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Heritage Vancouver releases 2018 top 10 watch list

Heather Street Lands and Chinatown earn No 1 and No. 2 spots on annual list of endangered sites
bill yuen
As Heritage Vancouver Society releases its annual Top 10 endangered sites list, executive director Bill Yuen says the organization encourages a wider view of heritage that includes social and cultural history like that found in Chinatown. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The discussion around heritage is becoming increasingly complicated and perhaps nowhere is that better reflected than among some of the top finishers on Heritage Vancouver Society’s annual watch list that was released this week.

Heather Street Lands and the Fairmont Academy, a historic building that sits on the 21-acre property, earned the No. 1 spot, followed by Chinatown in second place. Neighbourhood businesses, meanwhile, landed in fifth position.

All three represent heritage values beyond just buildings.

Bill Yuen, the society’s executive director, says the organization wants to encourage the wider public to think beyond the traditional definition of heritage, which at one point focused largely on architecturally significant buildings, and to consider a fuller vision of heritage that includes aspects such as social and cultural history – areas that may have been under-represented in the past.

“For some sites, maybe it’s not just the architecture or history that is important, maybe it’s something else. Some of the higher ranking ones on the list this year — Chinatown, Heather Street Lands, neighbourhood businesses — fall quite well into that [idea] where the places are very complicated and it’s not just architecture or history that is important.”

2018 Top 10 WATCH LIST

  1. Heather Street Lands and the Fairmont Academy
  2. Chinatown
  3. Gastown
  4. Schools: David Lloyd George Elementary
  5. Neighbourhood Businesses: The end of mom and pop stores?
  6. False Creek Flats Industrial Heritage
  7. Sinclair Centre
  8. Britannia Community Centre
  9. Takehara/Yada Apartments
  10. UBC War Memorial Gym

In the case of the Heather lands, the complexity involves a wide range of values, including cultural, social (healing and reconciliation), historical, architectural, natural and economic, according to Heritage Vancouver.

Three First Nations — the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh — and Canada Lands Company are redeveloping the property, which is between West 33rd and 37th at Heather Street. The site was an important hunting ground for First Nations, and adjacent to a travel route for First Nations people.

The 28,000-square-foot Fairmont Academy on the site was designed by Vancouver architect Samuel Maclure and has Heritage ‘A’ designation.


The Heather Street Lands and the Fairmont Academy landed in the number one spot on Heritage Vancouve
The Heather Street Lands and the Fairmont Academy landed in the number one spot on Heritage Vancouver’s annual watch list. Photo Dan Toulgoet


It opened as a school, then briefly operated as a military hospital before the RCMP took it over for its e-division headquarters in 1920, which lasted until 2012.

Council approved, on May 15, a policy statement to guide the redevelopment, which includes plans to remove the Fairmont Academy from the property as “a measure of reconciliation.”

The building could be moved to another location, assuming a receiver site is found, or be demolished. The plan is to replace it with a cultural centre.

Heritage Vancouver says the Heather Street Lands offer a prime example of the importance of adopting a values-based approach to heritage conservation. Moving forward, the organization says it’s important to figure out “how to integrate the key values of this contested site into the new development and/or a new site so that present and future generations can understand and experience them.”

No. 2 on the list, Chinatown, is another complex neighbourhood. It’s been the subject of ongoing debate in recent years, with development pressures sparking fears about the future of the historic area and its unique culture and social life.

Heritage Vancouver says even when developers attempt to respond to the heritage context, they often fail to go beyond “what makes a building look like it fits into Chinatown,” ignoring other important aspects of heritage such as unique neighbourhood character, and community and cultural activities.

“Weaknesses in the Chinatown policy framework have become obvious during recent community conflicts,” according to Heritage Vancouver. “These failures in policy administration are coupled with a lack of incentives, with disastrous results.”

Yuen points out that Chinatown has been on several watch lists because of ongoing development pressure.

While he says the neighbourhood’s significant buildings and their facades are important, so too are its residents, including seniors, the working class and low-income people, as well as their social and cultural traditions, and how they live their lives — visiting the small shops, services and public spaces that activate the streets.


Bill Yuen says Chinatown's significant buildings and facades are important, but so, too, are its residents and how they live their lives — visiting the small shops, services and public spaces that activate the streets. Photo Dan Toulgoet


“You have a [situation] where traditional thinking on heritage is not helping the goal of what heritage is now, which is how do you manage change in living communities,” says Yuen, adding people have relationships with places and buildings and that needs to be addressed.

“That’s where [the idea of] heritage has moved. It used to be more static and controlled… It’s expanded to something that’s more dynamic when you’re trying to deal with people and living human beings,” he says “The question is, when you have new development — it’s not like don’t have it — how does that fit into the context of the neighbourhood so that people can feel they’re together.”

The impact of development is also highlighted in No. 5 on the list — neighbourhood businesses. When they close, Heritage Vancouver says it can contribute to the erosion of the city’s character because small businesses are often considered significant social spaces in neighbourhoods.

A values-based approach to heritage can uncover the different reasons they’re important to a community — it may relate to the style of the building, its age, who operated it or the role it played in sustaining the daily lives of residents in the community.

Yuen cites the recent shuttering of Pronto restaurant in Cambie Village as an example.

“Pronto, it’s like seven years old, so it’s not very old but it’s old enough for people in that neighbourhood, and in Vancouver, to have developed a very strong connection to it. The business is really tied to that Cambie Village business network… It’s a significant part of the history of the commercial street there. It’s also really important to the health of that neighbourhood.”


