A no messing around guide to the coolest things to eat, drink and do in Vancouver and beyond. Community. Not clickbait.

Kingsgate, the ‘Little Mall That Could’, Turns 50!

Kingsgate 50th billboard. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Did you know that this year the Vancouver Eastside’s most endearing mall, Kingsgate Mall, celebrates its 50th Anniversary? An understated billboard ad in the mall’s east parking lot announces this milestone.

If you’ve never been to Kingsgate Mall, the décor is firmly stuck in the 1990s ($2 million renovations were done in 1999/2000). It is reminiscent of the type of mall you might find in BC’s smaller cities. In the 1980s and 90s, Kingsgate earned the moniker “Hellsgate Mall” during a period of neighbourhood growing pains. It’s one of the last remnants of Mount Pleasant’s working-class origins, standing as an oasis of resistance to the neighbourhood’s gentrification.

But it is not a relic; it is very much a living, active community entity used by local residents of all socioeconomic levels. And that’s exactly what makes it so special. This Mount Pleasant institution has been immortalized in song (see the Kingsgate Mall Tribute above; Magic Ass – Kingsgate Mall) and video (see below). It also made Heritage Vancouver’s 2023 Top10 Watch List.

However, before the weird and wonderful Kingsgate Mall, there was the Mount Pleasant School

Looking southeast at the intersection of Westminster Rd. and 9th Ave. (Kingsway and Broadway) from 1913. Visible is the original wooden schoolhouse and the brick replacement. Photo: PAN N161A, COV Archives

Mount Pleasant’s first school was a two-room schoolhouse built in 1888. Known as False Creek School, it was located on the corner of Westminster Road (Kingsway) and 9th Avenue (Broadway). In 1892, an eight-room brick school (370 E Broadway) was built in the centre of the property. This permanent school was named Mount Pleasant School and was added on to several times over the years.

Mount Pleasant School ca. 1960. Photo: VSB Archives

In those early days, the boundaries of the school district it served were very large: south through a forested area to the banks of the Fraser; east to Commercial Drive; west to Cambie; and north to False Creek. In the 1890s, schoolchildren had to travel along the trails through forests where bears and cougars were still found. According to stories told by early settlers, many parents had to escort their children safely to and from school with a lantern in one hand and a gun in the other.

For 80 years the brick school stood at the centre of the neighbourhood, educating the youth of Mount Pleasant. Plans to build a much-needed new school building on a different site were first formed in 1966. The old school, with its coal furnace and antiquated lighting, was torn down in the summer of 1972. That same year, staff and students of Mount Pleasant Elementary School moved to its present site at 2300 Guelph Street, adjacent to Dude Chilling Park.

The Kingsgate Mall we occasionally make fun of, but love dearly for its inherent quirkiness and old-school sensibility, may not have been built at all if, in the early 1970s, the Vancouver School Board (VSB) hadn’t decided to “go rogue”.

Demolition of Mount Pleasant school in August 1972. Photo: COV Archives CVA 23-19

In 1971, the VSB (who own the 3.2-acre property) called for tenders to build a shopping centre that “would serve the people, providing a convenience for the neighbourhood and provide funds for the board”. The bid for a $2.5 million, two-level shopping centre from Royal Oak Holdings (now Beedie Development LP*) was chosen. The agreement would provide the board “with a continuing and growing source of revenue over a 99-year lease”. However, the decision to build a shopping centre was made by the Vancouver School Board without first consulting the community, or (apparently) the City.

According to a Vancouver Sun article from December 1972, the plan to build a shopping centre was criticized for its lack of public space and community facilities. The plan was also criticized for “ignoring the site’s possible future importance as a rapid transit centre”. Then city planning commissioner, John Lecky, and other community stakeholders chastised the VSB, contending: “Although the school board owns the land, it had no right to proceed on its own and plan a major change in the community.” (The VSB got schooled!)

