￼Mount Pleasant is a history-rich area of Vancouver that is currently undergoing large changes through redevelopment. In order to preserve its incredible history, we must first become aware of it. Here is a brief summary of historic buildings and the anecdotes they carry from Mount Pleasant’s early days. Most of the content here is taken from few sources, as there is not much information on the area’s history despite it being one of Vancouver’s oldest areas.
In its natural form, Mount Pleasant was full of creeks housing sturgeon, flounder, sole, perch and smelt. Down it’s centre ran one of Vancouver’s largest salmon and trout creeks, with a ravine up to 40 feet deep down parts of the hill and with a source at 49th avenue and an end at 1st avenue. Uniquely, “Mount Pleasant is the only community in Vancouver that developed around a creek” (5), as well as the only community that is split roughly half-half between Vancouver West and Vancouver East. Mount Pleasant’s large creek was later named Brewery Creek after the many breweries to develop in the area. The only brewery remaining from this era is the 1903-built, brick and stone Vancouver Brewery at 6th and Scotia which was converted in 1993 to become the first official artist’s live/work studio in Vancouver. Current day Main Street (first known as Westminster Ave) developed to follow the path of Brewery Creek up the hill. The upper reaches of Mount Pleasant contained swampland, partly remembered by Tea Swamp Park at 16th and Sophia. This was the site of a swampy lake full of labrador tea and was created by Beaver dams (that would have been located at the current Starbucks at Main and 14th) which flooded Brewery Creek. Mount Pleasant was dissected by an animal and First Nation’s trail which later became Kingsway (but first termed New Westminster Road). This was an important link between early Vancouver and New Westminster and became the first upgraded road in Mount Pleasant because of its importance.
The push of the Gold Rush starting in 1858 brought many British and American fortune seekers and Vancouver built up in response. Brewery Creek became the first piped water supply to downtown Vancouver, supplying Stamp’s sawmill (downtown’s first modern industry). Later, Mount Pleasant would become an industrial centre itself and expand around the waterfront, with it’s lower reaches (around Main and 2nd) housing iconic buildings like the Opsal Steel Building (recently demolished to be replaced by Opsal, a residential high-rise) and the Vancouver Salt Building (recently renovated to become a commercial space in the Olympic Village).
Mount Pleasant (first called ‘False Creek’ and later ‘the Hill’) is thought of as Vancouver’s first suburb. . In 1867, A.T. Julius Voight became the first non-Native settler to establish himself in the neighbhourhood. As early as the 1880’s, many more homes were built and the first commercial building is said to be the Junction Inn formerly located at the intersection of Kingsway and Fraser. In 1888, Englishman Charles Maddams purchased land at what is now China Creek Park (named after the creek running through the property, which was itself named by Maddams after his Chinese farming neighbours). Maddams built the first substantial farm and home in Mount Pleasant, which was also the last farm in the area by the time he died in 1920. Also built in 1888, the False Creek School (later the Mount Pleasant School) was opened at the present site of Kingsgate Mall. At 144 E 6th another one of Mount Pleasant’s oldest buildings (from 1888 and owned by carpender James Lindsay) still stands and is inhabited by an artist collective, though the building is under threat for demolition (10). The oldest, currently occupied single family residence outside of downtown is said to be the 1889-built Depencier House at 151 E 8th ave (now housing the restaurant Eight and a Half).
The first child recorded to be born in Mount Pleasant was George Grauer, who’s parents lived in a cabin on the banks of Brewery Creek which is now the corner of 10th and Main. In 1910, the Grauer family moved to a much larger house at 364 W 10th which is now the preserved Grauer Residence. At the site of the recent fire (Watson, Broadway and Kingsway) stood the last of three 1895 homes owned by the Grauers. This home was used in the 1990’s as a rehearsal space for the famed punk group D.O.A and they shot a music video on Watson Street just outside this building. The video premiered on Much Music in 1989.
￼Closeby, the unique intersection of Main street, 7th and Kingsway (2300 block of Main street) served as the old Mount Pleasant Village and some of the buildings in this block retain their original western awnings (e.g. nearby Western Front at Scotia and 8th, J.F. Clark building at 2313 Main Street). This block later became a streetcar stop and by 1901 Victorian homes filled the blocks around the area, making it an important business hub. As there were very few homes built outside of Mount Pleasant pre-1901 (which signaled the end of the Victorian era), Mount Pleasant has Vancouver’s largest collection of Victorian homes. Also unique to Mount Pleasant is 166, 170, and 190 East 10th Avenue, likely Vancouver’s oldest cast concrete building and first set of concrete condos named the Mason block. Mount Pleasant heritage buildings also separate themselves from Gastown and Yaletown buildings through their unique brick colour. Mount Pleasant buildings used a landmark yellow-brownish brick made in Abbotsford (vs the more red brick used in other Vancouver neighbourhoods). Good examples of this are the Lee Building and the old Bank of Montreal at Main and Broadway, the Heritage Hall, the Ashnola, Belvedere and Wenonah apartments, Quebec Manor, Mount Pleasant Methodist Church, the H.H. Stevens Building, the mansions across from City Hall, the Ivanhoe Apartments on 7th at Carolina, the Florence Nightingale School and the entire St. Patrick’s complex.
