The newly formed nation of Canada, comprised solely of eastern provinces, was able to pull British Columbia into its confederation in 1871 on the promise that the transcontinental railroad would link to the Pacific Ocean. Initially the plans were for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to build into the established town of Moodyville on the eastern end of Burrard Inlet. But in 1884 general manager William Van Horne visited the area and dismissed the existing settlement as too shallow for ocean-going ships to meet the railroad. 

So the CPR negotiated for another site on English Bay that, oh by the way, would mean a much greater supply of land grants for the railroad by building deeper into the peninsula. The CPR eventually finished their line just to the west of the existing townsite that was known as Granville and Van Horne got rid of that name as well, opting for what he considered a more cosmopolitan-sounding name - Vancouver, after the English sea captain George Vancouver who had been the first English-speaking native to explore the upper Pacific Coast. The new city was incorporated in 1886 and the first trains from the east rumbled to Burrard Inlet a year later.

When the first CPR station was erected the surrounding neighbourhood was mostly residential. It did not take long for the business community to begin making its way out of the original townsite - now referred to as Gastown - towards the CPR hub and the railroad’s surrounding land which it was eager to develop. One thing Vancouver showed a penchant for early was the skyscraper. Several towers erected on English Bay in the early decades of the 20th century stood as the tallest structures in the British Empire. By the 1950s the axes along West Hastings Street and Granville Street were entrenched as the retail and business centre of the city.  

As Vancouver grew into the most densely populated city in Canada it also emerged as one of the world cities most densely populated with skyscrapers. The town’s hunger for ever-higher reaching towers consumed many heritage buildings - the loss of some, such as the original Birks Building, are still mourned today. Other times, in an attempt to retain a scrap of architectural history developers practised what was called “facadism” by preserving the fronts of old buildings and raising towers on the rubble of their demolished innards. Today Vancouver’s City Centre claims some 50 buildings in excess of 100 metres.

21st century Vancouver has established itself as a modern municipal wonder with gleaming skyscrapers that still leave 27 protected view corridors to the North Shore Mountains and the sparkling waters of English Bay and the Strait of Georgia. But there remain pockets of heritage structures as well and to seek them out we will begin at the catalyst for development in Vancouver City Centre... 

Waterfront Station
601 West Cordova Street at the foot of Granville Street The Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CPR) transcontinental passengers first disembarked on these platforms in 1914, replacing a Gothic-flavoured terminal one block to the west. Montreal architects Ernest Barrott, Gordon Blackader and Daniel Webster provided the classically-inspired Beaux Arts design highlighted by a parade of Ionic columns. The last train passengers arrived in 1979 and since then the facility has been reconfigured to serve city buses, Helljet helicopters, SeaBus, and SkyTrain metro riders. The monumental sculpture at the southeast corner was erected by the Canadian Pacific Railway to honor the 1,100 railroad employees lost in the First World War. After a nationwide search 40-year old Couer de Lion MacCarthy, son of Montreal master of monumental sculpture Hamilton Plantagenet, won the commission. The seven-foot high, 3,000-pound allegorical sculpture was dedicated in 1921; copies were installed at CPR stations in Winnipeg and Montreal as well.

Walk south on Seymour Street, away from Waterfront Station.

Price Waterhouse Centre/Grant Thornton Place
333 Seymour Street at northwest corner of Hastings Street

With the demise of train passenger service the venerable St. Francis Hotel across from the Canadian Pacific Railway station was sacrificed in favour of this 17-storey black glass box in 1985 for the now defunct Price Waterhouse accounting firm. The main offices were connected by covered escalators to a glass dome-covered plaza where the historic Empire Building from 1889 once stood. The designers were Tudor & Walters Architects, successors to firm of John Y. McCarter and George Colvill Nairne who were responsible for several Vancouver landmark buildings.

