The following article was contributed by Vancouver travel writer and Lonely Planet author John Lee (@johnleewriter)
It’s the swish neighbourhood synonymous with handsome mansions. But it’s also a great place to step into the past for a glimpse at how well-to-do early Vancouverites lived. Shaughnessy Heights is one of the city’s oldest posh neighbourhoods and it’s ideal for a sunny autumnal stroll.
Best-accessed up the slope of McRae Avenue – near the intersection of Granville Street and 16th Avenue – you’ll first arrive at McRae Mansion. Better known today as Hycroft, the century-old, column-fronted house was built for Alexander Duncan McRae with money he made from forestry and fish canning.
Decadent parties were staged here during its 1920s heyday, but it’s now owned by the University Women’s Club of Vancouver. Their signature event is November’s Christmas at Hycroft, when the house is decorated in yuletide finery and charities hawk their artisan crafts.
Continue to the Crescent, centered on a tree-studded oval park that’s the heart of the neighbourhood. It’s encircled by century-old palatial piles that are like an outdoor museum of early 20th-century architectural fashions.
Look out for arts and crafts and West Coast heritage homes designed by celebrated architect Samuel Maclure, as well as buildings with Georgian and Italianate influenced flourishes – there’s even one home built in an unusual-for-Vancouver Dutch Colonial Revival style.
But why are these swanky old homes here at all?
The Canadian Pacific Railway owned this freshly-logged area south of the city centre in the late 1900s and they developed it to appeal to rich residents who wanted to be close to the city but far enough away to guarantee exclusivity. CPR president Thomas Shaughnessy lent his name to the new ‘hood and within a few years, dozens of palatial mansions studded the area.
Many of these stand today, and you can weave around for hours admiring their grandeur. But you’ll have to walk a little further for one of the area’s most attractive structures.
Built in 1911 at 1690 Matthews Avenue, Glen Brae was the home of wealthy Scottish immigrant William Lamont Tait. Its signature twin turrets were added to remind him of the Highland castles he remembered from the old country. But today it’s one of Vancouver’s favourite heritage structures. Later a daycare and then a private hospital, since 1995 the house has been better known as Canuck Place children’s hospice.