The West End Story

The West End a popular regional and global destination is home to approximately 45,000 people.  The natural beauty of the land, the ocean, the beaches, and the rainforests continues to attract visitors to the area.

1.The West End Before Vancouver was Incorporated as a City


The Indigenous Peoples

For thousands of years the Coast Salish peoples travelled the land and waterways now known as the West End. They gathered cedar roots, berries and other medicinal materi-als and used the shores and waterways for clamming and salmon fishing. A few made their home in small Stanley Park villages; Whoi Whoi, now Lumberman’s Arch, and Chaythoos on the shores of Brockton Point.

Fact:  Moving people out of Stanley Park began before the area became a park in 1886 and continued until the last person was removed in 1958.


                          This was the last cabin, remnants of the Squamish Village near Brockton Point on the Park Road 1928


In 1923 the Park Board erected 4 totem poles as the first step in the creation of a replica “Indian Village” to honour the Indigenous people of Northern Vancouver Island. The village was never built but the totem poles are now the most popular attraction in Vancouver.

Fact:  In 2007 The unveiling of Susan Point’s “Welcome Gates” was the first time the Musqueam Nation was represented at this site.


The Hawaiians

From 1840 on approximately 500 Hawaiian men moved to the Vancouver region to work in the fur trade and later the lumber mills. Some settled at Kanaka Ranch at Coal Harbour and others at Brockton Point.


In 2018 with the naming of West End lanes,  two were named in honour of Hawaiian settlers Eihu and See-em-ia who was married to both Eihu and Squamish Chief Joe Nahanee.

This family photo below illustrates the intermarriages between Hawaiians, Squamish and Europeans.


The Early European Settlers

Three Englishmen, known as the three greenhorns, Samuel Brighouse, William Hailstone and John Morton bought 180 acre stakes of land in the West End for $550.75 each.  In the 1880s after several failed enterprises they sold their land to the CPR.  The greenhorns and the CPR logged the land to make way for one of Vancouver’s first residential areas.

2. The West End in the Newly Incorporated City of Vancouver

The West End got its name from one of Vancouver’s first schools, the “West End School” on Burrard Street.

The West End and Strathcona were Vancouver’s earliest residential neighbourhoods. Vancouver’s elite settled in the West End and the workers in Strathcona.  Many of the richest railroad families lived along Georgia Street, called “Blue Blood Alley" for all its posh mansions.

In 1909 many of the wealthy began to move to the fashionable new CPR subdivision, “Shaughnessy Heights”. Some like sugar owner, B. T. Rogers remained in the West End until his death in 1918.



Fact:  Plans are in place to return Roger’s home, Gabriola Mansion to residences. 

Fact: Today only two of the West End’s original mansions remain,  Abbott’s home at 720 Jervis and B.T Rogers home at 1501 Davie.


Growth in the West End

Between 1900 and 1914 the City of Vancouver grew from 27,000 to 115,000.  The new street car system on Denman, Davie,  Robson and Burrard played a major role in the growth of the  West End.   Both white and blue collar workers who could now easily get to work rapidly filled the new homes, apartment buildings and boarding houses that sprang up in the West End at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Between 1920 and 1960 many of the large homes were converted to apartment buildings, schools and private hospitals.  From 1950 to1955 many smaller homes were demolished and replaced by approximately ninety three story walk up apartment buildings.


        Today’s Halbert Apartments at 1357 Barclay went from a family home to the “West End Private Hospital” and then to apartments.


Fact:  Walkups became known as dingbats because of their downmarket status and inexpensive rents.


Most of today’s high rises were built between 1956 when the city lifted the height limits and 1973 when they downzoned the West End. The West End was then an apartment district with approximately 80% renters very much like today.

There was minimal growth from 1973 until 2013 when the West End Plan allowed for laneway housing and towers in specific locations.  Today’s mix of larger homes, three story walk ups, apartment buildings and condo buildings reflect various stages in the West End’s growth and make for an interesting, diverse neighbourhood.

The West End is home to two unique community led heritage preservation projects; Barclay Heritage Square and Mole Hill; both provide social housing and community amenity spaces.  Other community led projects, traffic calming measures and an injunction prohibiting prostitution west of Granville added to the liveability of the neighbourhood.

