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Preface by Robin Ward

When I first began drawing and writing about Vancouver's architectural heritage for the Vancouver Sun, one of the editors on the paper exclaimed, "Are you sure there's enough? Look at it!" He waved his arm at the glistening, modern skyline across False Creek. "Where's the heritage? They're knocking it down." From a distance, Vancouver does look like a brash parvenu. Here and there, the profiles of apparently token heritage buildings are hemmed in by rank upon rank of thrusting new towers. The view from afar, though, is misleading. On the periphery of and even deep in the sunless canyons downtown, you can find hidden treasure on the streets.

Vancouverites know this better than anyone. Their city holds a world of memories, a world in which the buildings play a prominent part. In response to my drawings in the Sun, I have heard from a couple who first met in the bell tower of the Holy Rosary Cathedral, a lady whose "dad and his father built the Madrona Apartments on West 15th Avenue," and the designer of the neon sign at the Niagara Hotel - who, after seeing my drawing in the paper forty years later, took new pride in his work. A "native daughter of Vancouver" wrote to share her memory of "visiting the art studio of our Girl Guide captain in the turret of the old Imperial Bank of Commerce building at Granville and Dunsmuir." "Great days" in the Sun Tower were recalled by a former journalist. He worked there decades ago with a "happy crew who did mad things and produced good papers," and who on Friday afternoon "moved over to the bar in the Lotus Hotel to drink till one a.m." For these people and many others, there is much more to Vancouver than its flashy skyline.

During the late 1880s, Vancouver developed as a late Victorian and Edwardian city, influenced largely by the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was a colonial town that was well placed on the imperial "all red route," from Great Britain to the Orient, travelled by Canadian Pacific's trains and steamships. Some buildings in Gastown were erected at that time. Most of the city's surviving architectural heritage, though, dates from an extraordinary boom that began with the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897 and ended just before the First World War. By 1912, Granville Street - which in 1890 was "just a slit in the forest, a solid wall of trees on both sides" - had become truly metropolitan.

A local business directory published in 1908 blustered, "Vancouver, the Liverpool of the Pacific, is one of the municipal wonders of the Twentieth Century . . . Canada's most progressive metropolis . . . the Gateway to the Orient . . . aided by the boundless resources of the country ... and the enterprise of its citizens." The community of 1000 in 1886 had, in little more than twenty years, grown to a city of more than 100,000 people.

But in 1912, a recession took the wind out of the city's sails and trapped the municipality in the economic doldrums, where it remained until after the Second World War. There was a brief Art Deco building boom in the late 1920s, but in the early 1950s, Vancouver still looked essentially Edwardian. When the Hotel Vancouver was completed in 1939, It dominated the city with not a modern but a turn-of-the-century presence.

Virtually all the buildings from the boom era still stood: the Romanesque warehouses, the Beauxarts office blocks, the neoclassical railway stations and the Greek and Roman banks. Even today, because of past concentration of modern development west of Granville Street, much of this heritage survives. East of Granville, along Hastings and Pender, the core of the old city still exists. There are many more old buildings here than I could include in this book-the diverse, ad hoc facades of Chinatown alone could have filled these pages.

Most of the drawings reproduced here are of buildings in the city centre and its vicinity, where there is currently the most serious threat to the city's architectural heritage. The scouting party that succeeded in destroying the Georgia MedicalDental Building was only an advance guard of the battalion of developers standing before the city gates. But there is also a strong contingent of people who argue for preservation. The campaign to save the Georgia Medical-Dental Building, for example, was a cause celebre. After protracted debate, members of City Council were convinced that the new building would be somehow "better." It will certainly be more profitable-the word that too often lights the fuse of destruction.

In a wider sense, old buildings too can be profitable, not only in modest financial return. In their variety and craftsmanship of obsolete decor, old buildings offer reassuring guarantees that civilized values still exist in an increasingly tawdry world. Weatherworn stones and antique facades are a physical link with the past, sustaining our sense of personal and shared identity. I often feel a kinship with dated places" anonymous, vanished denizens, their lives and experiences invisible but always present in fading walls.

While few modern buildings are likely to resonate in this way in the years to come, there are exceptions. Vancouver has been better served by modern architecture than some cities I know. Several 1950s buildings in the city are already admired: the B.C. Hydro Building on Burrard Street (recently declared a heritage building), the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce at Granville and Dunsmuir with its interior mosaic mural by B.C. Binning, the Customs Building across Pender Street from the Marine Building and the uncompromising, late-1960s MacMillan-Bloedel Building on West Georgia, are among the highlights of contemporary corporate and institutional architecture in Vancouver. Significantly, those buildings were designed in a purposeful, optimistic modernism. They have a strength and conviction largely absent in today's postmodern world.

Otto Wagner, the fin-de-siecle Viennese architect, once wrote, "The main reason that the importance of the architect has not been fully appreciated lies . . . in the language he has directed to the public, which in most cases is completely unintelligible." These words are still appropriate today, when it seems few architects can understand their profession's history, never mind explain to the public the art they practise. Yet architectural history is rich in sources that we can look to as we attempt to solve the complexities of modern urban life and planning. Heritage buildings, where they survive, are constant reminders of standards once held in high esteem. Too many new buildings, as Robert Louis Stevenson put it, "belong to no style, only to a form of business much to be regretted."

Robin Ward
Vancouver B.C.
August, 1990