With files from Lynda Steele.
Here in Vancouver, we’re used to hearing stories about development.
In this city of glass, it’s hard to remember a time before real estate deals and luxury towers were part of the conversation.
But we can trace the craze back to one neighbourhood that became the blueprint for the rest.
The original Vancouver development story starts in Yaletown, which rose from an industrial wasteland to its present gentrified glory within a few short years.
We know what it looks like today – shiny condo towers, upscale restaurants, specialist salons, and gluten free eateries.
But at the turn of the century, as the main site for the CPR terminus, Yaletown was a very different place.
Rough and tumble times
Historian Maurice Guibord says the stretch of land on the north shore of False Creek was named after CPR workers, who moved there from the railway town of Yale to work on the CPR terminus station there.
“Yaletown was not the suave location that we have today. It was pretty rough and tumble, it boasted the largest number of saloons in the lower mainland, and really it was just that far away enough from the arm of the law that pretty much anything that you wanted to happen, happened there.”
The workers also the first crack at Yaletown real estate.
“The workers who were brought in from Yale – because they knew what they were doing – were often living in floating houses and barges right in False Creek.”
Throughout the vast majority of the 20th century, Yaletown wasn’t much more than a workyard.
After the railway, different industries set up, but the feel of the neighbourhood didn’t change much with the sound of sawmills, chain makers, shipbuilding, and brickyards ringing through the air.
Fast forward to the 1970s, when a new idea proved to be the catalyst for a whole new Yaletown.
Enter Expo 86
Expo 86 would transform the land from warehouses, loading bays, and cheap parking lots into something worthy of an international spotlight.
Yaletown would never be the same again.
Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing bought up the 84 acre-package of the Expo lands from the VanderZalm government with a winning bid of $320 million.
In today’s dollars? About $580 million.
That deal began the upscale tower transformation we know today , and the beginning of a narrative we’ve become pretty familiar with by 2016.
“These were the first inroads of offshore interest in our properties,” says Guibord, “so we found that towers were sold before they were barely advertised in a tiny little ad in the classifieds, whereas they were advertised in full pages in Hong Kong.”
Millionaire enclave? Not so fast…
But while Yaletown may have plenty of luxury apartments and a yuppie reputation, all that development hasn’t created an enclave that exclusively welcomes millionaire and movie stars.
To the surprise of some, it’s also become home to a growing number of young families who are trading the white picket fence for a tiny condo and a slice of city life.
Adrian Crook is a young dad and Yaletown resident who blogs at 5kids1condo.com
He’s raising his big family in a small space because he says neighbourhoods like Yaletown offer the best of city life, and it’s an ideal place to grow up.
“There’s so much that Yaletown has in terms of family amenities – there are a bunch of different parks – it’s generally clean and safe. Right now I can send my kids to pick up my sushi or drop off my drycleaning or they can go across the street to 711 or they can go to the coffeeshop and nerd out on their devices for a bit, and they can do all that on their own. So I can give them a bit of a free range kind of lifestyle in the few blocks around our apartment. Yaletown has that right balance of safety and proximity to transit.”
And he says he’s far from alone. Over the last decade, Yaletown’s yuppies have grown into parents.
“We are not the only ones doing this, there are 50 or 60 kids in my building alone”
In fact, while several of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods are fighting school closures, the school-age population downtown is growing.
Burgeoning population of children
Public schools in the downtown peninsula are so full, the Vancouver School Board is building a new elementary school near the International Village complex a short walk east of Yaletown.
And while Yaletown still has that upscale reputation, Adrian says it’s not out of reach for non-millionaires.
He lives in an older condo building, and through some very careful planning of space, accommodates himself and his 5 kids in a two bedroom and den apartment.
And best of all, the urban life lets him save big time on his transportation bill:
“More and more I think people are seeing that there’s a longer term plan to living in the city with kids – that you don’t have to leave and totally give up your life and there are ways to make it work. And not just make it work – but thrive.”
One thing’s for certain – Yaletown’s reputation has changed again…and again… and again.
Over the last century.
And the Yaletown as we know it may not last forever, either.