Heritage Research: Vancouver City Hall (453 West 12th Avenue)

Built in 1935 – 36 and designed by Fred Townley, the Vancouver City Hall is one of the few city halls in Canada that is located outside of a city’s central business district. A building of Modern Classical style, the City Hall shifted from its previous location at the corner of Main and Hastings streets in an effort to detach itself from the surrounding immigrant quarters. Its creation was also emblematic of Vancouver’s ambition to be a world-class city under direction of Mayor Gerry McGeer – whose vision spearheaded the building’s construction.

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Source: City of Vancouver Archives

As the mayor of Vancouver from 1935-6 and later from 1946 until his death the following year, McGeer saw the construction of the City Hall as a moral lift for Vancouverites who were experiencing hardships during the interwar period. Despite the City Council’s lack of funding, he was confident that the new City Hall will provide jobs for unemployed women and amplify the celebration of Vancouver’s Golden Jubilee.

McGeer established a commission as part of the City Beautiful Planning Movement to determine a new home for the City Council in the 1930s. The commission unanimously chose the current location of the City Hall due to its centrality, accessibility and proximity to downtown. The site (formerly known as Strathcona Park) was previously owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway and the exclusion from the business district was vital for McGeer who wanted the city to be independent from financial and federal powers.

The City Hall has also received prominent world leaders in its 80 years of existence – beginning with London Mayor Sir Percy Vincent who visited in 1936. Its tradition of welcoming British royals continued with the visit of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1986. King George, who visited in 1945, presented an oak tree that was planted on the southwest corner of the building.

Overcrowding in the late 1960’s led to a proposal for establishing a satellite office in downtown but the idea was later translated into building an annexe on the current site. Today, the entrance of the City Hall is adorned with sculptures, titled Walking Figures by Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz, that were installed to commemorate the 2005-2007 Vancouver Biennale.

Sources:

Trevor D. Tupman, Historical Analysis of the Vancouver City Hall, 1968.

King Paul, Vancouver City Hall, 1988.

David Monteyne, ‘”From Canvas to Concrete in Fifty Years,” The Construction of Vancouver City Hall, 1935-6,’ Journal of BC Studies, 1999.

Eve Lazarus, A Brief History of Vancouver City Hall, 2014.

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