Saving Vancouver’s Secret Railway: The Arbutus Corridor Controversy

Photo credit: donkeycart | Flickr

Photo credit: donkeycart | Flickr

Do you know about Vancouver’s hidden railway?

It’s actually not much of a secret.  The Arbutus Corridor is an 11-kilometre-long unused rail line that stretches due south from False Creek, cutting across neighbourhoods from Fairview to Kerrisdale before ending at the Fraser River.

While officially owned by CP rail, the line has not been used since 2001.  During that time, the tracks and the 50-foot-t0-65-foot strip of land they sit on have become one of Vancouver’s more distinguishing features.

Community gardens have proliferated along the idle land, as well as informal walking and biking paths that run its length.  Elsewhere, brambles and vegetation have reclaimed the old industrial space.  In short, the old railroad has become a giant strip of green slicing right through the heart of Vancouver.


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And – at least for the moment – it looks like the unique greenway on the Arbutus Corridor is here to stay.  The City of Vancouver and CP rail have been squabbling over the space for decades.  The matter came to a head earlier this year, when CP announced plans to “reactivate” the Arbutus rail line and use it for commercial freight traffic.  Community gardeners were even ordered to remove plants and structures that infringed on the land.

But in a welcomed twist, the City has now finally made an offer to officially buy the land for fair market value, according to an article in the Vancouver Sun.  The exact amount has not been disclosed but may be in the tens of millions of dollars, if past sales of similar properties are any indication.

Photo credit: Tyler Wilson | Flickr

Photo credit: Tyler Wilson | Flickr

Should the city complete the purchase, it’s possible that long-delayed plans for the Arbutus Corridor may finally be put into effect.  Over the years, many proposals have been put forth for the land, ranging from installing a paved bikeway to building residential housing and even putting in a tourist-oriented streetcar along a short side track that runs from Granville Island to Olympic Village.

The parcel of land was originally granted to the Canadian Pacific Railroad all the way back in 1886 in order to persuade the company to move its Western terminus to Vancouver (from its short-lived home in Port Moody). The corridor was used for freight and passenger traffic from 1902-1954.  Freight continued to be carried until 2001.

Do you make use of the Arbutus Corridor for walking or gardening? Let us know. 

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8 Responses to Saving Vancouver’s Secret Railway: The Arbutus Corridor Controversy

  1. Roger Traviss

    To be fair. This is CPR property. These people knowingly trespassed on CPR property. Just because the line hasn’t been used since 2001 in no way gives them any right to occupy the line nor, even, to object to its reactivation.

    How would these people like it if I was to come and build gardens and trails on their property. What’s the difference between their property and CPR’s property?

    Just because they’ve built gardens and trails on the property changes nothing. They have no right to be there.

    Simply put, they are trespassing. Move!

    • Lillian Boraks-Nemetz

      It’s not just the gardens , people live right in front of the tracks
      and have to watch a cargo train going past their balcony?
      Do you expect them to “move” and lose hundreds of thousands of dollars?

  2. Lee

    How much did CP pay you, Roger? If you want to be so specific about land claim – move yourself as you stand on aboriginal land.
    City changes and it’s clear that there’s no place for railway in False Creek. This is just a sneaky move by CP to get a better price from the city. Disgusting, worse then liberals’ campaign.

    • Roger Traviss


      Aboriginal land? I’ll move when you move and not before. :) You see, that works both ways.

      As for the corridor? It’s still, I gather, CPR’s until the courts decide otherwise or it’s sold. If there’s “ place for railways in False Creek”, which sounds very NIMBY to me, then that’s CPR’s choice to make, not yours.

      Maybe it is a sneaky way for the CPR to make a few million but heck, that’s business and free enterprise.

  3. J-L B

    The gardeners didn’t seize plots in the middle of the night. They applied to the City of Vancouver and got on a waiting list. Each year they pay for manure that is delivered by the city.

    Apparently a strip on land, at least in some areas, is own by the city.

    There were “Victory gardens” on the corridor during the war…unfortunately it is hard to find photos and documentation.

    As for trespassing by walking along the tracks, or even across someone fenced property (fields and woods, not a home backyard)…this as been legally done for centuries in Europe…Aren’t we still using many English laws?

  4. shlav

    I think we the corridor should be used for light rail and permanent social housing. While I’m at it I would like my mortgage subsidized so I can buy a home in the Arbutus area and I can trace my lineage through DNA to any first Nations tribe, therefore I want to be chief and receive a million dollar salary tax free. While I’m at it I don’t like it very much when older women leer at or ogle me, it makes me feel uncomfortable, like they are raping me with their eyes. Also I’m addicted to cigarettes, so I want a safe supervised smoking site in every public building. After all the taxes I’ve paid on a pack of cigarettes over the last 30 years should cover that. Oh and one last thing I want the federal government to publicly apologize for being useless!!

  5. CP Rail may not have the right to sell the Arbutus Corridor. According to the 1886 agreement between CPR and the federal government: “Reversionary lands were granted solely for railway purposes, reverting to the Crown should they cease to be used for those purposes.” See my blogs “Prime Minister Trudeau tried to return CPR land to the people of Canada”; “The CPR privatized real estate that should be owned by all Canadians” and “Facts about Marathon Realty, the real estate arm of the CPR”. CPR properties in British Columbia included False Creek, Yaletown, Coal Harbour, the Empress Hotel, CPR Steamship Terminal and Crystal Garden.

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