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Vancouver 125

The City of Vancouver is 125 years old this year! There are over 450 historic places listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Places for Vancouver, so you could visit at least one a day throughout the year and still not see them all!  Vancouver is a city with a distinctive urban fabric, and its skyline always seems to be changing.  This dynamism is reflected in the surprising number of vibrant heritage buildings and landscapes. Gastown Historic District, Parks Canada 2008 / L'arrondissement historique de Gastown, Parcs Canada 2008

The historic heart of Vancouver is located in Gastown.  This interesting and historic area - officially recognized as Gastown Historic District National Historic Site (NHS) - can be found near Burrard Inlet just east of the current downtown skyline, and is dominated by commercial buildings constructed between 1886 and 1914.  These buildings exhibit a wide variety of architectural styles, the most common being Romanesque Revival and Victorian Italianate.  Of the 147 buildings here, 141 were built before 1914, and most of these are in exceptionally good condition.  Within the boundaries of the historic district are many attractions, such as a steam clock, a large bronze statue of "Gassy" Jack Hudson's Bay Company Warehouse, City of Vancouver 2004 / Entrepôt de la Compagnie de la Baie d'Hudson, ville de Vancouver 2004 Deighton, and Maple Tree Square, the city's first public square.  And of course, there are some prominent buildings here, including the attractive Byrnes Block (Victorian Italianate, 1886), the massive Hudson's Bay Company Warehouse (Romanesque Revival, 1894), and the unusual Europe Hotel (Neo-Classical Flatiron, 1908).  For almost a century, Gastown was the commercial heart of Vancouver, with numerous department stores operating here, as well as many hotels due to the area's proximity to the terminus of the transcontinental railway and steamship docks. Forty years ago, in 1971, the area was one of the first places in Canada to be recognized for its heritage value as a cultural landscape. Since then, Gastown has become a prime attraction for tourists who wander its cobblestone streets and attend festivals such as the Vancouver International Jazz Sun Tower, City of Vancouver 2004 / La tour Sun, ville de Vancouver 2004Festival.

Not far outside the boundaries of the historic district is the Sun Tower, which was the tallest building in the British Empire at the time of its completion in 1912.  Designed by architect William Tuff Whiteway, the building is seventeen storeys high, and has a Beaux-Arts dome and cupola which sit atop a nine storey polygonal tower.  Though it was commissioned to house The World newspaper, it is better known as the home of The Vancouver Sun, which took occupation of the building in 1937, and immediately installed an illuminated globe on the building's exterior, adding to its already iconic status.  Though the newspaper moved out in 1964, the idea of news being made here seems seared into the cultural consciousness of the city, and so the building still retains the newspaper's name and remains a major downtown landmark.    

Stanley Park, Parks Canada 1996 / Parc Stanley, Parcs Canada 1996For those of you who want a break from the urban hubbub, you can escape to nearby Stanley Park NHS, a forested recreational area located on a peninsula just north and west of downtown.  Originally used as a First Nations ceremonial site, the citizens of the city have long made use of the park's natural beauty, and have created many diversions to pass the time here.  So though you could merely walk through the ancient forests or rollerblade on the path following the seawall at the park's edge, you could also visit the aquarium, hop on a miniature train, spend some time at the children's zoo, play cricket at the cricket pitch or bowl on the lawn bowling green, and go for a swim at one of the outdoor pools.  You can also get superlative views of the north shore mountains here, as well as Vancouver Harbour and iconic Lion's Gate Bridge.

First set aside in 1888, and landscaped between 1913 and 1936, the park is an extraordinary  place where you can lose yourself in stands of dense and original west coast rainforest, or you can meet many other people in highly designed landscapes filled with imported trees, manicured lawns and statues.  This historic park has had contributions from many architects and landscapers from each era, thus adapting the natural area to suit the needs of contemporary society.  As Vancouver changes and evolves, so does the park.  As a source of refreshment, this oasis combines the best of what British Columbia is all about:  forests, mountains and ocean.  It comes as no surprise, then, that Vancouver chose Stanley Park as the focal point of the 125th anniversary celebrations which occured July 8-10th, 2011 and included many performances by talented artists.    Orpheum Theatre, Parks Canada / Théâtre Orpheum, Parcs Canada

Speaking of performances, many of Vancouver's buildings are associated with its significant artistic and cultural movements. One such place is the Orpheum Theatre NHS.  Constructed in 1926, it was once the largest and most extravagant movie theatre on the Pacific Coast.  Sometimes referred to as the "Grand Old Lady of Granville," the theatre's luxurious interior includes a spacious foyer, large seating capacity, and chandeliers made of Czechoslovakian crystal.  Originally intended as a venue for showing films, the theatre has also accommodated symphonic concerts and vaudeville acts.  In fact, the theatre underwent a major transformation during the 1970s, and it is now the city's premier concert hall and the main performance space for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.  It is good to see such an historic building being re-used in a way that helps it continue to contribute to the cultural heritage of Vancouver. 

Vancouver's heritage places are truly worth celebrating in the 125th year of the city's incorporation.  It is heartening to see that the celebrations have highlighted the interconnections between arts, culture, the environment, and architectural heritage.  Historic places show us where the city has come from, provide an important backdrop to its current skyline, are integral to the life of the local community, and provide clues as to how the city might shape its course in the future.