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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

A Year in Five Minutes: Vancouver 1973

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Granville Island, photographed here in 1917, would see major transformations begin in 1973. Item # Wat P93.Granville Island, photographed here in 1917, would see major transformations begin in 1973. See details below. Item # Wat P93. 

This year saw the start of the Downtown Eastside Residents’ Association, the Agricultural Land Reserve and ICBC. It was also the year that would change Rick Hansen’s life.

By Chuck Davis, The History of Vancouver
Photos courtesy of Vancouver Archives



DERA was born in 1973. Writing in The Greater Vancouver Book (1997), Jim Green said: “Community decisions [in the Downtown East Side] were being made by City Council or the province, church groups or planners. Most, if not all the organizations, had boards composed entirely of people from outside the community. The residents themselves had no voice. In 1973, with the support of the Social Planning Department of the City of Vancouver, this situation changed. Planner Peter Davies was sent to deal with some of the problems in the area. (Among the worst were concerns about the health of the residents. The area had one of the highest incidences of tuberculosis in the country, and its women had an extremely short life span compared with women in other communities.) Davies decided what was needed was a democratic organization to permanently alter the situation. The fact that many residents were single, elderly men was considered by many to be a negative component, but it became the strongest because many of those same men had experienced the Dirty Thirties, and had been in unemployment organizations such as the Single Men’s Unemployment Association, the Relief Camp Workers Union and various other anti-poverty organizations that were very strong at that time.

“Davies,” Green continued, “met a retired member of the Canadian Seaman’s Union who had lived in the Downtown Eastside for many years. Although Bruce Eriksen had no formal education, he was very knowledgeable about the conditions and people in the neighborhood. Bruce began to organize community meetings to identify the problems of the community. One early accomplishment was the lighting of lanes to prevent robberies and beatings by people hiding in unlit corners. This early success provided the residents with evidence of the organization’s collective abilities and power.

“In 1973 Bruce Eriksen and a handful of others set up the Downtown Eastside Residents’ Association to build a democratic voice and bring pride and self-esteem to the people of the community. DERA required its members to be residents of the community. The first order of business was to name the area, which for many years had been known as Skid Road. It had never been recognized as a community of human beings. DERA named it ‘The Downtown Eastside.’”

Granville Island

On January 12, 1973 Ron Basford, minister of urban affairs and Liberal MP for Vancouver Centre, announced that Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, a federal body, had acquired Granville Island and would develop it. The Island is a huge attraction today, second in Vancouver only to Stanley Park, popular with both visitors and locals: shops, studios, restaurants, sightseeing and funky old buildings.

In The Greater Vancouver Book Tom Poiker outlined the Island’s attractions: “Granville Island was once a dilapidated and ugly industrial region in the middle of Vancouver. But, thanks to an imaginative federal government scheme (who would have guessed?) the island—which was originally nothing more than a sandbar that disappeared at high tide, then was built up with silt taken from elsewhere—has been transformed since 1973 into a Mecca for shopping and cultural activities.”

Ron Basford Park, on the Island, was named for the man who pushed hard for the concept.


On April 18, 1973 the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) was created. On March 1, 1974 all motor vehicles in BC would be required to have their vehicles insured by ICBC.

Agricultural Land Reserve

Also on April 18: To quote the Agricultural Land Reserve’s own web site: “Up to the 1970s nearly 6,000 hectares of prime agricultural land were lost each year to urban and other uses. The Provincial government responded to the serious erosion of our agricultural land base by introducing BC’s Land Commission Act on April 18, 1973.”

A Commission, appointed by the provincial government, established a special land use zone to protect BC’s dwindling supply of agricultural land. This zone was called the “Agricultural Land Reserve.” Initially the ALR comprised 4.7 million hectares, about five per cent of the province.