A census in 1891 revealed that Mount Pleasant had a median age of 24 years (much similar to Mount Pleasant’s current composition of 46% inhabitants aged 20-39 years – 3). With so many young couples buying Mount Pleasant’s less expensive land, the area was pet-named ‘Honeymoon Hill’, with this name being replaced by the early 1900’s name “Church Hill” because of the large number of churches concentrated at its centre. Examples of these churches live through the Presbyterian Church at Main and 10th, St Patrick’s church, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church at Quebec and 10th, to name a few.
During the 1910’s boom years, Mount Pleasant was thought to become the centre of a “great metropolis” (2), and so 9th avenue was renamed Broadway (after New York) and Westminster Ave was renamed Main Street. The Canada province streets were also among the first to be named and were done so by Ontario-born Dr Israel ￼Powell. The original province streets remain unchanged in their location, with newer additions coming later to reflect the changing Canadian landscape. The area surrounding Main and Broadway still contains the highest concentration of heritage buildings in Mount Pleasant. Examples are Calladine’s Grocery (now Goh Ballet), a pool hall and McCallum’s hardware store (now housing the Broadway Rooms and Uptown Barbers in the Fraser Building), the J.F. Clark Building (now housing Nirvana Restaurant) and Depencier House (mentioned earlier), as well as the bay-windowed Williams Block on 7th. The Lee Building built in 1912 stands as a testament to the boom years, as well as the 1916-built “grand new post office” (now the Heritage Hall at Main and 15th – 1). Being one of Vancouver’s oldest communities, Mount Pleasant businesses achieved longevity because of the pedestrian-friendly way in which Mount Pleasant’s business district at Main and 7th was developed (e.g. Bain’s Chocolate at Main and Broadway survived from 1938 til 2004 when the owner retired). Since Mount Pleasant was developed mainly before the age of cars, its blocks are shorter and continue to be filled with every amenity one could need. This helps to maintain “a popular village feel” (1).
Contributing to the pedestrian-friendly vibe, Watson street was developed uniquely as a one of the few Vancouver lanes that was also considered a residential street. Another example is John street just east of Main at King Edward. Originally named Howard Street, Watson had homes with no front yard but with stairs down their sides that ran into the lane, encouraging a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere and a quiet alternative to walking down Main street. Many inhabitants of these homes were streetcar operators named “railway motormen”, with the streetcars being kept at what is now Centre Point Mall at Main and 14th (1). The last home original to Watson street still lives between 13th and 14th on Watson’s west side (the front of which houses long-standing Bert’s Restaurant). During the mid-1900’s Watson became the Jazz hangout, with the Cellar at Watson and Broadway being ‘legendary’ in it’s lineup which included Charles Mingus, Cannonball Adderley and Wes Montgomery. Currently in this area stand the last few commercial buildings (though unused due to the recent fire) that border Watson. Watson’s original, residential feel has been partly reclaimed in recent years through the development of townhomes facing onto the lane, along with repaving and the addition of sidewalks to the area (e.g. Domain complex at Main and 12th, the townhome complex between 10th and 11th, and the townhome complex between 11th and 12th). The experience of walking down Watson is quoted as being a more pleasant one as compared to normal Vancouver lanes, spurring the idea to develop more lanes in this manor (2). The history of Watson Street is now threatened by a new development proposal at Kingsway and Broadway that will change Watson Street into a mere back lane used as a loading bay and access to residential parking. The resulting traffic will negatively impact the nearby bike lane on 10th avenue (please read Traffic Congestion and Bike Lane Impact on the RAMP website).
Throughout Mount Pleasant, many historic areas have been threatened, especially with the mid-1900’s “slum clearance” movement and development push (1). Examples of some survivors are the restored, Victorian and Edwardian Davis Houses in the 100 block of West 10th avenue (winning the 2000 Most Beautiful Block award and also featured in many films), some Victorian and Edwardian homes southwest of Main and Broadway, and some Strathcona homes in the previously proposed freeway project area. Despite inhabitants’ attempts to restore these homes, no attempts have been made by the city to systematically identify the Victorian homes of Mount Pleasant, despite there being a Heritage Registery. Also, there are still many older homes in the northern, industrial area between Cambie and Main that are under considerable pressure for demolition, with a few being lost already to such things as Hydro buildings used to service new development in the area (10).
