Vancouver is a richly diverse city surrounded by natural beauty that continues to be a centre for social and environmental activism. It reflects the image of a laid-back West Coast lifestyle even when surrounded by high rise developments and a rapidly changing cityscape. In recent years, Vancouver has been high on the list of cities as a tourist destination and clearly it has been shaped by historical character during its early years to the more recent increase of growth as a result of wealth and investment in the local area. Public awareness and the acknowledgement of historical and cultural buildings found in its many diverse neighbourhoods have led to the Vancouver Conservation Program which has been developed to retain the unique heritage and character of the city with careful management and high levels of stewardship.
The city’s evolution can be traced back to the Coast Salish First Nation, its original settlers who lived and worked in a natural harbour that eventually attracted trade and commerce from the many cultures who have since settled here, in this strategically well located city. It is critical to trace the city from its early days to the major metropolis it is today. There is a uniqueness to Vancouver which comes from the pivotal role that it played in the development of western Canada with its important lumber industry and fishing and mining operations.
The Vancouver Charter is the cornerstone of the heritage program and in 1971, the province established Gastown and Chinatown as important historic areas followed by Yaletown and then Shaughnessy. Influenced by Portuguese and Italian cultures, Chinatown was one of the first city communities to be preserved and rehabilitated. To ensure the maintenance of one of the oldest sites in Vancouver, Gastown’s ‘turn of the century’ historical and architectural character has a special status. Heavy timber, brick and concrete buildings now converted and renovated to produce a contemporary mix of commercial, industrial and residential buildings and its narrow streets gives Yaletown its unique flavour.
Effective conservation begins with research on particular heritage buildings, the materials they are built from and the architectural, cultural and contextual qualities that give that building value. There are 2,200 registered heritage buildings in Vancouver, plus 138 parks and trees, and additional monuments and archaeological sites. The cultural identity of the nearby communities will grow and prosper as heritage buildings contribute to social sustainability and increase social cohesion through improved urban development. The 17 storey Sun Tower building on West Pender, built in 1912, is a registered heritage building owned by Allied Properties and is currently undergoing a multi million dollar renovation project. Practitioners in heritage specialties, architects, architectural historians, conservators, trades people, interpretation and conservation managers are all part of the team charged with the preservation of this building. It is their duty to protect, improve and restore this landmark building and its offices. The Sun Tower is seen by the City of Vancouver as having value, culturally and historically, along with other remarkable buildings in Vancouver and will continue to shape the community surrounding it as long as it remains under the protection of its City stewards who work within specific guidelines and conservation standards. Public awareness, education, advocacy and media can all play their part to support the heritage issues in Vancouver and together we can celebrate our accomplishments as we ensure Vancouver’s future by protecting its past.