Discover Vancouver One Building at a Time

How much has Vancouver changed in the last 19 years? The original Exploring Vancouver was first published in 1974 and this forth edition is an update of the 1993 book. Over the years, especially post-Olympics, new buildings have sprung up, neighbourhoods have transformed and Vancouver’s cityscape has changed considerably.

Written by Harold Kalman and Robin Ward, with photographs by John Roaf, the book takes readers through 14 different regions of the city. Each area features a brief overview of the neighbourhood, a map and photographs with information about more than 450 architectural gems. Roaf actually left Canada in the 70’s to work in the UK, but he returned to reunite and take the photos.

This is no dry textbook for building buffs though. Lively writing and fun facts make it a welcome companion to any city walk. It’s not just obvious landmarks like BC Place Stadium, Vancouver Art Gallery and Granville Island Public Market that get coverage. Much of the book’s charm lies in its celebration of the relatively mundane and the downright quirky. Topics cover everything from Safeway’s double-curved roof up on South Granville to Shoppers Drug Mart further north in downtown, tenement housing of Japanese sawmill workers and the history behind the BowMac/Toys r Us sign.

This is much more than just an architectural guide – stories about the history and culture of the city are interwoven into the fabric of the different styles of craftsmanship and the various uses for heritage buildings through the years.

Vancouver Specials, boxy houses with low-pitched roofs and  balconies built in the 70’s and 80’s are mentioned, as are cement works, supermarkets and shopping malls – it’s not just about ‘good’ architecture, but instead explores the relatively young buildings that make Vancouver unique.

Original versions of the book had more of an emphasis on historic and heritage structures, but this new edition is more evenly split between new builds like the epic Shangri-la hotel and the 1932 Spanish Colonial style mansion Casa Mia on SW Marine Drive

Kalman, who works in heritage conservation, was involved with the Woodwards building reconstruction and the front cover features a photograph of the salvaged W from the original 1903 building. Perhaps more than any other new build in the city, the Woodwards project  signals a sea-change in the Gastown and DTES, with a focus on livable preservation of historic sites.

At a time when many of Vancouver’s old theatres are closing, it’s nice to have a record of places like the Orpheum and Vogue on Granville as a reminder of ‘theatre row’ and the neon-lit history of the area. Bigger photographs, more new entries and an engaging and educational style make this book an ideal companion for any city dweller looking to learn more about their urban environment. Maps give a clear indication of how to bike, walk or drive between featured buildings and despite being a fairly hefty tome, it’s light enough to carry around as a reference book. Give it a read and look again at Vancouver in a whole new light.