The West End of downtown Vancouver is blessed with some of the most beneficial circumstances with respect to livability, convenience, and facilities that any resident could possibly want. It is almost unbelievable that a neighbourhood could be so close to the business/corporate centre of Canada's third largest city (after Toronto and Montreal) and still seem to be totally unaffected by this proximity. It is reasonable to suggest that one could function as a resident of the West End for weeks at a time (or more) and never need to go beyond a distance of 5 or 6 blocks for any reason and all the while feel the relaxed atmosphere of a much smaller city. With a very temperate climate moderated by sea breezes that function as a natural air conditioner it is truly a "LIve - Work - Play" environment.
The following sections will explain why these observations do not in any way stretch the truth.
view from the north
downtown along left edge
Stanley Park to the right
The downtown area is made up of a peninsula surrounded by bodies of water except for approximately 2 kilometers of land at the eastern edge. There was a time in the late 1800's / early 1990's when it was possible to cross this land connection by water during especially high tides. Since then it has become a permanent land area due to land fill initiatives whose purpose was to create a larger useable land mass expanding the downtown core.
Within the physical boundaries of this peninsula are several areas with unique characteristics (communities / nighbourhoods). This distinction is important because each of these areas, including the downtown so called business core, also has a residency (owner/renter) component. Some to a greater or lesser degree.
This peninsula is bisected by the actual downtown core, approximately 7 blocks wide (Thurlow St. to Homer St.) running north south. To the east are Gastown, Yaletown, & False Creek North. To the west are the West End and Coal Harbour. In some respects Coal Harbour could be considered a part of the West End as well. In the last 15 years the area known as Coal Harbour has been developed from scratch (clear land) to now resemble a residential waterfront resort community complete with high class accomodation, condo towers, several marinas and parkways.
The development of the West End followed the creation of the City of Vancouver which originally was made up of what is known as Gastown, Strathcona and a downtown core close to the waterfront. The belief that the anchorage now named Coal Harbour was the site of viable coal deposits generated the initial interest in this forested area. The name stuck (Coal Harbour) but the deposits never materialized. As the population grew the area to the west which was still made up of woods and dirt roads developed into, in modern terms, a "bedroom community" for the developing "middle class". So much so that English Bay and its beach became a day trip playgound for all classes.
Vintage pictures from those early times are suggestive of "a party central" or a Vancouver version of Coney island (though smaller of course). Bandstands, beach houses, bathhouses, piers, everything necessary to distract from the ongoing hardship of the era, even if only for a few hours. Meanwhile at the western end of the peninsula a large tract of land came under the control of the federal government for security / military reasons which resulted in world famous Stanley Park.
Grand mansions and many upper class buildings were constructed (many of which still stand, thankfully) signalling the beginning of the building boom that developed the original West End. In the ensuing years the wealthy segment of the population moved to Shaughnessy, a land development conceived for that very purpose. As a result the West End became more and more working class in nature and many of the mansions became rooming houses. The two wars and hard economic times kept development in the West End in check.
Various period heritage houses
In the 60's and 70's, along with the rest of Vancouver, a significant series of changes occured in the West End, At the end of these changes at least half the buildings had been leveled and replaced by the first wave of multi-story (5 plus) rental apartment buildings. This trend hit its peak with the arrival of the World's Fair in 1986 (Expo86). Now that the eyes of the world had settled on Vancouver and its communities and really liked what they saw, the most recent chapters in the development of the West End were written. The condominium boom hit like a tidal wave with tall towers taking up what spaces were available. In the late 1990's and since, the pace of development in the West End abated and the character of the area took on its present state. Except for some new projects here and there there will be no major visible changes in the foreseeable future. The lack of available land and much stricter guidelines for land developers ensure that.
Major new developments have shifted to Coal Harbour, Yaletown and False Creek North.
The West End will now have an opportunity to mature as a blend of older heritage structures, and newer codominium towers, along with a significant number of midrange 5-10 story projects from various time periods. Amongst all of these there is much green space made up of gardens and parks. A number streets have been converted for the length of a half block to mini parks to reduce through traffic in residential areas with much success. Only three streets are of a commercial nature, Denman, Davie and Robson, and even they are somewhat subdued by comparison to other downtowns (all part of the laid back West Coast lifestyle).
The West End is respectful of its past with all of the amenities available to serve the needs of the youngest and future generations as well.
The population of the West End is the most diverse in the downtown area. This includes criteria based on age and cultural factors.
All age segments are represented but none are dominant. Many seniors make the West End their place of residence as owners or renters because of conveniences and amenities available without the need of travel. Most needs can be taken care of by walking to wherever is necessary. Even the business section of downtown is a short walk or bus ride away.
Young families with elementary school age kids are comfortable with the West End environment because of all the green spaces, beaches and proximitry to parks. The West End definitely does not have an "inner city" feel. This group as well, includes owners and renters.
More of the West End lifestyle - English Bay Beach a lower mainland favourite
In between are the younger and middle aged professionals who tend to work in the downtown business core. The pressures of having to own a car for commuting purposes do not exist. All of the requirements for an active entertainment lifestyle are within easy reach.
From a cultural point of view the residents of the West End come from all continents and represent all faiths. Due to being on the Pacific Coast there is a large number whose origins are rooted in the orient. Since Vancouver is an ESL (English as a second language) hub there is a large population of students of English who reside here for the duration of their programs. This diversity is reflected in the variety of dining options that the West End is famous for.
As with the rest of Downtown Vancouver there is no industrial presence in the area. In the West End the largest commercial presence is made up of the hospitality industry, accommodation of all types (hotels to B&B's), and clubs, lounges and restaurants of all sizes and types. The West End is known for its large number of sidewalk cafes and patios that are open and frequented during all seasons.
Some street scenes
There are several major chains that are present in the supermarket segment (London Drugs, Safeway, Shoppers). Most major banks have branches here. The rest are local neighbourhood oriented merchants of services and goods. Their hours of operation tend to be extended and they usually operate 7 days a week. All this contributes to a rather leisurely pace experienced on the street. Since businesses have extended operating hours the West End has no rush hour of the 9-5 type.
The West End residents have easy access to all the services they could possibly need within easy reach.
Three community centres (West End, Coal Harbour, False Creek/Roundhouse) provide recreational, social, and educational opportunities for all ages. Two elementary and one High School are in the area.
Neighbourhood Day at the Community Centre
Doctor's clinics, dentists, optical professionals, pharmacists and other related services are abundant. A major hospital (St. Paul's) is no more than 5 min away by car.
The west End has excellent speedy transit connections to downtown and the rest of Vancouver. This is supplemented by community mini bus shuttles that use routes very convenient to seniors. Also availabe are special buses by appointment for those who are not as mobile.
Farmer's market operates on Saturdays during the summer
Physical activity opportunies are enhanced by the number of parks, beaches, walkways, tennis courts, and more, that dot the West End. These spaces are home to walkers, runners, cyclists, boarders, rollerbladers all for the most part coexisting in this mutually beneficial environment.
The dominant type of real estate in the West End is the new or recently built condo in highrise and lowrise developments. This market is supplemented by a number of marvelous older style character buildings (some designated as Heritage) that have been converted to condos. There is a significant presence and variety of rental housing available. Due to the attractive nature of the community the vacancy rates have traditionally been very low. There is no part of the West End that has an "inner city" type of feel, mainly because of the abundance of parks and other types of green spaces.
Some of the highrises in the West End
Surprisingly there are a large number of single family houses still dotting the West End landscape. Almost all are older style buildings (early to mid 1900's). Once these are gone they will surely be replaced by much higher density structures. It seems reasonable to believe that rising property values and taxes make ownership of single family homes a difficult proposition.
The West End has Vancouver's most significant social gathering place, attracting residents and visitors from far and wide. This magical place is English Bay Beach situated at the intersection of Beach, Denman and Davie Streets. Just one experience of this beach at sunset on a sultry August evening becomes an unforgettable experience. These are large social events as people gather to view the sun setting in the waters of English Bay or behind the mountains on Vancouver Island or the Sunshine Coast. The interaction of energy of visitors, residents, sidewalk merchants & entertainers, and patrons of restaurant patios that border this beach is a very positive experience.
Views of Stanley Park
Vancouver's best known attraction, Stanley Park, also happens to be the West End's own backyard playground. Known as one of the world's best and largest urban parks it has conributed greatly to the perception that the West End is a special place to call home.
Events in the West End
Pride Parade Fireworks at
Polar Bear Swim
Also of great importance is the proximity to Granville Island. This magical place has become the artistic heart and soul of Vancouver. With access by water, walking over the Granville Street Bridge or car/bus it is the ultimate urban day trip. Of course it benefits not only the West End but all the communities surrounding it.
Granville Island - a magical place