Sedgewick Library

The Sedgewick Undergraduate Library opened its doors at UBC in January, 1973. It was a popular area of study for new university students and a favorite tourist attraction for visitors. It was one of the largest branches in the UBC Library system, and—thanks to the architectural firm of Rhone and Iredale—one of the most innovative in design. When the student population increased rapidly in the 1960s, UBC decided to construct a new library building devoted entirely to undergraduate needs. Students’ traffic surveys indicated the best location would be the Main Mall, close to the Main Library. To preserve the area’s open space, it was decided to build the new library partially underground. The eight magnificent oaks that had lined the Mall for decades were incorporated into the design. The name of the library would cease to exist when the renovation attaching it to the Koerner Library was completed. The Koerner would open March 10, 1997.

Karen Magnussen

On March 3 Vancouver-born (April 4, 1952) Karen Magnussen, who trained first at Kerrisdale Arena, then at the North Shore Winter Club, won the World Women’s Figure Skating Championship, held in Bratislava in what was then Czechoslovakia. She was awarded the Order of Canada and the Freedom of the District of North Vancouver. (Magnussen was Canada’s Athlete of the Year in 1971 and 1972.) She was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 1972. A North Vancouver arena would later be named for her.

Rick Hansen

On June 27, 1973 15-year-old Port Alberni student Rick Hansen—still exhilarated from being named his school’s Athlete of the Year—was terribly injured in a motor vehicle crash returning with a couple of friends from some fishing. They hitchhiked a ride on a truck, the driver of which was drinking. A few miles on and the driver lost control of his vehicle. The truck overturned. Rick’s back was broken and he became a paraplegic. Every Canadian knows what Rick made of that horrific event. His 1985-87 Man in Motion tour—during which he wheeled 40,000 kilometres around the world—was a physical, mental and emotional triumph and raised $24 million. He has raised many more millions for research into spinal cord injury through the Rick Hansen Institute at UBC, and has encouraged thousands of people with disabilities.

Grandview United Church in 1973, before becoming 'The Cultch'. Photo by Walter Edwin Frost. Item # CVA 447-147. Grandview United Church in 1973, before becoming ‘The Cultch’. Photo by Walter Edwin Frost. Item # CVA 447-147. 

The Cultch

The Vancouver East Cultural Centre opened October 15, 1973 at 1895 Venables in the city’s east end in what had been a church. (The church, Grandview United, which had opened in 1909 as Grandview Methodist, closed in 1967.) As architectural historian Dr. Harold Kalman writes, “Founding director Christopher Wootten co-ordinated municipal, provincial, and federal support programs to make the ambitious project happen . . . The church was transformed into a theatre, recital hall and community facility for its then culture-starved neighborhood . . . The intimate audience chamber, with its good sight-lines and acoustics and a feeling of warmth, and which can seat up to 350, has made ‘The Cultch’ a popular performing-arts venue that attracts people from far beyond East Vancouver.” The rehabilitation was by John Keith-King. In 2010 it underwent a further transformation.

Anna Wyman’s dance company was the first to perform there, stayed two weeks.

Bill Bennett leads

“I want everyone in B.C. to know I am my own man.” Bill Bennett, the brand-new leader of the provincial Social Credit party, was addressing delegates November 24, 1973 at the Socred leadership convention in the Hotel Vancouver. The line was a reference to Bennett’s father, W.A.C., ensconced in a 14th-floor suite of the hotel, deliberately keeping away from his son’s moment of triumph. The elder Bennett had been defeated Aug. 30, 1972 by the NDP’s Dave Barrett after 20 years as premier. His son oozed confidence. “We’ll win the upcoming North Vancouver-Capilano byelection,” he told the delegates, “and we’ll win the next provincial election.” His score as a prognosticator: 50 per cent. Liberal Gordon Gibson won the byelection, but Bill Bennett’s Socreds did indeed go on to win the bigger prize.


The United Chinese Community Enrichment Services Society (SUCCESS) was founded. Their web site says: “Founded in 1973 and incorporated in 1974 as a non-profit charitable organization, S.U.C.C.E.S.S. is now one of the largest immigration and social service agencies in British Columbia. Its mandate is to promote the well being of Canadians and immigrants, and to encourage their involvement in the community. This is done through the provision of social, educational and health services, business and community development, and advocacy.”