Harbour Centre
555 West Hastings Street at northwest corner of Richard Street

In the 1850s David Spencer left the family farm in Wales to apprentice with a local dry goods merchant. He took what he learned and sailed to Victoria in 1862 where the 25-year old Welchman plied his trade selling books and stationery. He bought his own dry goods business in 1873 and set up a branch in Vancouver in 1906. After David Spencer died in 1920 his son Chris assumed control and set about consolidating businesses on this block. He hired two local architects, John Y. McCarter and George C. Nairne, to create a mammoth new department store to corral the expanding enterprise. Up to this time the pair had earned their way designing houses and small apartment buildings. The new Spencer’s was completed in 1926 although it never achieved its block-filling dreams. Chris Spencer sold the Vancouver institution to Toronto retailing behemoth T. Eaton Co, in 1948. When Eaton departed in the 1970s the building was turned over to Sears which never made a go of it here and eventually sold the buildings to Simon Fraser University for its first urban campus.

Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue
580 West Hastings Street at southeast corner of Seymour Street

Woodruffe Marbury Somervell and John L. Putnam forged an architectural partnership in 1910 and this was their final commission in Vancouver before taking off for Dallas in 1919. The grand banking temple was a project for the Union Bank of Canada but they weren’t long for the city either, being absorbed by the Royal Bank of Canada in 1925. The Neoclassical vault served several banking masters until the last deposits were cashed out in 1984. After years of vacancy the building dodged the wrecking ball and was donated to Simon Fraser University. The Wosk family were Russian immigrants that operated furniture and appliance stores around Vancouver beginning in 1932.

Seymour Building
525 Seymour Street

Architect Woodruff Somervell’s ancestors helped plan the Erie Canal across New York state that linked the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean in the 1820s; He trained in New York City and began his design career in Seattle, working simultaneously in that city and in Vancouver through the 1910s. Somervell created this ten-storey Neo-Gothic structure for the Yorkshire Bank using ornamental ironwork obtained from the Chicago Ornamental Iron Co.

Walk through the alley across the street to Richards Street. The building on your left is...

Lumbermen’s Building
509 Richards Street

This early Vancouver high-rise was raised for the North West Trust Company in 1911. This was the first project undertaken by architect John Philip Matheson with his son Robert, who returned from the University of Pennsylvania that year. The eight-storey, five-bay building was constructed with reinforced concrete and decorated with terra cotta tiles. The timing of the project was bad - an economic downturn sunk the North West within a couple of years. The Lumberman’s Trust, the first Canadian bank to issue timber bonds to finance the development of sawmills, moved into the space in 1923.

turn right on richards street and walk south, away from the waterfront. 

Canada Hotel/Marble Arch Hotel
518 Richards Street

When Emil Guenther von Swartzenberg designed the Canada Hotel in 1913 he modeled the dining room after the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. That touch of elegance was a distant memory when the building topped the list of Vancouver’s worst places to rent a room a century later. The name changed to the Marble Arch Hotel in the 1950s and the deterioration was well under way when it became a strip club hangout for the Los Angeles rock band Motley Crue who immortalized the joint in its 1987 hit “Girls, Girls, Girls.” That was the same year Gilbert Paul Jordan, “The Boozing Barber,” was arrested in his long-time room here for the alcohol poisoning deaths of at least six women.   

Dunsmuir Rooms/Hotel St. Clair
577-579 Richards Street

The Canadian Pacific Steamship Company plied the trade between the Canadian west coast and the Far East for a half-century and never had a finer ship than the RMS Empress of Japan. In 1897, captained by Henry Pybus, she steamed across the Pacific Ocean in a record time that stood for more than twenty years. Her dragon masthead has been immortalized in the Seawall in Stanley Park. This block was constructed as apartments and retail space for Captain Pybus in 1911. Architect Samuel Buttrey Birds, who was born and trained in Yorkshire, England, designed the classically-inspired building with concrete cast to resemble stonework. Pybus, who became a lieutenant governor of British Columbia, called his property the Dunsmuir Rooms. Today the Hotel St. Clair operates as a hostel.  

Holy Rosary Cathedral
646 Richards Street at southeast corner of Dunsmuir Street

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Vancouver was started in 1885 and Father Patrick Fay who was ministering to Canadian Pacific Railway workers was called upon to lead the flock. Church lore maintains that when it came time to build a permanent church Father Fay walked down to the waterfront and looked into the forest and picked out the lot with the highest tree. A wooden house of worship was blessed here by 1887. The cornerstone for this sanctuary was placed in the ground on July 16, 1899. Fifty-two year old Thomas Enner Julian provided the French Gothic design that was the masterwork of his career. When completed Holy Rosary was hailed as “the finest piece of architecture west of Toronto and north of San Francisco.” Julian used sandstone quarried from Gabriola Island in the Strait of Georgia as his prime building material. The church was elevated to the status of cathedral in 1916.  

