A few months after Vancouver’s inception, on June 13, 1886 The Great Vancouver Fire claimed dozens of lives and burned the city to the ground. The fire started as a brush fire to clear land between present-day Main and Cambie Streets but in less than an hour only a few stone buildings remained. Within four days of the catastrophic fire, Vancouver started to rebuild and purchased its first fire truck.
Like many parts of Vancouver, Yaletown’s early days were shaped by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). In 1886, the City offered CPR a 20 year exemption from local taxes if it built its rail yards and repair facilities on False Creek’s north shore. The CPR agreed, moving its machinery and employees from its former shops at Yale in the Fraser River canyon. This move is what sparked the name Yaletown.
Yaletown saw an industrial boom over the next 20 years and was home to factories, a cooperage, rail yards, lumber yards, and 13 “beehive burners” Logs from the forests of B.C. were gathered in Yaletown and processed into lumber. This lumber was used for railway construction and for Canadian furniture fabrication. The waste wood after processing was burned in the beehive burners of False Creek.
By 1910 Vancouver became the wholesaling centre for western Canada. Yaletown was in the centre of warehouse activity as lumber, tea, coffee, textiles, wooden barrels and steel goods was repackaged and shipped to other parts of BC. This prompted the City to lay out a new eight-block warehouse district near the original Yaletown. Next door to the old CPR Yaletown, this new Yaletown (the one most commonly recognized today) was bounded by Nelson, Homer, Drake and Pacific Streets.
By the 1960s, Yaletown had focused into a garment and fashion district, home to labels such as Lore Marie Wiener, Mary Quant, Nygard and Paco Rabanne. The swinging ‘60s produced miniskirts and go-go boots, see-through plastic dresses and topless bathing suits. Bell bottom pants and platform shoes were not far behind as Yaletown supplied the hottest fashions to shopping icons Woodwards, Drysdales and Spencers.
In the late 1970’s and 1980’s, Yaletown became the focus for a series of changes in the downtown area. Young urban professionals were attracted to Yaletown’s old warehouses. Over the years, Yaletown went through many phases such as: warehouse district, garment industry, and dot.com. What makes Yaletown unique is that pieces of these phases still remain a part of Yaletown today. The City recognized Yaletown’s architectural importance by zoning it as a historical district which allows for new uses while maintaining the special character of the area.
Today, the Yaletown area is home to 27 heritage sites as listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register as well as the famous Roundhouse Community Centre, which is a provincial heritage site.
Historic Dates to Note:
May 23, 1887 was a great day for Yaletown, when CPR Engine 374 pulled the first transcontinental train into the city.
May 1905 the Recreation Park was opened to the public. 3,500 people were on hand at the brand new Recreation Park to watch the first home game of the newest team in the Northwestern League, the Vancouver Veterans. The park was located in the 5 acres bordered by Smithe St, Nelson St, Hamilton St and Homer St.
Canada’s first gas station opened in 1907 at the southeast corner of Cambie and Smythe (now spelled Smithe) in Yaletown. This station was operated by the Imperial Oil Company, where pails were hand-dipped into a large wooden barrel of gasoline and then transferred to cars.