Monday 26 August 2013

Built in Vancouver

I'm in Vancouver, Canada, in the first few days of an epic trek across the vast country.

Actually, it's more of a three-week working vacation in the company of my other half, fantasy author Narrelle M Harris, who's visiting Canada for the very first time (and you can read her first take on Vancouver here).

I've been to Vancouver before, and something that has struck me about the place is its dramatic short history and the wealth of interesting architecture dotted about the older parts of town.

The fledging city was almost entirely burned down in 1886, so little here is older than a century; but there's an interesting variety remaining, for all that. Here are some intriguing structures which have caught my eye this time round:

1. This excellent and harmonious landmark is the Dominion Building. Completed in 1910, it was apparently the tallest commercial building in the British Empire at the time. More interesting is its screen history - it and the adjacent Victory Square have appeared in productions as diverse as The Neverending Story and Battlestar Galactica.

2. This student housing on Dunsmuir Street is near our hotel, the St Regis. Built in 1908, it was once the Dunsmuir Hotel but is now located at the other end of the spectrum from the St Regis in terms of poshness.

The three blocks were connected together at street level but separated above, presumably to provide light wells for inward-facing rooms.

Sensing the spirit of gentrification at work all around this part of Vancouver, I can't help envisaging this place as a set of luxury apartments in, say, a decade from now:

3. Here's the grand 1939 Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, one of many such edifices built by the company early last century to serve well-heeled railway passengers. It was the third building to bear the Hotel Vancouver title.

According to Will Woods of Forbidden Vancouver tours, the company's chief condition for completing its construction during the Depression was that the legendarily palatial second Hotel Vancouver across the road be demolished, thus removing competition.

4. This is the Marine Building from a somewhat steep angle. Opened in 1930, this office tower, another "tallest in the British Empire" title holder, is famous for its Art Deco detail inside and out. Constructed for 2.3 million dollars, it was knocked down for $900,000 to the Guinness family of Ireland during the Great Depression:

5. In the dodgy Downtown Eastside district, once the centre of Vancouver but since fallen on hard times, is the Vancouver Police Museum. Housed in the 1932 Coroner's Court, its most fascinating element is the former morgue and autopsy room at the rear, which has been retained with some of its macabre fixtures.

On one wall is a portrait of Hollywood movie legend and Australian emigre Errol Flynn, who passed away after a lively Vancouver party in 1959 and then passed through this facility for a post mortem:

6. And speaking of Hollywood, on the day we passed Vancouver's HR MacMillan Space Centre, they were shooting a George Clooney movie onsite and had moved this giant statue of a Dungeness Crab away from its entrance to a temporary position on the edge of the street.

So we can safely assume George wasn't starring in a sequel to Roger Corman's 1957 masterpiece, Attack of the Crab Monsters. More's the pity.

Disclosure time... On this trip I travelled courtesy of the Canadian Tourism Commission and Tourism Vancouver.

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