Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
VIA store 300x100
Join our Newsletter

Vancouver Heritage Commission critical of Holy Rosary Cathedral reno proposal

Commission raises concerns about redeveloping non-church portion of site
Holy Rosary Cathedral at 646 Richards St.
Holy Rosary Cathedral at 646 Richards St. is in need of upgrading, but the Vancouver Heritage Commission has raised concerns about its inquiry to redevelop the site. Photo Dan Toulgoet

It’s unclear what will happen to a Holy Rosary Cathedral proposal to seismically and structurally upgrade the church, located at 646 Richards St., after the Vancouver Heritage Commission raised concerns about the project during a recent review. Holy Rosary’s renovation plan includes building a 23-storey tower on the portion of the property behind the cathedral, for office and church uses, to help fund the upgrading work.

The proposal is only at the development permit inquiry stage, so a formal application hasn’t been filed. The commission reviewed the project Feb. 25 after City of Vancouver staff determined it had enough merit to go before the panel, which serves as an advisory body to city staff and council.

The commission concluded, among other things, based on the minutes of the meeting, that it couldn’t support plans to redevelop the non-church portion of the Holy Rosary site where the rectory and Rosary Hall are located.

It passed a resolution with several clauses, including that the applicant “explore means by which at least partial retention of the rectory, the Rosary Hall and the elevations along Richards Street can be retained.”

It’s now up to the church whether to incorporate the commission’s advice or proceed with an application. City staff only make recommendations and do a full review of a project once a formal application is received.

In response to several questions the Courier posed about the proposal and next steps, Holy Rosary’s rector, Rev. Stanley Galvon, emailed this statement:

“We are reviewing the comments and suggestions from the Heritage Commission with our consultants and City staff and intend to prepare a response within the next few months. Once that is complete, we will be able to identify a path going forward, including the timeline, preliminary costs, etc.,” he wrote.

The project

The property at 646 Richards St. is zoned Downtown District – Comprehensive Development. The maximum height permitted in this part of downtown is 300 feet.

Holy Rosary’s proposal involves seismically and structurally upgrading the Cathedral and redeveloping the portion of the property where the rectory and youth activity centre (Rosary Hall) are located. A 23-storey tower, featuring five storeys for church activity space, and 18 floors on top of that for commercial space, would help fund the upgrading and heritage conservation work.

The property has been associated with the Catholic Church for more than a century.

A small wooden church was built on the site of the current rectory in 1885, according to information on Holy Rosary’s website. In 1899, the parish began building the current Cathedral to accommodate growth. The Gothic Revival building opened Dec. 9, 1900, but hasn’t had any major structural work done on it since then.

The rectory was built in 1935 in the English Collegiate style, while the front portion of Rosary Hall was built in 1907 in the Italianate style.

The entire site earned heritage designation in 1974 — the cathedral is listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register (VHR) in the “A” category, although the rectory and Rosary Hall were not evaluated for associated heritage value at that time.

The Holy Rosary website notes there has been some cosmetic work done to the cathedral, “but nothing to ensure that this beautiful building will be around for future generations. The work ahead will be challenging, but it will protect the heritage and the future ministry of the church in Vancouver’s busy downtown core.”

“The cathedral is ready for a seismic upgrade and for some needed maintenance. Currently we are working with developers and with the City of Vancouver to see what can be done, and how to better preserve the heritage that has been handed to us.”

A street view of the Holy Rosary property at 646 Richards St.
An aerial view of the Holy Rosary property at 646 Richards St.

Vancouver Heritage Commission weighs in

The heritage commission’s position on the project, outlined in the minutes of the Feb. 25 meeting, includes concerns about:

  • the proposed demolition of potentially “A” and “C” VHR registered and designated buildings;
  • an “incomplete” Statement of Significance for the rectory and hall;
  • that different and more creative options should be explored to salvage as much as possible of the site, especially the Richards Street façade.
  • concerns with access to natural light in the proposed courtyard.

In its subsequent motion, the commission states the collection of historic buildings, including the Archbishop’s garden behind an iron picket fence in an area in front of the rectory that’s enclosed by the church and Rosary Hall, “are a unique element of urban design in the contemporary city reflective of the historic Catholic community of the area’s vanished working class residential district.”

It also states that the rectory is a rare example of English Collegiate style, which is tentatively evaluated as an “A” listing on the VHR, whose loss “would greatly diminish the heritage and historic value of the church,” and that the front portion of Rosary Hall is a rare example of the Italianate style in downtown Vancouver whose loss would “diminish the heritage and historic values of the adjoining two buildings.”

The commission adds that, to its knowledge, the applicant hasn’t looked into alternative means such as grants or other programs to achieve “programmatic improvements, seismic upgrading and elements of the Conservation Plan for the Church that are the rationale for the project.”

Aside from indicating it can’t support the inquiry to redevelop the non-church portion of the site, and that it wants the applicant to explore ways to retain the rectory, Rosary Hall and elevations along Richards Street, the commission would like the draft Statement of Significance to be amended to include new material such as Heritage Vancouver’s research on the age and provenance of Rosary Hall.


A street view of the Holy Rosary property at 646 Richards St.
A view of the Holy Rosary property at 646 Richards St. from above.


A satellite view of the property at 646 Richards St.
A satellite view of the property at 646 Richards St.