Then and Now: How Vancouver Has Changed in 50 Years

From industrial outpost to bona fide metropolis, we've watched it all go down.

July 7, 2017

By Jessica Barrett / Photo: Gordon Sayle, City of Vancouver Archives

No one can ever accuse Vancouver of stagnating. Back when our first issue hit the streets in 1967—as Dick MacLean’s Greater Vancouver Greeter Guide—this city had already evolved from a coastal backwater to an urban centre of 400,000 defined by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pace of change. This snapshot from the early 1970s captures the city at a crucial turning point. The Georgia Viaduct had yet to open, although vigorous protests had already killed the plan for its adjoining freeway through Strathcona, and icons like Granville Island were just an idea as False Creek was a semi-deserted industrial slough awaiting rediscovery. Set in tandem with the same aerial view from today, it’s amazing to see just how far we’ve come.

Click image to enlarge. (Photo: Gordon Sayle, City of Vancouver Archives.)

THEN

1. An Icon in Progress
Stanley Park had long been established as Vancouver’s crown jewel, but the pathway around it? Not so much. The seawall as we know it was still under construction—a project that had been ongoing since 1917. The loop around the park was finally completed in 1980, when the stretch between Second and Third Beaches was paved.

2. Urbane Beginnings
Once the domain of stately mansions, the West End saw more than 200 high-rise apartment towers built between 1962 and 1975, forming Vancouver’s first introduction to the vertical density that would become the backbone of downtown—and the never-ending debate over whether it should.

3. Hidden Potential
The former epicentre of Vancouver’s industrial activity had been in decline for decades as sawmills closed and manufacturing companies moved away from shipping and rail lines on the waterfront toward suburban locales closer to the highway. But when a deal saw the downtown waterfront property go from provincial to city control, the stage was set for its transition into a glistening urban gem.

4. A Bridge to the Past
Another relic of Vancouver’s industrial heritage, the Cambie Bridge was originally a swing-span structure engineered to open to allow shipping vessels through. Even into the ’60s and ’70s the bridge, built in 1911, would open a few times a week. The structure didn’t get an update until the 1980s—just in time for a little thing called Expo 86.

Click image to enlarge. (Photo: Fiacre Müller.)

NOW

1. Money Magnet
It’s no secret our heightened international presence has attracted investment from all over the world. From luxury cars to state-of-the-art hotels to the constantly increasing cost of housing, it’s clear our city is seen as a safe harbour for those seeking a stable investment. Balancing prosperity with people has become our biggest, most pressing challenge.

2. Tourist Mecca
If Expo 86 piqued the world’s interest in this little coastal city, the Vancouver 2010 Olympics solidified our place as an ultra-desirable travel destination. Tourism rates are skyrocketing, with more than 10 million visitors landing in the city in 2016. All this makes a big impact on our bottom line—tourism brings in $4.4 billion annually, and each cruise ship that pulls into Vancouver Harbour is worth $2 million to the local economy.

3. Defining Characteristic
The West End’s mid-century towers are now emblematic of Vancouver’s evolution, with the arrival of glass condo buildings in the 1990s quickly sweeping across the city to become its most ubiquitous built form. Our propensity for slim towers interspersed with low-rise structures even earned us a place in the international urban planning lexicon: “Vancouverism” is a thing.

4. Neighbourhoods in Waiting
Yaletown’s conversion from industrial dead zone to thriving residential community paved the way for the Olympic Village to reinvigorate the south side of False Creek. As the city now prepares to take down the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts we await another ambitious industrial conversion.

5. Recovery and Renewal
The sightings of a grey whale in False Creek in the last few years are a testament to the city’s successful work to atone for its polluted past and install environmental sustainability as a key pillar of our civic identity.


#vanmagturns50

For more vintage VanMag subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Instagram at @vanmag_com!

Get the Newsletter

Own your city with Vancouver’s thrice-weekly scoop on the latest restaurant news, must-shop hotspots and can’t miss events. Rest assured your email is safe with us.