Also in 1973

An old brewery on Granville Island was renovated and named the Creekhouse, becoming the first building on the island to be converted from industrial use. It opened for business January 18.

On February 8 Eatons opened its Pacific Centre store.

On February 14 provincial education minister Eileen Dailly ordered the strap abolished from BC schools

Walter Stewart Owen was sworn in March 19 as B.C.’s lieutenant-governor, succeeding John Nicholson.

The federal government gave title to the Jericho Defence Lands to the City of Vancouver on April 1. The city made it a 72-acre park.

The first traffic barriers went in in the West End on June 18.

The opening of False Creek Park June 23 marked the official start to redeveloping the False Creek area.

West Vancouver, which had held May Day celebrations since 1931, discontinued them under that name in June, 1973. The new title was Community Days, and there were no more May Queens . . . because the celebrations were now held in June.

On August 31 the Greater Vancouver Transit System took over the city’s transit, under contract from BC Hydro. This would last to March 31, 1980.

Burnaby and New Westminster co-hosted Canada’s Summer Games in August. Preparations included the creation of a 2,200-metre rowing course on Burnaby Lake, then one of only three such competitive courses in North America. The New Westminster venue was Queen’s Park.

The last movie played at the Strand Theatre September 3, 1973.

The demand for French language classes within the Vancouver public school system had been increasing during the late 1960s and the 1970s. As a result, L’Ecole Bilingue opened in September 1973 in a section of Cecil Rhodes School. L’Ecole Bilingue took over the entire school with its French-immersion program, and by 1996 would have an enrolment of 350 students in classes from kindergarten to grade 7.

The problem of the rapidly growing resident student numbers at BCIT, the BC Institute of Technology, was eased in September 1973 when an unoccupied building, formerly the Willingdon Avenue School for Girls, was converted into a residence for about 100 students.

First, in 1922, it was Radio CFQC. Then, in 1928, it became CKMO. In February of 1955 the station became C-FUN, (sometimes written CFUN). In 1968 it changed owners and got its fourth name, CKVN, emphasizing news. In October CKVN died and CFUN was reborn at the same spot on the dial as a contemporary music station.

Also in October, the Capilano Salmon Hatchery, near Cleveland Dam, opened. Before the dam the Capilano River produced 1,000 to 2,000 coho salmon annually. Twenty years later the hatchery was returning to the river annually half a million coho, from two to three million chinook and 20,000 steelhead trout.

Mission’s Ferndale Prison, a minimum security institution with 121 inmates (designed for a capacity of 110), opened in November 1973.

Capilano College’s new Lynnmour Centre, consisting of classrooms, Media Centre, library, science labs, and cafeteria was officially opened in November.

The Greater Vancouver Visitors and Convention Bureau changed its name to the Greater Vancouver Convention and Visitors Bureau. In 1986 it would change again to Tourism Vancouver.

A number of publications first appeared in 1973. They included: The monthly business magazine BC Business. It’s published by Canada Wide Magazines Ltd., and covers prominent business leaders and key developments in the local area. Canada Wide has sponsored 1976 in The History of Metropolitan Vancouver. BCSF A-ZINE, a monthly publication of the British Columbia Science Fiction Association, published in Vancouver. The Link (Vancouver), published twice weekly by Link Communications Ltd. It was free, printed in English, with some Punjabi. Madison’s Canadian Lumber Reporter, a trade weekly devoted to North American lumber market activity. The North Delta Sentinel, a free bi-weekly suburban community newspaper. Speak Up!, a quarterly for “Christians Concerned for Racial Equality,” published by the Bible Holiness Movement. Wargamer, a bi-monthly published in Burnaby.

