One of the earliest developed areas of Vancouver, Renfrew-Collingwood has long been shaped by transportation. The neighbourhood currently sees over 40,000 commuters cut through it everyday along the major connectors of Grandview Highway, Kingsway and Boundary Road, creating rush hour traffic headaches for the 50,000 plus people who call the region home.
The 8.2-km region of Renfrew-Collingwood, located on the unceded territory of the Musqueam First Nation, began as a vast wilderness. Along Grandview Highway, where cars and 600 trucks a day now travel, ducks used to swim in three beaver-made lakes. And where the SkyTrain now runs along Kingsway and Vanness Avenue, fish used to swim in the extinct Moody Lake.
It was transportation that brought non-native settlers when, in 1891, Canada’s first electric tram connected Vancouver’s burgeoning downtown to the then bustling New Westminster.
By 1896, Vancouver’s first one-room school, Vancouver East, was built to accommodate the growing number of families living along the tramway. Many of the streets in the area are named after the school’s first students or officials. Battison Road is named after brothers from the pioneering Battison family while Joyce Road is named after the area’s first school board secretary. The old school is a now a heritage building and its replacement, the iconic bright yellow Sir Guy Carleton Elementary, stands on the corner of Kingsway and Joyce Street.
Today, in spite of the thoroughfares cutting through it, the heart of Renfrew-Collingwood is residential with a predominance of single-family homes rarely found in other Vancouver communities. But while rows of Vancouver Specials may be common here, there is nothing homogeneous about the residents. According to Statistics Canada’s 2011 census, only 28 per cent of Renfrew-Collingwood residents list English as their mother tongue. Vietnamese, Filipino and Chinese languages are the most prevalent, but almost every language imaginable is represented. The area’s First Nations’ roots still remain evident in the totems that stand at the entrance to Collingwood Neighbourhood House.