Pronto Cafe closed March 2. The building represents a "wonderful adaptive reuse of a 1938 Streamline Moderne building style," according to Heritage Vancouver. While the cafe was only seven years old, it formed a deep connection with the neighbourhood and the city of Vancouver. Photo PRONTO / FACEBOOK


Yuen believes Heritage Vancouver’s watch list, which is in its 18th year, is having an impact on the conversation around heritage in Vancouver, although its focus has evolved since it emerged in 2001.

“What we have put on the list has changed over time. In the very beginning, it [was] focused on the preservation of certain very iconic buildings and structures, which are very important. Now, we have a mix of that, of areas, and [the idea that] maybe conservation of heritage is not necessarily only taking the form of saving a building,” he says.

“It’s been effective because what we’re trying to do is make people feel that these places are relevant to them for a number of different reasons. In that respect, it’s helping, particularly increasing our understanding of what heritage is and how we go about conserving it.”
To read the complete Top 10 list, which includes recommendations about what the public can do to address heritage concerns, as well as to find details about the upcoming bus tour of the Top 10 sites, go to The bus tour is June 9.

PHOTOS: Heritage Vancouver 2018 Watch List

No. 1 Heather Street Lands and the Fairmont Academy.  Read more on Heritage Vancouver's 2018 watch list here.

Fairmont Academy building. Photo Dan Toulgoet
Fairmont Academy building. Photo Dan Toulgoet


No. 2 Chinatown. Read more on Heritage Vancouver's 2018 watch list here.

Pender Street in Chinatown. Photo Dan Toulgoet
Pender Street in Chinatown. Photo Dan Toulgoet


No. 3 Gastown. Gastown also appeared in the top 10 in 2015, as well as in 2008 as part of the historic areas entry. Read more here.

Gastown. Photo Dan Toulgoet
Gastown. Photo Dan Toulgoet


No. 4 Schools: David Lloyd George Elementary. The threat to Vancouver's heritage schools is such that one has appeared on almost every Heritage Vancouver top 10 list since its inception. This year, David Lloyd elementary takes the dubious honour. Earlier this year. education minister Rob Fleming appeared at the school to announce that a replacement school would be built on the site. It's unclear what will happen to the old school once the new one is built. David Lloyd George was built by  Twizell, Birds & Twizell and is an example of a Classical Revival brick school constructed after the First World War.  The auditorium addition, which was built in 1954, is significant for its association with modernist architect Duncan McNab. Read more about Heritage Vancouver's position on the school here.

Education Minister Rob Fleming at David Lloyd George elementary school t
Education Minister Rob Fleming at David Lloyd George elementary school. Photo Dan Toulgoet


No. 5 Neighbourhood Businesses. Heritage Vancouver says the Rio Theatre, pictured here, the recently closed Pronto Cafe and the Hollywood Theatre are all examples of important social gathering places, but they have differing values. Read more about Heritage Vancouver's position on neighbourhood businesses here.

Heritage Vancouver says the Rio Theatre, the recently closed Pronto Cafe and the Hollywood Theatre a
The Rio Theatre. Photo Dan Toulgoet


No. 6 False Creek Flats Industrial Heritage. City council approved the False Creek Flats Area Plan in 2017. Heritage Vancouver wants to see some of the older buildings retained as they represent the city's working history and the indistrial growth after eastern False Creek was filled in. Among the buildings the organization is concerned about are an eclectic group of warehouses and multi-storey structures, such as the Parker Street Studios shown here, in the northeast quadrant of The Flats. Read more about the important buildings in the Flats and Hertiage Vancouver's position on the threat they face here.

parker street studios
Parker Street Studios. Photo Rebecca Blissett


No. 7 Sinclair Centre. Sinclair Centre was also on the top 10 list in 2017. Heritage Vancouver says the complex remains half-empty and deteriorating and it's concerned about federal government redevelopment plans. Read more about why Sinclair Centre is significant and the concerns about its future here.

Sinclair Centre. Photo Dan Toulgoet
Sinclair Centre. Photo Dan Toulgoet


No. 8 Britannia Community Centre. The complex is on 17-acre property just west of Commercial Drive at Napier Street. Heritage Vancouver considers it significant for myriad reasons ranging from architectural to social. But it's being renewed and redeveloped. Heritage Vancouver's position on the plans can be found here.

Satellite view of Britannia Community Centre complex.
Satellite view of Britannia Community Centre complex.


No. 9 Takehara/Yada Apartments. Located at 1017 West 7th Avenue, the wooden structure is 18 feet by 110 feet. Genya Yada and Rinnosuke Takehara built the tenement in 1912-13 to house Japanese workers. It has Heritage 'A' status but it's currently up for sale. Heritage Vancouver wants to ensure it's never demolished due to neglect. Find more about the historically significant building here.

The Takehara/Yada Apartments at 1017 West 7th Avenue. City of Vancouver Archives COV-S639-2-F46- CVA
The Takehara/Yada Apartments. City of Vancouver Archives COV-S639-2-F46- CVA 791-1326


No. 10 UBC War Memorial Gym. The avant-garde modernist glass and concrete structure was built in two parts, the gymnasium and Memorial Hall, in 1949-50. Heriatge Vancouver says it's threatened with replacement by a new recreational facility. Find out more about the organization's concerns here.

UBC War Memorial Gym. Photo Dan Toulgoet
UBC War Memorial Gym. Photo Dan Toulgoet