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West End

West End

The West End lies west of Downtown, and, on three sides, is bounded by water: English Bay, Coal Harbour, and Lost Lagoon in world-famous Stanley Park. Recreational amenities are within walking distance for residents of this high-density area. The West End includes Davie Village – traditionally a hub for the city's gay community – and Denman Street, which together provide local shopping and restaurants. This area also has high-end retail on Robson Street and Alberni Street.

This area has a community plan completed in late 2013.

Neighbourhood history and heritage

The West End is located in the most densely populated, intensively active portion of the Lower Mainland. It shares the peninsula with the Downtown, Central Business District and Stanley Park. Until the turn of the century, the West End was only sparsely settled, due to its distance from the old Granville Townsite (Gastown). 

Through the 1890s the forest was logged and gradually replaced with grand Victorian homes for upper-income families. With the CPR's development of Shaughnessy in 1910, the West End's role as a "high-class" residential area declined and the community's second stage of development began. Apartments were built, homes along the Robson, Denman and Davie (all streetcar lines) were redeveloped as shops, and larger homes were converted into rooming houses.

The community's first apartments were constructed on the streetcar line that ran down Robson Street. The Manhattan (now a housing co-operative), designed by well-known architects Parr and Fee, still stands at the comer of Robson and Thurlow Streets. City building regulations, which lasted until 1956, restricted these early masonry buildings to six floors, and wood frame buildings to three floors.

During the 1930s and 40s, the third wave of apartment development occurred. These were low rise structures with impressive Art Deco and Tudor-inspired facades. They were designed to give the community an air of permanence and respectability.

The 1950s brought the fourth stage of redevelopment to the West End. These changes were mainly in response to zoning changes and technological advancements which allowed for cheaper and better multi-storey construction. The majority of high-rise apartment development occurred between 1962 and 1975 where more than 220 highrises were built. This building boom created the skyline that we are familiar with today.

In the 1970s, and again in the 1980s, resident's expressed concerns changes in their community. In response, City Council initiated local area planning programs involving West End residents, local business people and City staff.

Did you know?

  • A popular annual event, the Gay Pride Parade, follows a route through the West End and finishes at Sunset Beach.
  • A marble drinking fountain with the name "Fortes" sits at the edge of Alexandra Park at English Bay. The fountain honours Joe Fortes, an early pioneer and the city's first lifeguard. From the 1890s, until his death in 1922, Fortes was famous for being at English Bay Beach and teaching generations of Vancouver children to swim.
  • The first settler, John Morton, was a potter by trade and was lured to the area from New Westminster by the local deposits of coal and clay. In the summer of 1859, a survey ship had found coal on the shore of Burrard Inlet near the foot of Bute Street. Although coal was never actively mined in the area, its discovery led Morton and two partners to lay claim to the land with the intention of establishing a brick making operation.
  • When St. Paul's Hospital was first established by the Catholic Church in 1894, it was located at the end of the Burrard Street trail "way out in the bush." A pathway extended southward to English Bay and a rutted wagon trail connected to Yaletown.

GabriolaToday, few of the Queen Anne, Edwardian Builder or Arts-and-Crafts style homes remain from the turn of the century - that period in Vancouver's history when Georgia Street was known as "Blueblood Alley" and the West End was home to the families of railway executives.

Gabriola, (at the northwest corner of Davie and Nicola), is the last of the community's truly grand mansions. Built in 1900-1901 for industrialist Benjamin Tingley Rogers (founder of BC Sugar), it was designed by Samuel Maclure and was known as "probably the most lavish private home ever constructed in B.C." . Its superb stonework was quarried on Gabriola Island and the impressive stained glass windows were designed by the Bloomfield Brothers. The home was saved from demolition, rehabilitated in the mid-1970s and has since been a series of restaurants.

Other examples of the West End's early residential architecture have been preserved in Barclay Heritage Square - a unique blend of restored heritage houses and park space. The block, bounded by Nicola, Barclay, Broughton and Haro Streets, is anchored by the Roedde House. It is a modest home built in 1892-1893, with an exuberant Queen Anne tower and porch. Roedde House is now operated as a historic house museum. The Square also contains Barclay Manor and Weeks House, as well as six other late Victorian homes renovated to accommodate eighteen subsidized dwelling units (all buildings are on the City of Vancouver's Heritage Register).

Kensington Place on Nicola Street, symbolizes apartment living in the urban West End of the turn of the century. The building, built between 1912 and 1914 in the Second Renaissance Revival style, features an outstanding use of decorative pre-cast concrete trim. Its recessed balconies add a touch of refinement.

Other West End buildings such as the 1940s Baycrest and Seacrest Apartments (across from Alexandra Park) and the 1950s Ocean Towers Apartments (on Morton Street, one of the city's shortest streets) may stretch the traditional notion of heritage but should also be noted as important recent landmarks and fine examples of the Modem era.

See detailed information on the city's heritage and a complete list of heritage buildings.

Additional information is available through the City of Vancouver Archives.

Initiatives in the West End

West End community plan

West End Community Plan

We created the West End Community Plan to ensure that future growth in the West End meets the needs of the community. Learn more about the plan.

Illustration of proposed Comox Helmcken Greenway

Comox-Helmcken

The Comox-Helmcken Greenway provides an important east-west connection through Downtown from False Creek to Stanley Park. It is being developed in two phases.

People gathered at Jim Deva Plaza with the Speaker's Corner Megaphone

Heart of Davie Village Public Space Improvement Project

We built Jim Deva Plaza and are considering decorative lighting, wider sidewalks, landscaping, public art, and a mid-block pedestrian crossing at Davie and Bute. Learn about this West End Plan implementation project and help shape the outcome.

West End Community Plan

A Community Plan is the result of a comprehensive, collaborative local planning process.

Read the West End Community Plan  16.8 MB

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