The Vancouver Blazers, of the now-defunct World Hockey Association, began. The Blazers, owned by businessman Jimmy Pattison, were active until 1975. They entered hockey history in more ways than one: the first professional goaltender to use a curved stick in a hockey game was the Blazers’ Don Mcleod.

Vancouver’s George Athans Jr. won the world crown for water-skiing at Bogota, Colombia and would be inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 1976.

Iona Campagnolo, born in Vancouver October 18, 1932, was awarded the Order of Canada “for her wide-ranging services in organizing, promoting and conducting community projects in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.” Later she will become the first woman to be named B.C.’s lieutenant-governor.

With 40 fire deaths this was the worst year in the city’s history. “This terrible toll,” says Alex Matches, historian of the Vancouver Fire Department, “was found to be partly caused by the lack of sprinkler systems in hotels and rooming houses. Steps were immediately taken to improve this with new sprinkler by-laws. The following year the toll was dramatically reduced, and by 1982 deaths by fire were down to eight.”

Gordon Campbell, born in Vancouver January 12, 1948, returned from working for CUSO as a secondary school teacher, basketball and track coach in Yola, Nigeria, and became an aide to new Vancouver mayor Art Phillips.

So far as we know, Chuck Davis’ Guide to Vancouver, published this year by J.J. Douglas Ltd., was the first general guide book to the city. There were sections on restaurants, shopping, sightseeing, etc. An excerpt: “The other part of the North Shore, west of the Lions Gate Bridge, is West Vancouver. This is the ‘classy’ suburb of the city, with homes worth $50,000 and up . . .”

Wesbrook and His University, by William C. Gibson, was published.

Capilano College opened a regional campus in Squamish.

The Vancouver Whitecaps were formed in 1973 and would enter the North American Soccer League in time for the 1974 season. We’ll have more on the team when 1974 goes up.

Vancouver’s Bruce Robertson won gold in the 100-metre butterfly at the World Aquatic Championships in Belgrade.

The movie A Name For Evil (aka The Grove and The Face of Evil), filmed in Vancouver, was released. The director was Bernard Girard. Comments Michael Walsh: “An architect (Robert Culp) inherits an 18th-century mansion and is driven to extremes when his wife (Samantha Eggar) is seduced by the resident ghost.”

J’ai Mon Voyage, a film directed by Denis Héroux, takes a comic look at Canada’s “two solitudes.” Quebecois director Heroux, writes Michael Walsh, chronicles the problems of a French-speaking family (Dominique Michel, Jean Lefebvre, Rene Simard) during a cross-country trip to Vancouver.

J.V. Clyne, who had been named a director of MacMillan Bloedel in 1957, and who later became chairman and CEO, retired from the firm, aged 71.

McDowell’s Drug Store, which had opened in 1905 at 1st Street and Lonsdale in North Vancouver, was no more. It had been run by the same family for 68 years.

Wakayama, Japan became the sister city of Richmond. Mio-mura, a village in the same prefecture, was the native home of many of Steveston’s earliest Japanese immigrants.

Drought hit Point Roberts, the small chunk of land south of the 49th parallel and accessible by land only through BC. The 850 Canadian residents were in danger of having their water cut off in favor of American residents. Signs appeared, reading “Canadians Go Home.” Water was trucked in from Blaine until the problem eased. A permanent water supply (from Canada) would become available by 1986.

The Royal Centre, main branch for the Royal Bank of Canada in Vancouver, was built at 1055 West Georgia. It was 140 metres high, had 36 storeys.

Granville Square was built at 200 Granville. It was 123 metres high, had 30 storeys. Two of its many tenants: The Vancouver Sun and the Province.

The Landmark Hotel was built at 1400 Robson: 39 storeys, 120.7 metres.

The Delta Airport Hotel was built at 3500 Cessna Drive in Richmond.

The John Davis family began to restore 166 West 10th Avenue, the oldest (1891) wood frame home in Mount Pleasant. Then they began to restore other houses in the block. The result is one of the finest, most attractive streetscapes in the city.

