As part of my partnership with the Vancouver Heritage Foundation this summer I enjoyed tours with John Atkin and Maurice Guibord all across the city, from post-modern landscapes in the downtown core to the streets of Hastings-Sunrise and up to the historic market garden neighbourhoods of Mount Pleasant. The final instalment of Atkin’s tours brought us to the edge of Pacific Spirit Park on the West Side to examine the origins of the Dunbar/Point Grey communities—a perfect finish to a series that had followed the communities along King Edward Avenue beginning with the Kensington-Cedar Cottage area.
We began our walk at the northwest corner of Chaldecott Park, so named for Francis Miller Chaldecot, a lawyer who once owned several hundred acres of property in the area and is credited with helping to organize the area of South Vancouver as a suburban community. The “end” of King Edward (it continues for a few blocks after being intersected by Pacific Spirit Park) signifies the boundary of a neighbourhood known for its affluence, and boasts a huge number of beautiful heritage homes ranging from those of the Dutch Colonial style to ubiquitous Craftsman Bungalows.
John explained the origins of the UBC Endowment Act in 1907, and how the initial plans for the area featured land set aside for a residential subdivision which never fully materialized. Following the selection of the Point Grey campus in 1910 and the establishment the first section of the University Endowment Lands in 1911 (more added in 1920), the surrounding area was advertised as prime real estate; original plans for development also included plans for other “major colleges”, making properties an attractive commodity at the first public auction of the land in 1927. John noted that many of the advertisements for the emphasized terms like “ocean breeze” and “fresh air” to entice would-be homeowners. Later infrastructure developments such as the completion of the Burrard Bridge in 1932 helped connect these new communities to the bustling downtown sector.
The University was establishment on the Point Grey campus in 1925 (on unceded Musqueam territory), but eventually much of the land was transferred back to the provincial government. In 1989 the residual undeveloped land was passed to Metro Vancouver, which eventually converted it into . Though the massive park is officially on unincorporated land and therefore can’t challenge Stanley Park’s distinction of being the city’s “largest urban park”, it definitely has it beat measuring 2,160 acres to Stanley Park’s 1,001.
The homes in the area surrounding King Edward and Crown Street are a direct reflection of the individuals who originally purchased the land, with stunning examples of large and small homes, including eye-catching takes on English Arts & Crafts styles that blend the simplicity of the era with medieval-inspired British accents. Along the blocks we saw peaked entrances, gothic arches, odd-yet-elegant rolled eaves, and a number of new homes that (try to) emulate the historic character of their neighbours.
Our tour finished with a rainy walk around Camosun Bog, which John pointed out as the only urban bog still in existence in the city. It was interesting that a tour so focused on homes and residential development would end at the outskirts of the forest; perhaps a little reminder of how the whole city looked before we began to build our homes here. John wasn’t quite sure yet what he and the VHF have planned for next year’s tours, but I definitely plan on tagging along.