Turn right on Dunsmuir Street.   

Dunsmuir Hotel/Dunsmuir International Village
500 Dunsmuir Street at southwest corner of Richards Street

Architects John Edmeston Parr and Thomas Arthur Fee designed the Dunsmuir House in 1908 with deep air shafts to maximize window space in the days before air conditioning. The original owner, David Gibb and Sons, sold the property in 1913 to Polish businessman Abraham Grossman who ran the town’s first clothing store. Grossman brought in the prestigious Tacoma firm of Russell, Babcock and Rice to dress up his building, which catered to Vancouver’s burgeoning tourist trade. The Dunsmuir’s best days were gone by the Second World War, during which it served as a barracks for sailors. After the war the building was commandeered to house returning veterans and the Salvation Army took over in 1949 and operated a men’s shelter here for 55 years. More recently the heritage brick building has been the Dunsmuir International Village, a hostel for foreign students. 

St. Regis Hotel
602 Dunsmuir Street at southwest corner of Seymour Street

Architect William Tuff Whiteway who was building the Sun Tower in 1913 as the tallest building in the British Empire also drew up plans for this guest house the same year. Whiteway tapped the Edwardian Commercial style for the St. Regis which is the only pre-World War I downtown Vancouver hotel still greeting nightly guests. Leon Melekov, a Russian immigrant and executive with the British Columbia Refining Company, picked up the original $85,000 building tab that swelled to $125,000 when the planned two-storey structure morphed into a low-rise six-storey guest house. Melekov had left Vancouver far behind by the 1920s when he was in California fighting off claims of embezzlement and other accused wrongdoings. In 1953 he would would publish his own 30-page take on the petroleum industry called The Greatest Fraud Ever Perpetrated in America. The St. Regis had a better long-term fate, receiving an $11.5 million facelift in 2008.

BC Electric Showroom
southeast corner of Granville and Dunsmuir streets

This corner was originally occupied by the Browning Block, a substantial Victorian commercial building designed in 1894 by George William Grant, the land agent for the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1928 it was torn down and replaced with the current structure for the BC Electric Company. At the time utility companies also sold appliances to generate business and architects Hugh Astley Hodgson and Henry Holdsby Simmonds gave the structure a large, prominent windowscape. At the corners Mediterranean-style windows are accentuated with small balconies. 

Turn left on Granville Street, which was converted into a pedestrian and transit mall between Nelson and Georgia streets in 1974.

Hunter Brothers Block
610 Granville Street

Retired British general major John Twigge and his brother Samuel settled in Vancouver around 1890; John developed business interests in Gastown along Water Street and Samuel bought up land along Granville Street. This three-storey brick building with stone trim was constructed in 1892 by Samuel and Thomas Hunter and stands as a rare 19th century souvenir along Granville Street. It was originally part of a more substantial Twigge Block and features a cast iron store front on the ground floor. The upper floors of Victorian-era buildings such as this one included residential space; here they were known as the Seattle Rooms and later, the Ben Ton Rooms and Eula Rooms.   

Hudson’s Bay Department Store
640 Granville Street at southwest corner of Georgia Street

In the last half of the19th century when architecture was considered more of a trade than a profession in Canada Edmund Burke in Toronto was an exception. His completion of the Robert Simpson store in Toronto in 1894 embraced the new steel girder skyscraper technology pioneered in Chicago in the previous decade and introduced the country to the possibilities of modern architecture. In 1910 when the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) cast about for architects for three flagship stores in western Canada the company bypassed major American designers to select Burke and his partners John Charles Batstone Horwood and Murray Alexander White. The Calgary store opened first, then Edmonton and finally in 1914 the Vancouver store; all looked essentially alike. HBC had been in Coal Harbour since 1887 and a three-storey brick store had occupied this location since 1893. Over the years Hudson’s Bay consumed older buildings on the block and additions in 1926 and 1949 were completed with only the tiniest difference in the cream-coloured terra cotta betraying the expansions.        

