History Walking Tour

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Duration: 1 hour
Starting Point: Mainland and Davie Street 

Take a self-guided tour through Yaletown, where Canadian Pacific Railway decided to build it’s western terminus in 1886.

CPR engine 374

Until a few years ago Yaletown, the warehouse district in Vancouver’s Downtown South area, was relatively unknown to most Vancouverites. Now with its mixture of art galleries, retail stores, restaurants, offices and new residential developments, Yaletown has become a vital part of the city. In Yaletown you can still see early rooming houses, late 19th century warehouses and some surviving single-family homes. This tour will introduce you to the area’s history and point out buildings of special historical and architectural interest.

The entire tour will take about 1 hour beginning on Mainland and Davie Street, right next to the train stop. If possible, walk the tour during business hours so that you see the interiors of commercial buildings and appreciate the interesting mixture of old and new Yaletown establishments.

yaletown history board

The Yaletown BIA has furnished the walking route with innovative new benches created from reclaimed lumber and designed to hint at Yaletown’s past railway heritage. Recently, the Yaletown BIA introduced new Yaletown History Board signage along the sidewalk to further add interest along the route.

1. Last Stop: Yaletown
2. Loading docks
3. Explore Yaletown
4. Canadian Bag Company
5. Yaletown Streets
6. Fashion
7. Parks & Recreation
8. Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR)
9. First gas station
10. Yaletown Industrial Sector
11. Lumber: An important part of Yaletown’s history
12. Explore Yaletown
13. Yaletown History: Vignette 1
14. From barrels to stadium
15. Bridges of Yaletown
16. Public Art
17. A neighbourhood develops
18. Explore Yaletown
19. Yaletown History: Vignette 2
20. The Great Fire
21. Was that a horse grazing in Yaletown?
22. It’s a jungle out there
23. Ogilvie’s “royal household” brand flavour
24. The sweetest address on Homer
25. Before the towers, did anyone actually live in Yaletown?
26. A-list tenants
27. Toilet tissue?
28. From banking to barking
29. H.J. Heinz CO.
30. Fire (s) in the 1100 block of Homer
31. The empress of Jams and Jellies
32. Pioneers in radio… And refrigerators, and stoves, and…
33. Yaletown’s “Automotive” past… And present
34. The Quadra Vancouver’s first
35. How to start a business in Yaletown
36. Bulman Bros. Printing


Thank you to our sponsors:

ALAN HERBERT        bigtime

cantury21fine-find HSG_Logo

reckless yaletown-dentistry-logo-black-background-1



Places to Visit

1. Last Stop: Yaletown

Mainland Street, outside Strozzi Eyewear, next to Starbucks.

May 23, 1887 was a great day for Yaletown, when CPR Engine 374 pulled the first transcontinental train into the city. The train is currently housed at the Roundhouse in Yaletown.

2. Loading docks

Outside Mortgage Evolution Yaletown on Mainland Street.

The unique raised loading docks serviced rail cars and trucks, helping thousands of tons of goods to be moved through Yaletown to the quickly growing province of British Columbia. Those same raised loading docks that transferred all manner of goods from buggy, rail and truck have now become the hottest patios in the city.


3. Explore Yaletown

In front of L’Antipasto on Mainland Street.


Yaletown is rich in history. As one of Vancouver’s oldest communities, it has transformed from an industrial area into a urban neighbourhood.

4. Canadian Bag Company

Outside of Yaletown Brewing Company on Mainland Street.


For over 100 years, Yaletown has been a centre of industry and creativity. Today, many of the original warehouses have been converted to more modern uses to accommodate the 900 businesses of current Yaletown.


5. Yaletown Streets

Outside Earls Kitchen, Mainland Street.


When the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) moved its rail yards from Yale in the Fraser River Canyon to False Creek they naturally named the new location Yaletown.

6. Fashion

Outside Sport Lounge PHAT on Mainland Street.


Yaletown is a very talented neighbourhood that has gone through many phases since the 1880s. For over 100 years, it was the transportation and wholesale supply centre for Vancouver.

Today, high fashion still lives in Yaletown in the trendiest boutiques and design studios of the City. Labelseekers will discover European couture, leading edge design studios and the latest in urban trends from New York, Milan and Canada.

7. Parks & Recreation

Outside West Oak restaurant on Main street.


The recreation park that opened in 1905 was the first in the city to be completely fenced. It survived until 1913 when it was replaced by a new athletic park at 5th and Hemlock.

In 2010 the Olympic Winter Games came to Yaletown and it became a major centre for entertainment and festivities.


8. Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR)

Between Subway and The Keg on Mainland Street.


When the Canadian Pacific Railway decided that Yaletown would be its western headquarters, the “Canadian Dream” of a national confederation was realized.

