You Should Know Vancouver Was the Last City on the Continent to Drive on the Left

You Should Know is a growing collection of longer-format reads with historical bents. Each story focuses on a fascinating thing about Vancouver (or its surroundings) that every local and visitor should know about. Explore the YSK archive here.

2400 Block of Main Street (at Broadway), ca. 1920. CoV Archives, Str P52

The American cultural influence came early to the city and was not just confined to popular culture. Like all good citizens of the British Commonwealth, B.C. drivers started out travelling on the left side of the road. This put us out of sync with our neighbours to the south. A Vancouver Sun “This Week in History” article from 2016 explained that after many years of lobbying, the British Columbia Automobile Club finally convinced the Government to bring the Province in line with Washington State and the rest of North America in 1921.

View of Granville Street, looking north from Dunsmuir Street, ca. 1920. CoV Archives, LGN 1026

Vancouver’s conversion was delayed a year due to the time it took to retrofit the streetcar system, so it wasn’t until 6 A.M., January 1, 1922, that Vancouver drivers finally made the switch to the right. Vancouver has the distinction of being the last city on the continent to abandon the British left-driving system.

There are 5 comments

  1. Is this just a Coles note version of this Vancouver Sun piece from 2016?

    ===The province’s Automobile Club had been lobbying for eight years to bring B.C. and Vancouver in line with Washington state and the rest of North America.===

    ===But because of the retrofitting that had to be made to streetcars and tracks, the change in Vancouver was delayed a year.===

    ===Vancouver was the last city on the continent to abandon the old British standard.===

  2. Thanks for your curious comment, Curious. It was an oversight on my part. I was working on two different versions of that whole piece, and I guess the reference got inadvertently left out of my final submission. My bad! The corrected version is above.

    This piece was extracted from a larger article I submitted about 5 things you may not know about Vancouver history… so it does have a “Coles notes” vibe to it… facts you could recite at cocktail parties.

    Thanks for keeping me on my toes, Curious, I promise to be more careful.

  3. The street scene looking north on Granville street. On the left the Colonial theatre. The old post office also on the left with the clock tower, this building is still standing.

  4. I guess, as usual, we’re not considering Newfoundland, which practiced left-hand driving until 1947?

    in fact, BC was one of the first provinces to switch. Followed by New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and PEI. Vancouver would have been the first city to switch to a right-hand drive.

You Should Know About Vancouver’s Long, Explosive Relationship With Halloween

Christine Hagemoen dials back the local clock to understand how and why our city associates Halloween with fireworks.

Iconic Mt. Pleasant Spot Gets a Name Change

A curious new entry on Google Maps inspired a neighbourhood history lover to learn about the formidable Gertrude Guerin.

How Bikes Liberated Vancouver

In her latest "You Should Know" story, Christine Hagemoen reminds us of how the bicycle first took our city by storm.

You Should Know That Gastown Was Home to Canada’s First Movie Theatre

In this edition of 'You Should Know', we remember the groundbreaking Edison Electric Theatre on W. Cordova Street.