Pacific Centre
701 West Georgia Street between Granville and Howe streets

Along with the Hudson’s Bay store two other elegant masterpieces rose nearby around the same time - the 11-storey Birks Building with a curved Edwardian facade and the 15-storey Italian Renaissance-styled Hotel Vancouver built by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Together the triumvirate of jewels on the Vancouver skyline moved the centre of town to Georgia and Granville for decades. The Hotel Vancouver was demolished in 1949, taking with it the attached Vancouver Opera House. In the early 1970s the Birks Building, considered by many the most beautiful building ever erected in Vancouver, was torn down as well. Pacific Centre, a mostly underground shopping complex of over 80 stores, arrived in 1971 on the former site of the Hotel Vancouver.    


Vancouver Block
736 Granville Street

Contributing to the prominence of the Georgia and Granville intersection was the Vancouver Block, erected on the highest point in the city between 1910 and 1912. The skyscraper marked the culmination of the careers of architects John Parr and Thomas Fee, who contributed many landmark buildings to the Vancouver streetscape. Dominic Burns, from the Alberta meat-packing empire, was the money man for the project and he kept a two-storey penthouse here. In 1927 the landmark clock atop the terra cotta-clad 15-storey Neoclassical tower was given Vancouver’s first neon to illuminate its time-telling hands.  

Turn right on Georgia Street. 

Hotel Georgia
801 West Georgia Street at northwest corner of Howe Street

This 1927 hotel is the sort of place where the Beatles, John Wayne and Elvis Presley all signed the guest register. Marlene Dietrich checked in with 40 suitcases. Bing Crosby never came salmon fishing in British Columbia without staying here. When the Duke of Kent and the Prince of Wales arrived the Hotel Georgia literally rolled out the red carpet. The building is the handiwork of John Graham, a Seattle architect, and Robert Thompson Garrow, a Scottish immigrant who began working in Vancouver in 1907. Despite its regal reputation the hotel’s Georgian Revival exterior is relatively austere in comparison to some of its illustrious neighbors. The private Residences at Hotel Georgia became the second tallest tower in Vancouver when the 48-storey glass wall skyscraper went up in 2012. 

Vancouver Art Gallery
750 Hornby Street at southeast corner of Georgia Street

English-born architect Francis Rattenbury arrived in Vancouver at the age of 24 in 1891 and built an impressive resume that included the Chateauesque Empress Hotel for the Canadian Pacific Railway and the British Columbia Parliament Building. Rattenbury won a design competition for the provincial courthouse in 1905 with this building that boasts a central dome and an Ionic facade fashioned from marble hauled from Alaska, Tennessee and Vermont. A judicial annex by prolific local architect Thomas Hooper came along in 1912. The Centennial Fountain at Georgia Street was installed in 1966 to mark the 100th anniversary of the colonial union of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. In the early 1980s a $20 million makeover paved the way for the Vancouver Art Gallery that had been founded in 1931 as the prime depository for works by British Columbian artists. The lions on the portico of the Georgia elevation were carved by John Bruce to resemble those in London’s Trafalgar Square. This entrance has been sealed so the stone kings of the jungle keep watch over nothing but passersby.     

Hotel Vancouver
900 West Georgia Street at southwest corner of Hornby Street

This is the third hotel to carry on the majestic tradition of Canadian National Railway hotels to be named Hotel Vancouver. The first was a five-story glorified brick farmhouse that greeted early transcontinental passengers to frontier Vancouver in 1888. The first Hotel Vancouver was replaced by a grand Italian Renaissance structure on the same site three blocks down Georgia Street that was hailed as one of the finest hotels in the British Empire. The second Hotel Vancouver finished its glamourous life doing administrative duty in World War II. By that time the current Hotel Vancouver had opened in 1939 after an 11-year construction journey that was interrupted by the hardships of the Great Depression. Architects John Archibald and John Schofield drew up the French Chateauesque plans which incorporated the requisite steep copper roof, sculpted gargoyles and Renaissance-inspired details. The entire confection was completed in time for the arrival of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in May of 1939. The final tab was $12 million; another $12 million was spent for a 75th anniversary facelift in 2014.

Turn right on Burrard Street.

