How the Chinese saved Strathcona

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Last week I mentioned how– Crosscut, a Seattle blog, had called our $1.2 billion South Fraser Perimeter Road section “the highway to hell” and placed it on a list of the worst offences against heritage in North America.

The whole project pales in comparison to a 1960s plan for a freeway system that would have wiped out Strathcona, most of Chinatown, much of the West End, plopped an ocean parkway along English Bay, and turned Vancouver into a mini Los Angeles, in what Gordon Price recently called “the most important thing that never happened.”

The plan was to construct a freeway between Union and Prior Streets, while another proposal called for a giant trench that would run through downtown from the Burrard Bridge to a third crossing of Burrard Inlet from Stanley Park.

Fortunately for us, the only part of the plan that eventuated is the contentious Georgia Viaduct that nobody seems to know what to do with.

The freeway system included an Ocean Parkway along English Bay
The 1960’s freeway proposal for Vancouver

Some people believe that the freeway proposal died because of lack of federal funding, but I like to think it was because of grassroots opposition.

In 1959, city planners declared Strathcona a slum, and very nearly made it into one. They stopped regular public works maintenance, stopped issuing redevelopment permits, and harassed home owners who tried to make improvements to their property. Called “urban renewal,” the first phase of the $100 million program saw 30 acres and dozens of gorgeous old heritage houses bulldozed to make way for the MacLean Park highrise and the Raymur-Campbell Public Housing Project.

over 30 acres of housing razed
Urban Renewal in Strathcona 1966

Three years later, the second phase went ahead, displacing 2,300 people, mostly Chinese. By 1967, the city had cleared 15 blocks of houses and started to stash the disenfranchised into soulless public housing.

But residents fought back. People like Mary Chan and Harry Con founded the Strathcona Property and Tenants Association (SPOTA) in 1968 and gathered up more than 600 locals in a fight to save their neighbourhood.

The full story of how the Chinese saved Strathcona is in At Home with History: the secrets of Greater Vancouver’s heritage homes

© All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Eve Lazarus.


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  1. Those who arrived and remained, the long-time residents of Strathcona including my parents, will remember some of the efforts by the people in SPOTA. I hope current residents of the neighbourhood will also know and acknowledge some of that history. Thanks for writing about this, Eve.

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