The pool and waterfall at the Law Courts, Robson Square (completed this year), were designed by architect Arthur Erickson and landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander. The pool doubles as a holding tank for the building’s fire-sprinkler system.

Vishva Hindu Parishad Temple was built at 3885 Albert Street in Burnaby. Their web site is here.

The overthrow of the Salvador Allende government in Chile in a military coup led by Augusto Pinochet led to an influx in Vancouver of Chilean refugees.

The Education Building at UBC was renamed to honor Neville V. Scarfe, former dean of the faculty.

Burnaby Hospital opened an extended-care wing. The wing was opened by health minister Dennis Cocke.

The last class of psychiatric nurses graduated from Essondale, the mental hospital. (Riverview).

The Community Information Service became part of the Vancouver Crisis Centre, changed its name to Community Information Centre, and began to shift its role from direct service to support for the 35 Neighborhood Information Centres that had sprung up in the Lower Mainland. Today it’s known as Information Services Vancouver, and participates in the innovative 211 service. Modeled after the emergency 9-1-1 service, 2-1-1 is described as the “national abbreviated dialing code for access to non-emergency social, health and government service information and referral.” It’s free and confidential.

The RCMP, in a report on commercial crime on the west coast, said: “Law enforcement agencies have estimated that approximately 20 to 30 per cent of the mines and local, junior industrial stocks listed on the Vancouver Stock Exchange are manipulated.” That report, the NDP governments’ mining royalties and other factors led to a sag in VSE trading. The exchange lost money this year, for the first time in almost 40 years.

Spencer's Department Store, photographed here in the 1930s, was demolished in 1973. Item # CVA 1495-32.Spencer’s Department Store, photographed here in the 1930s, was demolished in 1973. Item # CVA 1495-32. 

The old Edwardian buildings of Spencer’s Department Store were demolished and Sears moved into Harbour Centre, the city’s newest—and at the time the tallest—building (a 455-foot (139 metres)) high tower topped by a revolving restaurant). Today, the building is home to Simon Fraser University’s downtown campus.

The provincial government took over the Pacific National Exhibition because of a high-profile conflict over the use of the Forum (between minor hockey and a boat show). The takeover transformed the event from a Vancouver Exhibition into a provincial one.

The Vancouver Aquarium welcomed the addition of the Finning Sea Otter Pool.

Wood Sculpture, a (surprise!) wood sculpture, was installed in front of Granville Square at the north foot of Granville. The artist, from Washington state, was Michael Phifer, commissioned by the Canadian Pacific Railway and Marathon Realty.

The Vancouver Chamber Choir, led by its founder/conductor/music director Jon Washburn, was the first Canadian choir to win a first-place award in the prestigious BBC competition Let The Peoples Sing competition.

The Burnaby Mountain Dance Company began at SFU, and would later move off campus and become Mountain Dance Theatre, under the joint direction of Mauryne Allan and Freddie Long.

Rock impresario Bruce Allen began to handle Bachman Turner Overdrive, which under his direction would sell 10 million albums from 1973 to 1978.

Tad Publishing was established. They produced a pictorial Canada Calling series.

Irene Howard wrote Bowen Island 1872-1972, published by the Bowen Island Historians.

The book Shipwrecks of British Columbia by Fred Rogers became a BC bestseller. Rogers had done 20 years of research into the subject. His book chronicled more than 100 shipwrecks and their discoveries. He would produce More Shipwrecks of British Columbia in 1992.

Alan Woodland, a native of New Westminster, published New Westminster: The Early Years, 1858-1898 while he was the city’s chief librarian. The book contains more than 100 photos dating back to when the ‘Royal City’ was the capital of the Crown Colony of British Columbia.

The Kensington Park Arena and Community Recreation Office opened at 6159 Curtis Street in Burnaby. There was an ice rink and roller rink.


Chuck Davis is a Vancouver writer who has written, co-written, or edited 15 books. Most of them are on local history, and he describes his next book, The History of Metropolitan Vancouver, as the capstone of his career.