Christ Church Cathedral
690 Burrard Street at northeast corner of Georgia Street

The first Anglican services were held in Vancouver - sans church building - on December 23, 1888. Within ten months the congregation boasted 52 parishioners and the foundation of a building that was known as the “root house for worship.” The land was courtesy of the Canadian Pacific Railway thanks to congregant Henry John Cambie, the railroad’s chief engineer. This Gothic-style sanctuary designed by English-born Charles Osborn Wickenden was finally ready on February 17, 1895 to contain the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster. Expansions started in 1909 and many alterations followed. When a chancel was added in 1929 Christ Church achieved cathedral status. In the 1970s the cash-strapped church membership voted to swing the wrecking ball but public outrage and a deal with the Park Place developers next door to the north to transfer unused density rights in exchange for money saved the historic house of worship which is now a Class A Heritage building.   

Turn right on Dunsmuir Street. Turn left on Howe Street.

Old Stock Exchange Building
475 Howe Street at northwest corner of Pender Street

When this home of the Vancouver Stock Exchange (VSE) opened in the summer of 1929 it unwittingly signaled the curtain falling on two eras - one, the prosperity and building boom of the pre-Great Depression days and two, the end of ornate Gothic-flavoured skyscrapers like this designed by local architects Frederick Laughton Townley and Robert Michael Matheson. Townley and Matheson later won the commission for Vancouver City Hall in 1936 which tapped the newly popular streamlined Art Deco form. The Vancouver Stock Exchange, which joined those of Toronto and Montreal as the third major Canadian exchange, was incorporated in 1906. The VSE specialised in handling small cap mining and oil exploration stocks that generally proved unsuccessful; in 1999 the exchange was absorbed by the Canadian Venture Exchange.

466 Howe/Montreal Trust Building
466 Howe Street at northeast corner of Pender Street

Across the street from the Stock Exchange Building this ten-storey tower constructed at roughly the same time for the Montreal Trust Company began to exhibit the cleaner lines of the Art Deco style that emphasized the verticality of the structure and included a setback above the third floor. A 15-storey addition on Pender Street came along in 1965.     

Bank of Montreal
580 Granville Street at southeast corner of Pender Street

This Neoclassical banking temple was crafted for the Merchants Bank by Woodruffe Marbury Somervell and John L. Putnam in 1916. But as solid and impressive as the two-storey vault was it did not save the Merchants Bank in the spirited Vancouver banking wars of the day as its assets were assumed by the Bank of Montreal by 1923. Their staff architect, Kenneth Guscotte Rea, doubled the size of the bank, engineering a faithful adaptation of the original design. After the Bank of Montreal left in the 1990s the abandoned property was purchased by local business legend Joseph Segal who built a merchandising empire with Zeller’s and the Bay and later guided the venture funding firm Kingswood Capital. Segal donated the building to Simon Fraser University and spearheaded a $20 million restoration drive so the building looks much as it ever did.     

Rogers Building
470 Granville Street at northeast corner of Pender Street

Jonathan Rogers was not just on the first transcontinental train to arrive in Vancouver in 1887, the Welch transplant was the first passenger to step onto the platform. A quarter-century later when this landmark building opened Rogers, who started as a painter in British Columbia, had become one of the young city’s largest developers. Rogers served 26 years on the park board and did a stint as president of the Board of Trade. This 10-storey Italian Renaissance landmark was his crowning achievement, ushered into existence by Seattle architect Carl F. Gould who was a master practitioner of decorative terra cotta. The stylish commercial building not only set the standard forVancouver but inspired copies in other cities as well. In 1927 Rogers sold his downtown treasure for $1 million in the largest real estate transaction in the city’s history to that time. But after the buyer, General F.A. “One Arm” Sutton could not make a go of the property Rogers bought it back in 1940 and owned it until his death in 1945. 

Turn left on WEST HASTINGS Street. 

Birks Building
698 West Hastings Street at southeast corner of Granville Street

Toronto architects Frank Darling and John A. Pearson were Canada’s foremost cheerleaders for the Beaux Arts style in the first decades of the 20th century. The client for this Neoclassical tour de force that opened in 1908 was the Canadian Bank of Commerce. Fluted Ionic columns rise from a rusticated base to a heavy cornice on both the Hastings and Granville street elevations. Henry Birks & Sons, the fashionable jeweler from Montreal, set up shop on this intersection at around the same time as the Bank of Commerce when the company bought out the assets of local jeweler George Trowey. The jeweler moved away in 1913 up Granville to the lost and lamented Birks Building. When they returned in 1994 to this location as a high end retailer Birks brought with them one of the town’s cherished landmarks - the Birks clock that had originally been installed at Granville and Hastings by George Trowey. The clock, crafted by the successors to master horologist Edward Howard of Boston, has followed the jeweler for over 100 years.