At a public hearing to address these issues – lack of public consultation, lack of community facilities, and complaints that the VSB was acting outside of its mandate – newly elected city councillor and former school trustee, Fritz Bowers, admitted that the Board “goofed… we did not a year and two months ago meet here before sending out tenders… it never crossed the minds of the trustees.”

At that meeting, it was decided that community facilities would be included in a revised plan. The developer said that 5-6,000 sqft of space “was available and that community facilities would be welcome because they generate pedestrian traffic.” He added, “that the city would have to pay the going rate for the space.” (That’s what happens when you try to bargain after the fact.)

Kingsgate Mall in the winter sun, 2023. Photo: C. Hagemoen

A three-day celebration for the official opening of Kingsgate Mall began on March 28, 1974. In addition to the 6,000 sqft Mount Pleasant branch of the Vancouver Public Library (the community facility), the other tenants included: Orange Julius (a mall requisite in the 1970s/80s), Brook Brothers Clothiers (not to be confused with Brooks Brothers), Safeway, Fields, Kingsgate House of Cards, Shoppers Drug Mart, The Royal Bank, and a BCLCB liquor store. The latter three remain tenants to this day.

So, happy 50th Anniversary, Kingsgate Mall! A toast to you, and here’s hoping you are around for a few more anniversaries yet.

*Royal Oak assigned the lease to Kingsgate and Beedie in 2005.

Kingsgate Mall
Neighbourhood: Mt. Pleasant
370 E Broadway

There are 8 comments

  1. Such a great mall. Always interesting, always can find something I want.

  2. Quite the background tale of Hellsgate Mall. So much I didn’t know! The Kingsgate Mall Tribute video was terrific. I had some shifts at the Mt. Pleasant branch of VPL back in the day, the era of a Saan store at the west entrance.

  3. Leanne the Royal Bank still operates a ATM vestibule at Kingsgate so I consider that still there. But, you are right, the bank with staff is no longer there.

  4. Agreed Diogenes, that Kingsgate Mall Tribute video is priceless.

  5. My wife and I lovingly refer to the place as “the mall of broken dreams.” It’s unique, I’ll say that.

  6. I moved to the area in 1979, and very fondly remember the old-school Orange Julius kiosk mid-mall. Unfriendly teenage girls (food service wasn’t a job for boys back then), dragging their feet, made the original sublime frothy drink with fresh oranges which were juiced (with pulp) after you ordered. Then they added raw egg, ice, and powdered sugar. A supplemental fresh banana was the only option. No fancy/trendy drink variations, no artificial flavours, no smoothies.

    Man, they were a spectacular treat; a barely affordable splurge for me at that time. I still miss them, and can ‘hear’ the sound of that blender, crunching the ice. I have many other recollections of Kingsgate Mall, but this memory is the ultimate!

  7. I remember going to the old library as a child, back when holds were held behind the service desk! I also remember a family-owned dollar store towards the escalators – is it still there? I set off one of those packet stink bombs for kids which exploded and I was caught on their surveillance camera, haha!

Vancouver’s History of Independent Grocery Stores, Vol. 10

Discover one of what used to be many Victoria Drive Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood grocery stores: A & B Grocery.

Groundbreaking Eleanor Collins, The City’s ‘First Lady Of Jazz’

Eleanor Collins, celebrated as "Vancouver's first lady of jazz" and recipient of the Order of Canada, passed away on March 3, 2024, at the age of 104. In tribute to her legacy and to extend our condolences to her family, we are republishing Christine Hagemoen's 2017 article that explores Collins' profound impact on Vancouver's music scene.

Vancouver’s History of Independent Grocery Stores, Vol. 9

In her latest instalment, Christine Hagemoen details the progression of Kong’s Grocery in Strathcona.

Vancouver’s History of Independent Grocery Stores, Vol. 8

This time around, Christine focuses on the legendary neighbourhood grocery corner store, located at 2262 Nanaimo Street.