The Yaletown Business Improvement Association has located an authentic, decommissioned railway caboose near Mainland and Nelson, alongside Yaletown Park.


9. First gas station


Canada’s first gas station opened in 1907 at the southeast corner of Cambie and Smythe in Yaletown.

10. Yaletown Industrial Sector

Outside Hamilton Street Grill on Hamilton Street.


Yaletown was home to factories, a cooperage, rail
yards, lumber yards, and 13 “beehive burners” (pictured

Today, Yaletown delivers world class designers and artisans craft award winning masterpieces that continue to solidify Yaletown as a creative community.

11. Lumber: An important part of Yaletown’s history

Opposite of Yaletown Dentistry on Hamilson Street.


Timbers from first-growth trees were used to build railway trestles, bridges and ties, bringing train service into the heart of Vancouver, and forever establishing the city as a transportation hub.

“Railway Lumber” has continued to be used in Yaletown to construct warehouses and rail yard work sheds, and recently to produce unique wood furnishings.

10 igen


12. Explore Yaletown

In front of Blue Water Cafe on Hamilton Street.


Yaletown is rich in history. As one of Vancouver’s oldest communities, it has transformed from an industrial area into a urban neighbourhood.

13. Yaletown History: Vignette 1

Outside of Milestone’s Grill & Bar on Hamilton Street.


Yaletown hosts over 25 municipal heritage sites, and a
provincial heritage designation site (the Roundhouse).

14. From barrels to stadium

Outside restaurant Cioppinos on  Hamilton Street.


As Canada’s only manufacturer of wooden barrels,
the Sweeney Cooperage Ltd. operated in Yaletown
(1929-1981) on the site that now houses BC Place
Stadium, the world’s largest air supported stadium.

15. Bridges of Yaletown

Next to Tavern at The New Oxford on Hamilton Street.


Yaletown has always been the point of connection between the downtown core and the west and south sides of Vancouver. From its earliest days, bridges have spanned False Creek.

Today there are three bridges that connect Yaletown
with neighbouring areas of Vancouver; The Cambie Street Bridge, The Granville Street Bridge and The Burrard Street Bridge.

16. Public Art

Between Blush and Hapa Izakaya on Hamilton Street.


The Ring Gear monument, eight metre high, was installed in its current location to commemorate the bridge designers and builders. The Ring Gear’s unique history makes it one of Yaletown’s most iconic pieces of public art.

17. A neighbourhood develops

In front of La Pentola on Davie street.


Designed as a shipping and transfer point for rail
goods, Yaletown was the centre of warehouse activity
in Vancouver.

Today Yaletown is a true urban community, warehouses have become condominiums, loading docks have become patios, and rail yards have become backyards to over 14,000 residents.


18. Explore Yaletown

Next to the restaurant Simply Thai on Hamilton Street.


Yaletown is rich in history. As one of Vancouver’s oldest communities, it has transformed from an industrial area into a urban neighbourhood.

19. Yaletown History: Vignette 2

Outside Society Dining Lounge on Hamilton Street.


The commercial buildings of Yaletown represent the original height of the warehouses in Yaletown. The City of Vancouver protected the area by declaring it a heritage district.

20. The Great Fire

By Drake and Hamilton Street.


In 1886 a fire started in Yaletown. It travelled quickly, burning the entire city to the ground within 60 minutes.

One hundred years later in May 1986, Vancouver hosted the World Exposition on the north shore of False Creek and waterfront of Yaletown.


21. Was that a horse grazing in Yaletown?

Outside of Century 21

It’s hard to imagine today but once upon a time, the entire warehouse district in Yaletown – some 20 to 25 acres – was rough pasture covered with grass and small trees. And every Sunday you could find the Imperial Oil delivery horses frolicking in the fresh air and grazing on sweet grass.

22. It's a jungle out there

Outside of Pacific Point


Squatting has been a way of life along Vancouver’s waterfront since the
city’s earliest days. During the Great Depression, thousands of single
unemployed men poured into the city from all over the West looking
for work. With no money, and no where to live, they ended up in the
“Jungles”, one of the many shanty towns that were springing up all along
the waterfront. At the foot of Drake Street, squatter’s shacks were packed in along
the railway flats at False Creek.

23. Ogilvie's "royal household" brand flavour

 Outside of Xoxolat


Back in the day, most households baked rather than bought. And Ogilvie Flour was a major player in supplying Vancouver’s household bakers. The company’s Vancouver mill was located at 1280 Homer.

24. The sweetest address on Homer

 Outside of Homer Dental Centre


Built in 1946, some 30 years after Yaletown’s warehouse building boom, 1220 Homer Street is a rather utilitarian building from the outside when compared to its more ornate neighbours to the north and the south. Utilitarian or not, this sweet little building was the home of Lowney’s Chocolates in Vancouver.