Royal Bank Building
675 West Hastings Street at southeast corner of Granville Street

Massachusetts-born Sumner Godfrey Davenport took his architectural training at Harvard University and spent the first two decades of the 20th century in some of the most prestigious shops in Boston and New York, including with Edward York and Philip Sawyer who were America’s premiere bank architects. In 1917 he was sent by Purdy & Henderson to supervise the construction of the head office of the Royal Bank of Canada in Havana, Cuba. Three years later he joined the Montreal financiers as Chief Architect and stayed until 1942. Davenport’s grandest project was this 16-storey Romanesque palazzo featuring stepbacks that was built from 1929 to 1931; it replaced the Royal Bank’s classical headquarters constructed in 1903 on the corner of Hastings and Homer when that intersection had been the center of Vancouver’s “banking row.” The arcaded Florentine-styled banking hall is considered the city’s finest. 

General Post Office/Sinclair Centre
757 West Hastings Street at northwest corner of Granville Street

Vancouver picked up its mail at this location from the early 1900s until the 1950s. The grand edifice was the creation of architect David Ewart who was Chief Dominion Architect of the Department of Public Works from 1896 until 1914. Ewart favoured the Baronial style of his native Scotland and provided the Vancouver main post office with an ornate corner clock tower festooned with urns, Ionic columns and a decorative cornice all rising to a dome and cupola. In the 1980s the four heritage buildings on this block were welded into an upscale shopping complex by West Vancouver businessman James Sinclair, father of Margaret Joan Sinclair who married then Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau, thirty years her senior, in 1971 when she was 22 years old.

Winch Building/ Sinclair Centre
757 West Hastings Street

Richard Vance Winch left his Ontario home at the age of 16 and headed west, driving cattle and catching jobs with the Canadian Pacific Railway. He was 31 years old when he made it to Vancouver in 1893. Winch pioneered the fish canning business in British Columbia and sent the first trainload of canned salmon out of the province in 1895. He also sold the first Pacific halibut in New York City fish stalls. Winch organized the Queen Charlotte Fisheries in 1924 which he ruled until his death in 1952 at the age of 90. In 1909 Winch poured much of his canned fish profits into the Italian Renaissance palazzo that was the first major commercial building raised west of Granville Street into what had previously been a residential neighbourhood. The final price tag for the five-storey block was some $700,000; the architect was Thomas Hooper who had been designing buildings in Vancouver since the rebuilding of the town after the Great Fire of 1886.  

Pacific Building/Pemberton Building
744 Hastings Street at southeast corner of Howe Street

This heritage eight-storey structure was raised in 1910 for the Pemberton Insurance Corporation. Joseph Pemberton and his son Frederick started the business in Victoria in 1887 as Pemberton & Son. Prominent architect Woodruff Somervell drew up the plans for this Neoclassical office building rendered in brown brick with decorative terra cotta detailing. Although muted in presentation Somervell still hewed closely to the tradition of tripartite skyscraper design with an ornate ground level (the base), unadorned central storeys (the shaft) and a prominent cornice (the capital).

Jameson House
838 West Hastings Street

The four curved glass towers of the Jameson House condominiums were incorporated into two mid-block heritage buildings constructed almost a century earlier - the Neoclassical Royal Financial Building and the Georgian Revival headquarters for the Ceperley Rounsfell real estate and insurance company. Henry T. Ceperley launched the company the same year as Vancouver in 1886 in the Gastown District. In his capacity as an early realtor Ceperley was one of the movers behind the creation of Stanley Park. But it is just an illusion - only the terra cotta and brick facades remain. Sir Norman Foster, one of the new bree of big-name “strarchitects” perpetrated the heritage-preserving sleight of hand.  

