604 Neighbourhoods is a new weekly series appearing on the Inside Vancouver blog that will feature photos, history, and information about some of the city’s most distinct communities. Born and raised in the area, I moved to downtown Vancouver for every reason you may have heard a thousand times before: It’s beautiful, accessible, convenient, diverse, thriving, fast-paced and leisurely at the same time, and beautiful (I have to mention that twice).
In the 604 Neighbourhood series I will showcase the heartbeat of Vancouver that can be found everywhere from highly populated areas to little-known side streets and forest trails beginning today and running every Wednesday. The series starts now with the West End. It’s family-friendly, gay-friendly, pet-friendly, and it’s also been my home for the last eight years.
Vancouver’s West End neighbourhood is located on the downtown peninsula, bordered by Burrard Street on one side and Stanley Park on the other, with three waterfronts: Coal Harbour (although Coal Harbour north of Georgia is also considered its own neighbourhood), English Bay, and Lost Lagoon. It is a mix of parks, high-density residential space (with a population of over 40,000), heritage housing, retail hot spots, community amenities, and colourful culinary destinations. Its three main thoroughfares are Robson Street (known for its shopping), Davie Street (home of Davie Village, a hub for the city’s gay community), and Denman Street (linking English Bay to Coal Harbour).
The West End is an easy walk from major transportation centres in downtown Vancouver, just a few minutes West of Burrard and Waterfront SkyTrain stations and serviced by the #5 and #6 bus routes (and community shuttles C21 and C23). There are over 20 parking lots and if you prefer two wheels, you can rent bicycles of all sizes from a number of bike rental outlets that cater to English Bay, Seawall, and Stanley Park riders. The West End is also home to several hop-on/hop-off tour Big Bus tour stops and you can get there from Granville Island, Yaletown or False Creek thanks to water taxis like False Creek Ferries that stop at the Aquatic Centre.
The history of the city’s West End starts with the Three Greenhorns who were John Morton, Samuel Brighouse, and William Hailstone. The trio filed the first claim on the land in 1862 (24 years before the city was incorporated) when it was a remote and forested wilderness — hence their nicknames, playing on popular opinion about the purchase, thought to be a naive move by the gentlemen. They each acquired 180 acres for $550.75.
Originally the plan was to establish a farm and brickworks but they soon found out the grade of clay in the area was not fine enough. They sold off a parcel of the land to developers and the West End eventually became the city’s first upscale neighbourhood, home to wealthy railroad and lumber families but soon lost that title to Shaughnessy. It was then built up as a residential community and in 1887, the lots began to sell with prices from $350 to $1,000 as people realised the potential of the area. [Source: New Liverpool and the Greenhorns]
Robson Street has been called the best shopping street in the city with major retailers setup along the stretch between Burrard and Jervis streets. Denman Street, where you can find some of the area’s best dining options, also has retailers from home decor and clothing to grocery stores. Davie Street, in particular Davie Village (also between Burrard and Jervis) has has book stores, drug stores, salons, and markets.
Although you’ll find Asian and South Asian eateries in abundance in the West End, Robson Street was commonly referred to as “Robsonstrasse” up until the 1970s thanks to the German commercial community that flanked the popular street with schnitzel restaurants, bakeries, and delis. From Banana Leaf Malaysian cuisine to CinCin, Hapa Izakaya, La Parisien, Thai House, and De Dutch, there is something for every taste and craving among the West End’s restaurants.
The West End is your gateway to the city’s biggest and best attraction in my opinion, Stanley Park, and all attractions therein. The Vancouver Aquarium, the Seawall, forest trails, the seasonal miniature railway, the rose garden, picnic spots, and more.
Right in the core of the West End however you can also find a heritage attraction, Roedde House Museum. Roedde House at 1415 Barclay was built in 1893 for Vancouver’s first bookbinder, Gustav Roedde. The City purchases the property in 1966 and made it the focal point of Barclay Heritage Square. In 1990 the restored Roedde House Museum opened its doors for community events and tours.
English Bay sunsets over the water, beach strolls, bakeries, craft beer, an active community centre, a library, cherry blossoms and palm trees, the West End has it all. I love that you can walk in barely a block from either of the major roads and you’ll hear birds chirping and lawnmowers grazing as though you were anywhere but in the middle of a hustling and bustling world class city.