October 12th CRAB Park with Annabel Vaughan: Intern Architect and Community Activist

October 12, 2010 Review
Written by: Samantha Knopp

Can someone really find the history of a city on one street? That was the skeptical question in the mind of almost every student as our guest speaker for another session of Walking Home Carrall Street, Annabel Vaughan (intern architect, Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and community activist) proposed. Her idea that Carrall Street is, in fact, a microcosm of Vancouver’s evolution, seemed unbelievable, but discovering the unexpected has become the norm for this program. So the group willingly let Annabel take the lead, guiding us on the walk that she calls, “Wandering the LeqLeqi Portage”.

Annabel explained that this walking tour was developed as a response to the Carrall Street Greenway project. While working on the project’s Public Art Committee, she felt it was important to highlight the richness of the street’s past and present in order to celebrate these complexities; rather than the richness and complexities being lost in the movement towards gentrification. Carrall Street is in the heart of the Downtown Eastside (DTES), a neighbourhood in Vancouver more famous for its problems than its vibrant, tight-knit community that deserves to be acknowledged and supported rather than pushed out. So just like our program, Annabel – inspired by her close friend and urban activist, the late Jane Jacobs, and the movement Jane’s Walks – saw walking as one of the most effective tools to educate and inform.

Starting at CRAB Park, Annabel retold some of the local aboriginal history, and it was interesting that there wasn’t much repeated from Bruce Macdonald’s session one week earlier. Annabel would later remind us that history is never definitive, and that each person will create a different narrative from the facts given to them. Annabel started her story by explaining that the park used to be an area known to the mid 19th century Coast Salish people as “[LeqLeqi]” (pronounced and later referred to by non-native settlers as “LuckLucky”). Although the meaning of the name was unknown, this place had a long history of significance for the Coast Salish, mostly as a summer settlement. The Coast Salish people would canoe from their permanent homes on the North Shore and Stanley Park to this area at what is now CRAB Park, and then portage along what is now Carrall Street all the way to False Creek to collect the rich harvest of summer foods.

Listening and learning with the beautiful backdrop of North Vancouver (photo credit: Gina Hetland)

Moving over the Main Street Bridge, turning right onto Alexander Street and then making a left onto Columbia Street, Annabel jumped forward in time pointing out the visible legacy of the railroad in Vancouver – a three block diagonal path created by the strangely angled buildings, marking where the CPR and Interurban railway tracks use to lie – and stressed the importance of the railway in shaping Vancouver and Canada as we know it today. We then turned right onto Powell Street and walked down to the official start of Carrall Street in the epicentre of “[Gastown]”, Maple Tree Square, where Annabel explained how the neighbourhood got its name, the birth of Vancouver, and the rather unique feature of the city being made up of three different city grids. Carrall Street, which is the start of the Hastings Townsite grid, is set to true north, which means that if someone continued walking north from Carrall Street they would eventually meet up with the North Pole!

True North in Gastown (photo credit: Gina Hetland)

We decided to skip the North Pole and head south on Carrall Street and stopped at the very next intersection (on Cordova Street). Here Annabel noted that the city originated as a migrant town with workers – primarily single men – coming here to work in the various resource industries. As a result, the first businesses along the commercial strip (at Water Street) were bars and brothels, and the living spaces found behind the strip (on Cordova Street) were mostly hotels. Annabel quickly suggested that these beginnings are not trivial, but rather have been pivotal in the neighbourhood’s development. When these workers retired in the 1920’s and 30’s, single and without families, they retreated to their “homes” in the hotels and lived the only way that had ever lived: drinking and partying. Thus began the first wave of addiction in the DTES – alcohol – which set the tone for the area for years to come. Annabel shared her belief that this history was the genesis for many of the persistent problems facing this part of Vancouver today, and further suggested that if the area had been a mix of residential buildings rather than hotels, bars, and brothels, a very different atmosphere would have blossomed when more families started to come to Vancouver at the start of the 20th century. Instead, those families found themselves in neighbourhoods like Kitsilano and Commercial Drive.

As we walked south to East Hastings, Annabel pointed out the old BC Electric Building (now Centre A), which was used as the main terminal for the Interurban railway and streetcar network when it was first built, connecting many of the neighbourhoods in the suddenly sprawling city. From the 1930’s to the 1950’s this area was Vancouver’s city centre. During the 50’s and 60’s, there was an increase in commuting by car, therefore the Interurban rail system was shut down, and replaced with a bus fleet. The neighbourhood quickly lost its foot traffic, and as a consequence, its identity as Vancouver’s core.

