Natural History and First Nations
Before the arrival of the Europeans, the False Creek area was surrounded by a dense temperate rainforest of fir, hemlock, spruce and salal. Numerous salmon-bearing streams meandered through the trees, draining into the Pacific at False Creek. First Nations, including the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples, inhabited the area; evidence of early settlements on False Creek dates back 3,000 years. The “creek” itself was five times its present size and its boundaries reached well into areas now filled and urbanized. The east end of the creek was a large tidal mud flat. The creek’s shallows supported a rich diversity of sea life: shellfish and crustaceans abounded while the waters off the tidal beach supported sole, perch and sturgeon. The rich ecosystem of the estuary attracted migratory birds, and the coniferous forest was home to bears, cougars, elk and deer.
The name “False Creek” was coined by English sea captain Captain George Richards in 1859,
when, expecting to pass through the waterway to Burrard Inlet, he instead came to a dead end. In 1867, Julius Voight, one of the first Europeans to arrive in Vancouver, built a cabin adjacent to the SEFC site. The ensuing influx of European settlers marked the beginning of an industrial period that would last more than a century. The industrial period began with the harvesting of local forest resources, and the area soon developed into a busy centre for manufacturing and processing. Southeast False Creek became an important industrial hub beginning in the late 1800s. The site was used for a variety of activities and was occupied by shipbuilders, sawmills, foundries, metalworks, a salt refinery and a public works yard. Though few signs of its industrial past exist on the site today, its legacy is far-reaching. Much of the city’s early infrastructure, upon which modern-day Vancouver was built, was fabricated on this site.
Vancouver is a young city, incorporated in 1886. Its natural boundaries – ocean, river and mountains – have influenced the evolution of the city’s built form. With limited opportunities for peripheral growth, recent development in the City of Vancouver has grown upward instead of outward. Vancouver’s downtown core sits on a small peninsula dotted with dense commercial and residential development stretching westward to Stanley Park, one of North America’s largest urban parks.
Over the past 30 years, the city’s downtown skyline has transformed dramatically, as has its demographic makeup. Recent years have seen a surge in the number of people who call downtown their home. New downtown residents live in a sea of high-rise condominium towers. Modern Vancouver has gained a reputation for dense urban living, so much a part of its identity that the model is often referred to as “Vancouverism.”
Vancouver’s Central Area Planning department developed the “Living First” strategy in the 1980s, emphasizing housing intensity and diversity; coherent, identifiable neighbourhoods; and regional architectural principles. Living First saw some eight million square feet rezoned from commercial to residential in the downtown core. Railyards and industrial zones along the waterfront were likewise earmarked for housing. This proactive planning agenda, combined with immigration patterns and the economic climate, contributed to a period of dramatic growth. Vancouver’s downtown population doubled in the 20 years since the advent of Living First, reaching more than 100,000 residents. As communities such as North False Creek, Coal Harbour, and CityGate are completed, more than 120,000 people will live in or adjacent to downtown.
South False Creek
South False Creek, east of the Granville Island Public Market, was the first housing development to appear on the shores of False Creek. The province acquired the land from Canadian Pacific Railway in 1928 and sold it to the City of Vancouver in 1968 at a time when industry moved offsite. Development guidelines for the area were adopted by city council in 1973, requiring a range of housing to provide a social mix that reflected the city’s income and social composition. Construction began in 1976 and continued through to 1990. The 76-acre site now contains 2,800 residential units, 1,040 of which are non-market units.
This low- to mid-rise, medium-density residential development was highly successful and is viewed by many to be one of the more desirable places to live in the city. Building heights range from an average of three to six storeys up to a maximum of 13 storeys. The neighbourhood offers a mix of community services, public spaces, public transportation, marinas, 25 acres of parkland and 275,000 square feet of commercial space. Various housing alternatives co-exist, including housing cooperatives and public and rental housing. The development’s approach to amenities and social diversity presented a new model for urban development.
Area – 76 acres
Units Per Acre – 64
Population – 4900
Housing Units – 2811
Parks/Open Space – 26 acres
Park Space Per Unit – 402 square feet
North False Creek: Concord Pacific Lands
The north shore of False Creek was cleared of virtually all industry in preparation for the Expo ’86 World’s Fair. Following Expo, the provincial government sold the lands to the Concord Pacific development group and the area was rezoned to a comprehensive mixed-use development. Concord Pacific has since built out 166 acres of inner city area on this site. The development, Concord Pacific Place, explored urban design strategies for high-density, high-rise residential living. Planning included a seamless integration of market and non-market housing. The development extended the streets of the downtown grid to meet the waterfront, allowing access to a body of water long cut off from the public realm.