Despite this pressure, tributes to the past live through areas such as the restored, old-style street paving located at 10th and Columbia and 10th and Alberta. The Mount Pleasant Business Association also sponsored a bus shelter that is a replica of the original streetcars at Broadway and Kingsway. In 1996, “the City of Vancouver Planning Department adopted the Brewery Creek Guidelines which allowed the city to request developers to recognize and commemorate Brewery Creek in return for granting relaxations benefiting their proposed new developments near the route of the creek”.(2). Features like the cast-￼iron clock and Brewery Creek cairns with plaques have been added to Mount Pleasant’s core, and a section of the original streetcar line has been resurfaced along the waterfront. In addition, outdoor spaces have been reclaimed. Examples are the Brewery Creek Native Plant Park (housing plants that would have existed here long ago) next to the Artiste at Brunswick and 5th and Scotia and 5th. In addition, the various community gardens set up in the later 1900’s act as a reclamation of one of Mount Pleasant’s oldest industries of farming.
There is obvious pride in the history of this area, but no concrete way to preserve it during big bouts of development, unlike neighbouring Gastown. Gastown has a heritage protection policy (6) and a Gastown Historic Area Planning Committee composed of representative interest groups from the Gastown area (7). This is in order to preserve, at least in part, its heritage buildings. There has been an attempt to increase historical information on Mount Pleasant through the Historic Context Statement and propositions for additions to the Heritage Register (2). This document has been integrated into the Mount Pleasant Community Plan for some points but not necessarily adhered to in considerations for future development. Specifically, there is recent talk of upzoning the area bordering Mount Pleasant’s oldest block (especially at Kingsway and Broadway through two separate developments: the RIZE proposal and the expansion of Kingsgate Mall proposal). A drastic increase in new building height will seriously threaten the historical buildings through shadowing effects and the general out-of-scale existence of any tall building that competes with established, historical icons or that contrasts the area’s village feel. The city admits that “the existing Mount Pleasant residential zoning has worked very effectively to conserve neighbourhood character while allowing significant densification” (2). If this is so, we should preserve this current scale of development which doesn’t seriously intrude on neighbouring historical buildings. Also, any move to increase density in this area could “upset the balance between heritage conservation and economic viability…[and] any desire to increase density along commercial arterial corridors could significantly impact Mount Pleasant which has at its core the intersection of three arterials [Main, Kingsway and Broadway]” (2). If too much large-scale, commercial space (part of the rezoning plan) is
￼added to the area along with increased height, “smaller buildings, in which much of the unique character of Mount Pleasant is embedded, could well be at risk” (2), along with their small businesses that rely on foot traffic. That is, a change towards high-rises and large chain stores could take away any allure of the area’s street level experience and therefore decrease pedestrian use.
To add to the allure of Mount Pleasant’s current street level experience, the presence of numerous artists has spurred Mount Pleasant’s culture. The development of Vancouver’s Fringe Festival, the formation of Public Dreams Society and Video In Media Arts, the establishment of Mount Pleasant’s artist in residence programme, and the conversion of the Western Front into a nationally-acclaimed art space all occurred within Mount Pleasant. Artists help promote the location’s “cultural ecology” (1), and have affected Mount Pleasant through converting industrial spaces to live/work lofts and adding “a vibrancy that has lead to the establishment of numerous artist-led cafes (e.g. the first eclectic coffee-restaurant, the Whip), restaurant- bars, boutiques and galleries” (1).
In addition to its historical buildings and large artist presence, Mount Pleasant resists a homogenous nature through its unique composition of industrial buildings (NW sector), apartments (NE sector), high value homes on larger lots (SW) and smaller home lots of a more affordable nature (SE) (1). Though affordability is quickly eroding in the area, this difference in composition is what makes Mount Pleasant a diverse, culturally infused, unique and desirable place. Jane Jacobs backed this observation in saying that advocating mixed-use areas along with the retention of old buildings allows diversity to thrive through rent affordability (4) (i.e. old buildings have paid off mortgages and therefore no need to increase rents beyond basic renovations. Mixed use areas still containing industry maintain lower land values and also house jobs). Though development and densification is inevitable and welcome by most, Mount Pleasant’s inhabitants should fight for keeping diversity and uniqueness throughout any change that development brings. Proposals for homogenous glass towers with large (and therefore pricey) square footage commercial space go against the community’s scale, historic look, independent business model, unique and pedestrian-friendly street experience, and most of all the core of the Mount Pleasant Community Plan (9). To finish, a local and respected businessman in the downtown Eastside recently said “You go to downtown Portland, and you’re like, ‘Wow, this is incredible.’ Downtown San Francisco, ‘This is amazing.’ They’ve kept all their history alive; we have to do the same. It’s imperative that we do the same. Otherwise we’re just another city that nobody really gives a shit about.”
- http://www.vancouver.com/real_estate/relocation_tips/ neighbourhoods_and_maps/
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼RAMP would like to acknowledge Bruce MacDonalds comments below.