25. Before the towers, did anyone actually live in Yaletown?

Opposite from Posy Nail Spa


Yaletown’s early days were shaped by the Canadian Pacific Railway when
the company located its railyards, repair facilities and its employees on
False Creek near the foot of Davie Street. From 1886 onwards, most
workers lived in nearby rooming houses such as the Yaletown Towers at
1241 Homer Street.

Then the economy started to boom at the turn of the last century and the
City laid out a new eight-block warehouse district in the newly released
CPR lands in what we know today as Yaletown.


26. A-list tenants

Outside of JJ Bean


1206 Homer Street can claim a “Who’s Who” of A-list tenants over the
years from the building’s start in 1912.

27. Toilet tissue?


Outside of Opus Salong



Paper is paper no matter what it is used for, and that’s why a stationer – a supplier of paper for writing and printing purposes – would be selling toilet “tissue” as well. Welcome to paper selling by Smith Davidson & Wright in the first half of the last century.

28. From banking to barking


Outside of Barking Babies

bank bark
The McMaster Building at 1188 Homer Street lists its 1920 tenant as The Royal Bank of Canada, Homer Street Branch. This was likely one of the first banks in Yaletown. Fast forward to 2004, and gutsy retailer Nancy Jelenic and her Jack Russell Terrier, Quintin opened “barking babies”, a lifestyle boutique for the hip and canine. bark

29. H.J. Heinz CO.


Opposite of The New Oxford



In 1924, the Vancouver branch office of H.J. Heinz Company – and all of its 57 varieties – opened in Yaletown at 1138 Homer Street. Heinz Ketchup is well known and loved by Canadians, and is produced for Canadians – by Canadians – in Leamington, Ontario. The early Vancouver sales team likely used displays such as the one below to promote and sell its ketchup.

30. Fire (s) in the 1100 block of Homer

Opposite of Scotiabank


The 1100 block of Homer has seen its fair share of fires. This one, from
1938, gives us a very clear idea of the dangers that the fire fighters of
the day faced as they climbed those incredibly tall ladders while having to
navigate the maze of hoses on the ground. Note how the wooden ladders
had to rest dangerously on the burning building.

31. The empress of Jams and Jellies



Helmcken st. down from Homer st.



Walter Taylor, founder and Managing Director of Empress Manufacturing
Company, located his business at the corner of Homer and Helmcken.
Empress was the maker of jams, jellies, marmalades, and a rather
(almost) famous barbeque sauce.


32. Pioneers in radio... And refrigerators, and stoves, and...


Outside of CIBC bank



When the Westinghouse Company opened its Vancouver sales and service location at 1090 Homer Street, it’s likely that the showroom was stocked with all the electrical products and appliances that Westinghouse was so well known for.

33. Yaletown's "Automotive" past... And present


Outside of Yyoga


For a neighbourhood so closely associated with the Canadian Pacific Railway, it’s interesting to trace Yaletown’s automotive past. Dunlop Tire & Rubber Goods was a British company who had discovered the pneumatic tire. Dunlop Tire in Canada moved into the 25 year old building at 1290 Homer in 1935. Ultimately, Dunlop Tire would become part of US based Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. But in it’s hey-day, Dunlop Tire was well known so much more than tires – rubber garden hoses, tennis rackets and work footwear. Two blocks down the street at 1014 Homer Street, General Motors was likely the first tenant in the newly constructed building in 1932.


34. The Quadra Vancouver's first

Opposite of Macstation


On July 6, 1979, Yaletown became home to the first lesbian-owned and lesbian-run bar in Vancouver. The Quadra, located at 1055 Homer Street and on top of a postal sorting station, was only open for a short 18 months, but the impact was felt strongly by the city’s lesbian and gay community.

35. How to start a business in Yaletown

Outside of the RBC Royal Bank hoemr 1. Be an entrepreneur, or 2. Marry the boss’ wife Bernard Cobin was working at The Warehouse selling mattresses at 996 Homer Street. When the owner died, Bernard did two things: changed his name to Harry Hammer and married the boss’ widow.

36. Bulman Bros. Printing



Outside the Buzz Cafe


In 1930, Bulman Bros. Ltd. of Winnipeg bought out BC Printing & Litho Ltd. and set up their Vancouver shop at 901 Homer Street, corner of Homer and Smithe. From the printed samples that still exist in archives, Bulman Bros. showed a varied client list: picture postcards from the 30s, a 1959 campsite map for British Columbia, apple crate labels for the Salmon Arm Farmers’ Exchange and even a school exercise book.