Annabel also talked about how the transient city centre is a strange phenomenon, unique to Vancouver. Unlike most cities, Vancouver has never had a permanent or designated city square! The usual markers of a city’s core are things like city hall, a courthouse or the main branch of the library, but all of these have moved multiple times in Vancouver’s short history. Most of us were surprised by this, yet when we discussed where Vancouver’s centre is today, there was no definitive answer. That raised the question of whether the lack of a civic centre is problematic, or if Vancouver just happily marches to the beat its own drum?

"Walking and Owning our City" (photo credit: Gina Hetland)

As we discussed that very question, the group marched up to Pender Street where it quickly became obvious that we were in Chinatown. Annabel gave us a brief history of the neighbourhood and pointed out her favorite building: the Chinese Freemasons Building. She then jumped forward to the 1960’s, and explained how the hippie movement made the DTES a politically charged environment. The neighbourhood was suffering from increasing neglect because of the addiction issues and an overall disdain from the rest of the city. Unsurprisingly, this only compounded many of the problems. One of the events that cemented the community, took place along Pender Street in October of 1967, known to some as “The Great Freeway Debacle”; the event was a mass mobilization of residents and locals fighting together to prevent a freeway proposal that would have plowed through the historic neighbourhoods of Strathcona, Chinatown, and Gastown, displacing thousands of people all in the name of “urban renewal”.

New beginnings? (photo credit: Gina Hetland)

Although the local residents were successful in stopping the freeway, the push for urban renewal in the DTES did not stop in the 1960’s. Annabel next took us up one block to Keefer Street where we were fast-forwarded to the 1980s and Expo ‘86. This event continued to challenge and strengthen this community and shift the city. We learned that although Expo left many positive legacies in Vancouver, it was also the source of a lot of scandal and disruption, particularly in the DTES where many residents fell victim to forced evictions and displacement. These pros and cons sounded very familiar to all of us, since the 2010 Olympics struggled with many of these same issues. It was fitting, then, that we finished our walk looking out over False Creek and the Olympic Village. With the day coming to end, we were all still shocked at the idea that Carrall Street held so much of the Vancouver’s past, and that the controversial neighbourhood of the DTES was so deeply engrained in the identity of our beautiful city.

Sam Knopp

The Map of Where We Went – Oct 12, 2010:

Youth Reviews

Rebekah D.                                                                                                          October 12, 2010
Walking Home Carrall Street

This week, we met at CRAB Park at the beautiful pavillion looking out on the park, ocean, port and mountains. It was a perfect setting for the beginning of our walk with Annabel Vaughan, an intern architect in Vancouver. This week’s session demonstrated what this project is really about: walking. We started in CRAB Park and made our way along the overpass to Columbia Street, and then along Alexander to Carrall Street. We stopped along the way at different points and Annabel told us some of the history of that area and the city.

The part I found most interesting was that with each block we walked, we got to see a new era in Vancouver. From Water Street, where Gassy Jack’s saloon was, we could trace decade by decade all the way to False Creek with a look across to the 2010 Olympic Village. Annabel gave us insights into each era including the history of the hotels and drug users, but she also told us of the political voices that speak loud and true from this part of the city, and the sense of community the area residents feel.

I’ve never been exploring in this side of downtown, or really much in the downtown at all, so it has been fantastic wandering around and just getting to see all the areas and buildings that you hear about. Walking Home Carrall Street has armed us with knowledge and understanding that you sadly just can’t get anywhere else. I’m so glad I get to take these walks and I’m excited to see what we do next!

Getting the group's thoughts at CRAB park (photo credit: Rebekah Davies)


Anna W.                                                                                                                 October 12, 2010
Carrall Street Tour

Session three really drove home the point of the Walking Home Projects program, along with a new understanding of the name. Being able to walk through the city’s timeline was really bizarre. I never realized before how differently from other cities Vancouver has developed. The fact that the town hall has moved five times never seemed odd to me. And because the city is so full of parks and courtyards, I never even thought of a town square as something missing.

Annabel Vaughan put her presentation together really well, and obviously did a lot of research. She showed us that Carrall Street was a centre point for all things historical in downtown Vancouver. I was grateful for the opportunity to take that tour with an architect as a guide. I believe it’s a privilege that all schools should have, and that any tourists interested in our history would love as well.

Group gathered at CRAB park (photo credit: Gina Hetland)


Abigail J.                                                                                                               October 12, 2010
What is meaningful to me? What do I feel and get out of this experience?