Since the 1970s  Davie Village has been the hub of the largest  LGBTQ2 community in Western Canada.  The Gay Village offers a selection of gay bars, nightclubs, restaurants, shops and services including QMunity a Queer Resource Centre.  It is the centre of the celebration of Gay Pride in early August.


Fact:  In 2012 the village received recognition from the Vancouver Heritage Foundation as a “Place That Matters”.

West End Businesses


In the early days commercial establishments were mainly corner stores, commercial space in low rise apartment buildings and stores on the front of houses.

1950s postwar immigration created a German influenced commercial area, Robsonstrasse on Upper Robson.  That has disappeared and today Lower Robson with its many Korean restaurants has become known as “Little Korea”.

In the 70s and 80s Denman, Robson and Davie gradually converted from residential to commercial streets. A variety of retail stores, bars, restaurants, coffee shops and hotels now serve both visitors and the local population. The three streets are animated from early morning until late evening with people out enjoying all the amenities the West End has to offer. Coffee shops and bars have become favourite spots for locals to meet.

The 1908 building that currently houses the award winning “Celebrities Night Club" on Davie has been an entertainment spot throughout its long history. Many famous  musicians including Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, the Retinal Circus and Led Zeppelin played here when it was called the Embassy


Fact:   Lesters (now Celebrities) was home to the first dance hall in Vancouver.


Fact:  Sylvia Hotel opened the first cocktail bar in Vancouver, 1954-“tilting room “with a Medieval theme.


The three main business streets are now called villages.  The West End Plan officially protects these villages by introducing height limits.

The Davie Renovatory on the 1100 block of Davie, advertised "French Dry Cleaning, Pressing and Repairing".
Cardero Grocery, illustrated in artist Michael Kluckner’s 1983 painting, was one of the first buildings on Cardero Street and one of four grocery stores west of Burrard in 1901.
The Davie Renovatory on the 1100 block of Davie, advertised "French Dry Cleaning, Pressing and Repairing".

3. Community Amenities: Hospitals, Schools, Churches & Community Centres


St Paul’s hospital on Burrard Street has served the population of the West End and the City of Vancouver since it first opened in 1894.  The site has expanded over the years and today it provides many important medical services to the whole province.  Plans are in place for St. Pauls to move to False Creek  Flats.   The building is up for sale and its future is uncertain.


This 1907 photo shows the original 25-bed compassionate care hospital as well as the south-wing extension.


At the beginning of the 20th Century there were three elementary schools and one secondary school that served the West End’s rapidly growing population. Three of the Schools, West End School (Dawson), Aberdeen School and King George High School were located on Burrard Street and the fourth Lord Roberts was on Cardero.


West End schools were overflowing in the 1920s when this photo of Lord Robert Elementary School was taken. The School board minutes at the time recorded a desire to reduce class size to a maximum of 50 students.


Fact:  The School board minutes at the time recorded an attempt to reduce class size to a maximum of 50 students.

Fact:  The Normal school (training for teachers) opened in Lord Roberts in March,1901 and accommodated 80 pupils from different parts of the Province.


Dawson and Aberdeen were demolished and King George moved to its current location on Denman in1963.


Fact:  The 1907 Lord Robert’s School is the oldest remaining school building in the West End.


In 1972 a new school, Lord Robert Annex to accommodate children from kindergarten to grade 3 opened at 1150 Nelson Street. Today more families are moving into the West End and the 3 remaining schools are filled to capacity. The plan is to replace King George and Lord Robert Annex and add an elementary school in Coal Harbour.


One of the first provisions new comers made after settling the West End was to create  religious services in rented buildings,  basements, or in public schools such as Lord Roberts.  As the West End population increased the temporary spaces were replaced with permanent church buildings.

*A high proportion of the early West End population was of British decent, directly from the British Isles or from established eastern Canadian families of British decent.  These families were mainly protestant and the early West End churches reflected this: Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterians, Baptist and Congregationalist.  It wasn’t until 1960 that the first Catholic church was established in the West End, Guardian Angel, on Broughton Street.

Some of the old churches have been demolished but thanks to the City of Vancouver’s transfer of density program, many of the West End’s historic churches have been restored and continue to provide gathering places and social services and concert spaces.

Community Gathering Places

Schools and churches have been important community gathering places since the early days of the West End.

The YMCA’s presence in Vancouver is as old as the city itself.  The first YMCA opened in the West End on Burrard Street in 1941.  It was described at the time as, “a dream come true for longtime YMCA staff and donors”.   In 2010 a new building, Robert Lee YMCA was built on the site.

