609c_b 4289139384_d24bd1c718_o

They were typically installed in the early 20th century before the common advent of civic electricity services. Their purpose was to naturally illuminate the basements of the businesses they fronted so that open flame wasn’t required (thereby reducing the risk of fire – a real anxiety in Vancouver after the Great Fire of 1886). The easiest place to behold their full effect (with a drink) is in the underground bar at Calabash. The pictures above were taken way back when the Caribbean-themed joint was under construction in 2010.

We recently discovered another set – almost completely intact – downstairs at Bodega on Main Street. These are pictured below (also taken while the restaurant was under construction).

True story: the originals were clear, but the glass’ high manganese content gave them a purplish hue over time.

IMG_8536 IMG_8595


There are 2 comments

  1. Pavement Lights, Vault Lights and Sidewalk Prisms are a beautiful piece of our history.

    Glass replacement is something that’s not usually seen much in modern times.

    The Pavement Light Company is a specialist company providing Vault Lights, repairs, sidewalk vault repairs, prism repairs and pavement lights.

    We supply individual glass for you restoration projects.

    Pavement lights can completely change the look of a building.

    email: [email protected]

The Floating Respite Within Easy Swimming Reach of Kits Beach

Kits Beach would be a shoe-in for our 1,000 Cool Things About Vancouver project if it wasn't so damn obvious. This makes more sense.

All That Colourful Art on the Walls at ‘The Magnet’ Is Not What It Seems…

Downtown's beer-forward restaurant is a trove of quirky details from bar to bathroom. Here's a cool thing to look out for...

This Mt. Pleasant Restaurant Honours Its Veteran Staff Members in a Really Cool Way

Wallflower Diner recognizes and celebrates its long-serving crew members by affixing their names to the long edge of the wooden bar.

The One Delicious Day of the Year We Actually Looking Forward to Meat Sweats

The annual Brewery and the Beast festival of meat and beer easily cracks our 1,000 Cool Things About Vancouver list.