Historic Vancouver Landmarks

Vancouver is a relatively young city, going back to only 1886, but it’s not without its share of sites of historical interest. Here’s a peak at a few.

Canada Place
One of Vancouver’s most well known landmarks, the five-sailed complex on the city’s waterfront was Canada’s Pavilion at the 1986 World Expo and is currently the home of the World Trade Center and the Vancouver Trade and Convention Center. It also houses a five-story movie screen, the world’s first permanent IMAX theater. Just walking around the structure gives you panoramic views of the city. Musicians play daily on the center’s West Promenade. Canada Place Website

Canuck Place
Glen Brae, as it was originally known, was built for a turn-of-the-century real estate and lumber baron named William Tait. The 16,000-square-foot residence, now home to a children’s hospice, was lso known as the Mae West House for its most prominent features–two conical protuberances sticking out of the roof. It was the site of Vancouver’s first residential elevator and a ballroom whose dance floor was permanently supported on a bed of seaweed to make it easier on the feet.

Capilano Suspension Bridge
The original footbridge over the Capilano Canyon was constructed of rope and cedar planks, today’s bridge is made of reinforced steel anchored in 13 tons of concrete on either side of the canyon. But a walk over the 230-foot-high bridge can still take your breath away.

The current bridge is the fourth on this site. It was built in 1956 and stretches out 70 meters above the canyon floor, giving a breathtaking view of the West Coast Rain Forest.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden
Named for Sun Yat-Sen, the Father of Modern China, the garden is modeled after scholars gardens of the Ming Dynasty. It is the first full-size scholars garden built outside of China and was built with the help of 52 master craftsmen from Suzhou China in 1986.

The garden was built to “maintain and enhance the bridge of understanding between Chinese and western cultures, promote Chinese culture generally and be an integral part of the local community.” Four elements–rock, water, plants, and architecture–combine to create a perfect balance of yin and yang.

Steam ClockCreative Commons License photo credit: psd Gastown Steam Clock

Harbour Centre in Vancouver

Gastown Steam Clock
The oldest part of the city fell into disrepair in the middle part of the last century and there was even talk of tearing it down. But preservationists stepped in and saved Old Vancouver, which is now a charming neighborhood of Victorian buildings and cobbled streets. Of particular note is the Gastown Steam Clock, one of only five remaining steam-powered clocks designed and built by Canadian horologist Raymond Saunders.

Saunders modeled the 1977 clock on an 1875 design. The outer casing of the 2,300-pound clock is bronze. It’s powered by steam from an underground system of pipes that supply steam to heat many of the downtown buildings of Vancouver, BC. The clock’s glass panels provide a view of its inner workings. Every quarter of an hour the clock sounds its whistle and you can watch the steam shoot from the vents at the top of the clock.

Gassy Jack Deighton
Gastown was founded in 1867 when John ‘Gassy Eye’ Deighton opened a saloon there. A life-sized bronze statue of Gassy Jack stands in Gastown’s Maple Tree Square. The statue is a gift to Vancouver from property developer Howard Meakin, who commissioned the statue after finding coins with the saloon keeper’s likeness on them at a nearby flea market.

Harbour Centre
Enjoy 360-degree views of Vancouver from atop the city’s tallest building. Harbour Centre boasts 28 stories and stands 482 feet tall. It was completed in 1977 and designed by WZMH Architects.

The building is known for the 100 foot ornamental pylon that sits at the top of the structure. At the top of the building, you’ll find a revolving restaurant and the observation deck, Vancouver Lookout–one of Vancouver’s most visited tourist attractions. The observation deck officially opened in 1977 with a ceremony at which Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong was the special guest. You can find his footprint in the cement there.

It takes just 50 seconds to get to the observation deck via glass elevators that climb the outside of the building.

Hastings Mill Store Museum
The circa 1865 Hastings Mill Store and Post Office is the oldest building in Vancouver, and was one of the few buildings to survive the great fire of 1886 that swept through the city. On the day of the fire, June 13 1886, the building was used as a hospital and morgue, therefore, this building plays a very important part in the history of Vancouver.

In 1930 the store was moved from Burrard Inlet to its present site at Alma and Point Grey Road. The building houses many artifacts from pioneer days and a large collection of Native artifacts.

Marine Building
Canada’s finest example of Art Deco architecture was inspired by that Art Deco classic, New York’s Chrysler Building. During the 1930’s it was the first “modern” skyscraper in the city and tallest until 1939.

The Marine Building was the brainchild of Toronto entrepreneur J.W. Hobbs, who envisioned Vancouver as a great port and wanted a building that reflected that status and paid tribute to Vancouver’s connection to the sea. The walls and doors are covered with depictions of sea snails, skate, crabs, turtles, carp, scallops, seaweed and sea horses. The exterior is tinted in sea-green and touched with gold. The main entrance features Captain George Vancouver with his ship on the horizon framed by a rising sun.

Nine O’Clock Gun
This 1816 cannon in Stanley Park is shot at 9 pm every day to allow the chronometers of ships in port to be accurately set. The Brockton Point lighthouse keeper, William D. Jones, originally detonated a stick of dynamite over the water until the cannon was installed. The cannon eventually had an electronic trigger installed and is now activated from the harbor master’s perch on top of a building near Canada Place.

The Orpheum
Originally opened on November 7, 1927 as a vaudeville house, the Orpheum was the largest and most opulent theatre on the Pacific Coast. The city purchased the building in 1974 and undertook a complete restoration of the its interior. The Orpheum re-opened in 1977 as the permanent home of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and a restored concert hall that hosts a variety of pop, classical, choral and chamber recitals.

Today the Orpheum displays much of its original splendor. Its style is a mix of Romanesque, Moorish, Gothic and Spanish Renaissance elements, making it Canada’s best example of the exotic phase of movie architecture which was the fashion in the late 1920s. Originally devoid of decoration, the plaster dome was covered with acoustic tiles when talking films were introduced in 1928, but these were removed in the restoration and a mural of Orpheus took their place. The original Wurlitzer organ is also intact.

The Sun Tower
Once the tallest building in the British Empire, the 17-story home of the Vancouver Sun newspaper from 1924 to 1964 was built in 1912. It is known for its large, green, copper domeand the “nine maidens” whose exposed bosoms can be seen along the cornice line.

Vancouver Public Library
Often thought to resemble Rome’s Colosseum, the Vancouver Public Library was the largest capital project ever undertaken by the City of Vancouver.

The library portion of the complex is a seven-story rectangular box; it is surrounded by a colonnaded wall that features reading and study areas accessed by bridges spanning sky-lit light wells. An internal glass facade overlooks an enclosed concourse formed by a second elliptical wall on the east side. The concourse serves as the main entrance to the library. The roof of the library serves as a large public garden, an example of architect Moshe Safdie’s efforts to introduce garden elements into urban settings. The library design was selected through an international competition and officially opened in May 1995.

An office high rise, retail shops, and restaurants are also part of this one-square-block area.