In 1942 Gordon Neighbourhood House, now on Broughton Street, opened at the corner of Jervis and Nelson.  At that time Crofton House, a West End girl’s private school started by the Gordon sisters moved to Kerrisdale.

In 1978 the West End Community Centre and Library opened at its current location on Denman Street. Plans are currently underway to relocate these community services into a new building which will be shared with King George High School.

A wide variety of West End coffee shops have become favourite spots for locals to meet.

4. Centre of Entertainment and Tourism

Throughout its history the West End has been a focal point for recreation and entertainment for both locals and tourists.

English Bay

From the day the city pumped sand on the rocks in the 1890s to enlarge English Bay Beach, it has been one of Vancouver’s most popular destinations.  Today people gather to watch the sunset, have a swim, attend an event, go kayaking or stroll on the seawall.

The City of Vancouver hired Joe Fortes as the first English Bay life guard. Joe taught many of Vancouver’s children to swim and is now memorialized with a statue in Alexandra Park and the Joe Fortes Library.

In the early days large crowds gathered to watch boating and swimming competitions.

People gathered on the English Bay Pier to watch sporting events and fireworks and danced to the music of live bands in the glassed in pavilion. This 1905 landmark was allowed to deteriorate and was demolished in1938.  West End residents soundly rejected Park Board's proposal to rebuild the pier to celebrate Vancouver’s centennial in 1986.


Fact:  In 1907 when the Imperial Roller Rink opened at English Bay it was said to have the largest skating floor on the continent. In 2013 the sculpture, “Amazing Laugher” was permanently installed in Morton Park on the site of the roller rink.


The aquarium in the English Bay bath house was a popular destination from 1939 until 1956 when it relocated to its current home in Stanley Park.

The 1960s Sea Festival and Bathtub Races and the current Polar Bear Swim and Celebration of Light continue to confirm English Bay’s role as a place for people to gather and celebrate.


Fact:  The Polar Bear swim, started by Peter Pantages celebrates its 100th Anniversary in 2020.


In addition to all the activities at English Bay the West End has always had a wide range of recreational facilities including:

  • The Vancouver Lawn Tennis and Badminton Club at Denman and Barclay.
  • A miniature golf course at the corner of Cardero and Georgia Street.
  • A Horse Show Building at Georgia and Gilford which in addition to horse shows hosted concerts of up to 7,000 people, political rallies and later became an armoury.
  • The Denman arena at Coal Harbour a 10,500 seat hockey arena and the first in Canada to have artificial ice


Fact:  The Denman arena was home to the only Vancouver hockey team, the Vancouver Millionaires to win a Stanley Cup (1915)


The Vancouver lawn bowling club and tennis court still operate in Stanley Park.

The current Vancouver Rowing Club in Stanley Park dates back to 1886 and the current club house opened in 1911. Coal Harbour was the scene of many colourful rowing regattas.



Festivals, Parades & Cultural Spaces

Parades have long been a popular activity in the West End. This parade marching along Denman past the Bay Theatre was one of the many parades that has happened in the West End over the years.

Fact:  The Gay Pride Parade is one of the largest celebrations on the Vancouver calendar.  It started in 1981 in the Mole Hill area after Mayor Mike Harcourt declared August 1-7 Gay Unity Week


During the interwar years, Canadian photographer, John Vanderpant and his gallery at 1216 Robson Street played a vital role in Vancouver's cultural development.


Fact: The Vanderpant Gallery, displayed the work of national and international artists including Canada’s group of 7 and regularly hosted symphony concerts.

Theatres including the Bay Theatre and the theatre in the Roller Skating rink have come and gone and today there is a popular theatre, Pal Studio Theatre in the Bayshore complex.

Roedde House is a popular house museum at Barclay Heritage Square. 

The neighbourhood that attracted the CPR bosses in Vancouver’s early days attracts large numbers of residents and tourists today.   In 2015 The West End won the title of best neighbourhood in the Canadian Institute of Planners’ Great Places in Canada competition. The jury’s description is very apt, “Vancouver’s vibrant West End makes it easy, safe and inviting for residents to walk and bike to work, to access thriving local businesses and to explore Vancouver’s beaches, trails and Stanley Park”.   The West End remains one of Vancouver’s prime tourist attractions.