Crédit Foncier Building
850 West Hastings Street at southeast corner of Hornby Street

Crédit Foncier Franco-Canadien was incorporated in Quebec in 1880 and the Montreal-based mortgage lender was quickly a presence on the West Coast. For this building in 1913 Crédit Foncier reached back to Montreal for accomplished architects Ernest Barrott, Gordon Blackader and Daniel Webster. Their Neoclassical design, punctuated with 36 hand-carved stone capitals, was one of the most admired in what was becoming Vancouver’s most important business district.

Bank of Canada Building
900 West Hastings Street

This 1965 office tower was a player in Vancouver’s race to the sky in the latter half of the 20th century. But if you walk around to the alley on the western side you will see the facade of the building it replaced - a 1912 Neoclasscial effort executed for the Hudson Bay Insurance Company. The facade that once proudly faced onto Hastings Street was saved during demolition and tacked onto the side as sort of a souvenir. 

Vancouver Club
915 West Hastings Street

The Vancouver Club was cobbled together by enthusiastic city boosters in 1889 and settled into a fine Richardsonian Romanesque clubhouse on this location two years later. Many of the members’ mansions were located within easy walking distance. Twenty years later the city had grown to more than 100,000 and the financial district was supplanting many of the homes in the neighbourhood. The membership recruited architects G.L.T. Sharp and C.J. Thompson, Englishmen who were bred in the same social strata of English gentlemen’s clubs. The pair also boasted formal English architectural training that was a calling card few Vancouver designers could claim. Sharp and Thompson blended elements of Edwardian classicism with Georgian Revival styling to create the new clubhouse which was ready on New Year’s Day 1914 and has served the members for a century.

Marine Building
355 Burrard Street at northwest corner of West Hastings Street

Vancouver’s great Art Deco treasure came from the offices of John Y. McCarter and George C. Nairne in 1930 in an effort, as The Vancouver Sun reported, “to suggest some great marine rock rising from the sea, clinging with sea flora and fauna, tinted in sea green, flashed with gold, at night a dim silhouette piercing the sea mists.” That is a lot to ask of a commercial skyscraper but designer Nairne and engineer McCarter accomplished the feat with stylized setbacks of the upper floors and decorative terra cottta oozing down the sides of the tan brick facade. When the landmark composition was topped off at twenty-one storeys it was the tallest building in the British Empire. More stylized sea creatures and marine vessels awaited inside to decorate the lobby; a dozen different hardwoods were used to create the elevators that were the fastest on the continent outside of New York City. It all cost $2.3 million, about $1.1 million over budget and the onset of the Great Depression sunk the developers who had to sell the new icon of the Vancouver skyline almost immediately to the Guinness family of Ireland for $900,000.

Turn right on Burrard Street. Turn right on Waterfront Street.

Canada Place
999 Canada Place on the waterfront

Pier B-C was originally constructed in 1927 to connect the Canadian Pacific Railway to its fleet of Pacific Ocean ships. In the 1970s the Canadian government bankrolled the redevelopment of the site that opened in time to host the Canada Pavilion that was the largest and most elaborate display for that year’s Expo 86 world’s fair. The complex now owned by Port Metro Vancouver with its trademark sail-like fabric roofs contains the Vancouver Convention Centre, the Vancouver World Trade Centre, the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel and the terminals for the province’s bustling cruise industry. The Heritage Horns, a set of ten horns facing north and five facing east atop the Pan Pacific Hotel at Canada Place, sound the first four notes of O Canada every day at noontime..

Follow Waterfront street around to the right onto Howe Street and back up to Cordova Street.

Customs Examining Warehouse/ Sinclair Centre
326 Howe Street at southeast corner of West Cordova Street

This stone and brick government building looks like a refugee from the 1890s but it dates to 1911 and was constructed using more modern steel-and-girder methods. Chief Architect for the Department of Public Works David Ewart provided the Italianate styling for this building. Among its early uses was to handle overflow from the post office located on the same block. The Customs Examining Warehouse is part of the quartet redeveloped as the Sinclair Centre. 

Federal Building. Sinclair Centre
325 Granville Street at southwest corner of Cordova Street

This Depression-era project from 1937 demonstrates the stripped-down classicism adopted in civic architecture that stands in contrast to the ornamentation favoured a generation earlier by the Federal Building’s immediate neighbours to the west and south. Architects John Y. McCarter and George C. Nairne who were so flamboyant with their work on the Marine Building showed off their more reserved sides here, adding Art deco detailing much more judiciously.