We aren’t that far into the program but so far I’m enjoying it. Although it’s sometimes difficult to hear the presenter, every little thing they point out captures my interest, like today when Annabel pointed out the Carrall Street Greenway, which isn’t green at all, but rather represented by grey concrete swirls in the sidewalk on Carrall Street. And standing on Maple Tree Square, if you look true north and continue straight, it will lead you to The North Pole. These little things hold my attention. I like getting to a place, stopping to talk about it, then going off to the next point rather than sitting down at one location. I am looking forward to the art projects we will be doing in November, because that’s what is etched into my mind and heart. With history I’d most likely forget it within a year. I feel so privileged to be in this program, and that it was offered to partner with City School is great. How lucky we are.

Walking in Gastown (photo credit: Rebekah Davies)


Parker S-H.                                                                                                          October 12 , 2010
Walking Home Carrall Street, Day 3

I really enjoyed today’s walking tour; it was very engaging and interesting for the entire time. I really liked how we started in the 1800’s and moved to the present. It was a very unique way to present the information, and made it easier to absorb everything.

I thought the information about the trains coming to Vancouver, and how Vancouver used to have one of the largest streetcar systems in North America was very interesting. I had no idea that Vancouver used to have streetcars and I don’t think many people do. The presenter – Annabel Vaughan – seemed like she was excited to talk to us, and really seemed interested in what she was teaching. Until today I had never really been down Carrall Street or to CRAB Park even though I live quite close by. Finding out how brutal the Canadian Pacific Railway’s policies were (for example taking people’s lots and forcing their train through the city) was a bit of a shock because we have never been taught that. It was also surprising to find out how many times Vancouver’s city hall had changed location.

Learning about Vancouver's unique grid (photo credit: Gina Hetland)


Evan C.                                                                                                                    October 12, 2010
Things I learned on the tour today:

This tour was all about art and the history of Gastown and how fast it changed through the years. I enjoyed how we walked through streets and how modern it became as we walked through downtown. It’s amazing how fast technology can be produced through time.

Thank you

Looking forward to the future (photo credit: Rebekah Davies)


Samantha M.                                                                                                          October 12, 2010
A lot of thoughts can be made through looking at the architecture of Vancouver; where it came from, who it was made by, and who it was made for. There’s also the reason it exists. The places that we looked at today were the foundations of Vancouver. It’s funny to think those old buildings are the pillars of our city. From a simple glance they don’t really seem that way, although there’s always more to a story than meets the eye. I think that’s one of the important lessons I learned today. Overall it was a pretty good day with, frozen yogurt to top it off.

Starting on Annabel Vaughan's 'LeqLeqi Portage' Walk along Carrall Street (photo credit: Gina Hetland)


Nakiah S.                                                                                                                October 12, 2010
Walking Home Carrall St. Reflection #3

Today was such a shock to me, even after last week’s session with Bruce MacDonald. Today, instead of learning about the geographical history of Vancouver, we learned about the people who made our hometown what it is today. Our presenter was Annabel Vaughan, who is an intern architect. She told us about a Vancouver that I’m pretty sure none of us have ever heard about before. The thing I was most surprised about was how much power the Canadian Pacific Railway had. They cut whole street blocks diagonally to make way for train tracks, and the property owners couldn’t do a thing to stop it; they weren’t even compensated. It was interesting hearing again that this neighbourhood was at one point mostly underwater, and that’s where Water Street’s name comes from.

The day was great for our tour, as we walked from CRAB Park all the way to False Creek, and then back to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. On the way we were able to really see how downtown’s eastside became the way it is. Heroin and cocaine was a major part in the decline of what was once a very wealthy part of town. As we walked to the Georgia St. viaduct, Annabel told us the story of Ken Lyotier, a once dumpster diver who spent his days looking for bottles to return. Now he owns and runs United We Can, a bottle depot on Hastings Street. United We Can earns 1 million dollars a year that gets put back into the community.

Annabel's favourite building in Vancouver! (photo credit: Rebekah Davies)


Michelle P.                                                                                                            October 12, 2010
As we settled down at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, after our long walk from The Burrard Inlet at CRAB Park, along Carrall Street to False Creek, the sweet aroma of tea filled the air. The environment was so quiet and soothing in comparison to the busy streets of downtown Vancouver. In stopping to write this piece it was almost difficult to get used to the serenity of the room. I used to think of Vancouver as a city without a story. But today I was once again proved wrong. Walking through this neighbourhood thriving with architecture and history was like experiencing a whole other side of Vancouver. To think that railroad tracks were once lying beneath my feet was especially interesting. It seemed to me like we were walking around in the past of Vancouver. With so much history surrounding us, I could just imagine myself there.

Click below to hear Annabel Vaughan talk about Vancouver; one of its stronger communities; and point out a particular building on Carrall Street: