5 things you didn’t know about Yaletown


Each week we’ll uncover some unusual and (hopefully) interesting facts about the city. This week we take on Yaletown.

1. It was essentially abandoned until Expo 86

Li Ka Shing. Photo: Transformation: the making of Yaletown YouTube

Despite its history as a hotbed for local industry, Yaletown found itself largely derelict and abandoned until it became a festival site for Expo 86. Following the world’s fair, the land was then bought and redeveloped by Li Ka Shing of Hong Kong and architect/developer Stanley Kwok. When the land was sold, one of the province’s provisions was that there had to be a seawall around the entirety of neighbourhood’s perimeter.

2. The area was also home to Canada’s first gas station

First Gas Station in Canada: Image Courtesy of Imperial Oil Esso- Glenbow Museum Archives ip-12-1-1

Canada’s first gas station opened in 1907 at the southeast corner of Cambie and Smithe (then spelled Smythe). This station was owned and operated by the Imperial Oil Company. At the time, pails were dipped into large wooden barrels of gasoline and then transferred to cars.

3. We almost lost the Roundhouse (more than once)

Photo: Transformation: the making of Yaletown YouTube

As the western terminus of the C.P.R., the Vancouver Roundhouse was the largest facility of its kind in B.C. The original buildings were built in 1888, but continued to be expanded upon until the 1950s. The province purchased the land from the C.P.R. in the 1980s with the intention demolishing the Roundhouse. Plans were reconsidered and the building was instead used as a themed pavilion during Expo.

After sitting empty following Expo, attempts to turn the Roundhouse into a collection of shops were defeated by concerted citizens’ group. The Roundhouse was eventually refurbished, becoming the Community Arts & Recreation Centre it’s known as today. You can learn more about the Roundhouse’s turbulent history HERE.

4. CPR Engine 374 retired in Kitsilano before moving to the Roundhouse

Photo: Roundhouse Community Centre

Engine 374 was finally retired in 1945. The engine was first put on display in Kitsilano Park, but suffered due to the outdoor conditions and salt air. Concerned citizens eventually raised money to restore and relocate the engine to the Roundhouse in Yaletown, where it remains on display to this day. CPR Engine 374 pulled the first transcontinental train into Vancouver on May 23, 1887

5. It’s been home to everything from lumberyards and high-end trends

Warehouses in Yaletown, ca. 1910. Photo: Vancouver Archives Item: M-11-80

Yaletown has had many phases over the years, including rail yards, warehouse districts and dot.com enterprise. In 1910, Yaletown shifted away from rail yards and lumber and became the wholesaling centre for western Canada. Then, by the 1960s, Yaletown became Vancouver’s fashion district, ultimately supplying iconic local stores such as Woodwards and Spencers.

Still curious? Check out this video about the history of Yaletown and the Roundhouse Community Centre!

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Adam Nanji is the Content Manager at Vancouver Is Awesome. When he’s not scouring the city for awesome news, he performs as ¼ of local band, Belle Game. Adam grew up in Vancouver and earned a degree in Cultural Studies with a double minor in Communication and Gender Studies from McGill University. He’s passionate about Vancouver’s social issues and local art. You’ll typically find him standing on a corner, contemplating where to eat next. Tell him what you think is awesome: adam@vancouverisawesome.com