History of Vancouver’s Dominion Building

Photo credit: Vancouver Archives/Major James Skitt Matthews

Photo credit: Vancouver Archives/Major James Skitt Matthews

At the east end of Little Amsterdam, across the street from Victory Square, on the corner of West Hastings and Cambie Streets is one of Vancouver’s architectural crown jewels: the Dominion Trust building. The bold mustard and terracotta building harkens back to the days when the 200 block of West Hastings was part of Vancouver’s busy banking district.

When it was built, the Dominion (as it’s known to locals) was the highest building in the British Empire standing 53 meters high. The trapezoidal lot lent itself to a structure of flat-iron proportions, with the ‘flat’ part facing southeast.

The Dominion was built from 1908-1910 by J.S. Heyler. The building is known as one of the most colourful, charismatic heritage buildings in the city due to its Beaux-Arts style, terracotta spandrels and Corinthian columns at the front entrance.

For the non-architects among us this means the Dominion was built in an architectural style taught at the Académie Royale d’Architecture founded by Louis XIV in France. The style was adopted overseas and was highly popular for banking and government buildings built North America between 1880-1920. Beaux-arts buildings are marked by their Romanesque looks, elevated first floor, arched windows and sculptural finishes.

Vancouver went through an economic boom around 1905, so the building’s original owners, Imperial Trust Company, set out to construct a 13-storey skyscraper shortly thereafter. It was difficult to raise the full $600,000 needed to complete the Dominon, so Imperial Trust appealed to the good residents of Vancouver to pitch in.

Photo credit: Flickr/KeepitSurreal

Photo credit: Flickr/KeepitSurreal

According to its heritage designation summary, Vancouverites were asked to support the construction of the Dominion to make it an “object of pride to every loyal citizen” by purchasing Imperial bonds. When enough public funds still didn’t materialize, Imperial Trust had to quickly merge with Dominion Trust Company, hence the building’s namesake. In January 2008, the Dominion Trust building was granted national registered heritage status.

Built around 10 stories of spiral staircases complete with marble floors and a curved mansard roof, the building was eventually bought by S.J. Cohen, owner of Army & Navy Surplus to be converted into a multi-floor department store. It now houses a variety of offices, Opus Arts Supplies and a Mediterranean restaurant.

Next time you want to check out the Dominion, download the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s West Hastings walking tour guide and cruise east from Granville Street.  There used to be 10 banks located on the four blocks between Granville and Cambie, including a TD Bank formerly in the Dominion Trust building. Do the tour on a sunny day, crossing the street to Victory Square for the best photo op. Then circle around the Dominion to admire this still regal, Beaux-arts beauty in all its 103-year-old glory.

Do you have any great Dominion Building photos? Join Inside Vancouver’s Flickr group and share yours.

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