Concord Pacific Place contributed to Vancouver’s emerging reputation as a leader in urban revitalization. The neighbourhood integrates a range of civic amenities as part of the rezoning process. These include 42 acres of public park space, a continuous waterfront walk- and bike-way, 25 per cent family-oriented housing, 20 per cent non-market housing, two elementary schools, four daycare centres and a community centre. The development also added space for more than 20,000 new residents downtown, bringing people’s homes and workplaces close together, and breathing new life to the inner city.
Area – 66 Acres
Units Per Acre – 5
Population – 13,000
Housing Units – 9180
Parks/Open Space – 42 acre
Park Space Per Unit – 915 square feet
Historical Changes to False Creek’s Shoreline
The original shoreline of Southeast False Creek was close to First Avenue. Today’s shoreline extends several hundred meters from First Avenue into the creek, having been filled over the years with material from many sources, including a railway cut and ash from a local incinerator.
Defining Neighbourhood Character
“Built form in SEFC, including building height, character, massing and views, should create identifiable neighbourhoods which accommodate a wide range of land uses and a diversity of residents.” (SEFC Policy Statement, 1999)
The SEFC site is divided into three distinct districts, derived from the industrial activities that once flourished on its shores: Worksyard, Shipyard and Railyard. Letterbox Design Group, a Vancouver-based graphic design firm, developed a brand identity for this new community that simply, yet dramatically, defines the neighbourhood’s character. The symbols are derived from the history of each place and the physical elements associated with it: bolts, screws and threaded pipes; the ribs of a ship’s hull; and railway spikes..
The Millennium Water Olympic Village lies at the centre of the SEFC site on the site of the historic shipyard. During the First World War the shipyard was Vancouver’s largest employer, with a 2,000-strong workforce. Called Coughlan’s Shipyard, the site saw the construction of the largest tonnage of steel ships in the British Empire.
In 1935, a steel fabrication plant was built on the shipyard site. This three-acre plant came to be known as the Canron Building and was the site of the production of steel that was used construct of some of the region’s major transportation routes, including the First Avenue Viaduct, the Pattullo Bridge and the towers of the Lions Gate Bridge.
With the advent of the Second World War, the shipbuilding industry re-emerged, employing another 2,000 steelworkers in the fabrication of large sections of 10,000 freighters to replace the ships sunk by German U-boats in the North Atlantic.
Following the two wars, the shipyard site remained operational, employing up to 5,000 workers. During this period, the industry produced steel for iconic structures such as the Alex Fraser Bridge, Canada Place and the largest free-standing building in the world, the Boeing plant in Everett, Washington. Operations ceased at the Canron Building in 1990, and the building was demolished in 1998.
Highlights: The Salt Building
The location of the historic Salt Building marks the original shoreline of False Creek. The 16,000 square foot building was erected in 1930 on exposed timber piles along the water’s edge. Inside the Salt Building, elaborate roof trusses that support the structure are visible within a large, open space. One of the last industrial buildings at SEFC that remains intact, the Salt Building has heritage designation.
The building was originally used as a salt refinery, storage facility and distribution centre. Salt arrived by ship from San Francisco, where it had been roughly processed, and would be cleansed, ground and packaged for use in the fishing industry for canning and refrigeration. Once the salt industry moved out, in the 1980s, the building was adapted for use as a paper recycling plant.
Recently, under city ownership, the foundation and a portion of the structure of the Salt Building were upgraded in preparation for a rehabilitation project. A consortium of companies called The Vancouver Salt Company is working to give the building new life. The Salt Building will be used as a social gathering place during the 2010 Games and following the Olympics it will continue to be a public amenity, housing a restaurant and brew pub.
Vancouver From the Lee block at the corner of Broadway and Main St. City of Vancouver Archives (close up), Pan N161C, photographer W.J.Moore.
Information source for SEFC Timeline:
City of Vancouver Community Services, http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/history.htm
City of Vancouver, www.vancouver.ca/olympicvillage/timeline.htm