Skip to content

Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

A Year in Five Minutes: Vancouver 1980

Read more articles by

The Carnegie Building, photographed here under construction in 1902, reopened in 1980. Item # CVA 1376-27.The Carnegie Building, photographed here under construction in 1902, reopened in 1980. Item # CVA 1376-27. 

1980 saw the start of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope, Vancouver was granted the honour of hosting Expo and the Stanley Park seawall was finally completed.

Compiled by John Calimente (with permission from Chuck Davis)
Photos courtesy of Vancouver Archives

[EDITOR’S NOTE: As promised, we’ve been working to continue providing the great research of Chuck Davis and are happy to give our readers – and Chuck fans – the first of many upcoming Year in 5 Minutes installments.  As mentioned previously, we will by posting them intermittently, but rest assured that they are in queue!]

Terry Fox and the Marathon of Hope

One-legged runner Terry Fox of Port Coquitlam began his cross-country “Marathon of Hope” to raise money for cancer research. After the operation Terry began to run daily, painfully short distances at first, but increasing steadily as he developed strength and technique. “It takes more courage to fight cancer than it does for me to run,” said a determined Fox. Two years later he had obtained sponsorship, and on April 12, 1980, after dipping his artificial leg in the Atlantic, began his run in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

After 143 days and 5,373 kilometres (an average 38 kilometres per day), Fox had to end his run in Thunder Bay, Ontario when it was discovered that his cancer had returned and spread to his lungs. On September 18th, at age 22, Fox became the youngest companion of the Order of Canada. The companion is the highest of three levels of the Order. In a special ceremony Governor General Ed Schreyer flew to B.C. to invest Terry with the honour in the municipal council chamber of his home town, Port Coquitlam. This marked the first and only time that the Governor General travelled to the recipient to present their award.

“The Order of Canada awards,” the Province reported, “normally are presented twice a year. But Schreyer and the council which advises him on selections decided that, because of his illness and because of his contribution to the country, a special award should be made to Fox.” Schreyer quoted from poet Edwin Markham at the ceremony: “Brave soul that took the long and painful road to help create a dream that could not fail.”

On December 3rd, the Province reported: “Terry Fox…has been made a freeman of the City of Port Coquitlam. Terry, who has raised almost $20 million for cancer research, was earlier admitted to the Order of Canada and the Order of the Dogwood.” By year’s end, more than $24 million had been raised, thanks largely to an earlier CTV telethon honouring Fox. Terry’s goal of $1 for every Canadian had been reached, and more. He had more than doubled the National Cancer Institute of Canada’s 1980 research allowance. And the Port Coquitlam post office reported that Terry got more mail in December than everyone else in town—residential and business—combined.

Carnegie Centre reopens

The Carnegie Building at Main and Hastings reopened on January 20th. It became the Carnegie Reading Room, which continues to be open seven days a week, 12 hours a day, 365 days each year.

Urban Transit Authority sets stage for creation of TransLink

Appropriately enough, on April 1st B.C. Hydro split off its transit division and a new company, Metro Transit Operating Co., under contract to the Urban Transit Authority, took over the region’s transit. Within a few years Metro Transit and the Urban Transit Authority would join forces to become BC Transit, predecessor to TransLink.

Emily Carr opens on Granville Island

In 1978 the newly named Emily Carr College of Art had regained its independence from VCC through the efforts of then-principal Robin Mayor (appointed in 1972). With an increased enrolment and a new mandate to serve all of British Columbia, the college needed a new facility. As part of a federal government urban renewal project on Granville Island, three abandoned industrial buildings on Johnston Street were transformed into the school’s new premises and officially opened in October 1980. The words “and Design” were added to the college’s name.

Expo 86 approved

In a decision that would have a huge impact on the City of Vancouver, on November 26th the International Bureau of Expositions in Paris approved Expo 86 for Vancouver.

Also in 1980


The eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State on May 18th (named, incidentally, by Capt. George Vancouver in 1792) rattled windows in Greater Vancouver. More details at this excellent website and another very detailed site on the event.

O Canada was officially made the country’s national anthem on June 27. The English version has had slight revisions made.

In the summer of 1980, Greater Vancouver brewery workers went on strike. It happened to coincide with an unseasonably hot summer. Groan.

In August the “Boat People” of Vietnam, fleeing that country by the thousands, were on our minds. The City of Vancouver, Kevin Griffin wrote in The Greater Vancouver Book, “formed a special Task Force on the Boat People Rescue Project and opened a special refugee coordinating centre at 16th and Cambie. The centre wasn’t so much a place for the refugees themselves to get help as much as it was for local residents to find out more information about sponsoring a Vietnamese refugee or to donate furniture, clothing or to lend a hand in whatever way possible.”

Part of the Stanley Park seawall, photographed here in 1966. Item # CVA 1502-1000.Part of the Stanley Park seawall, photographed here in 1966. Item # CVA 1502-1000. 

The nine-kilometre Stanley Park seawall was completed on September 21. Much of it was built or supervised by master stonemason Jimmy Cunningham, who has hefted thousands of the 45-kilogram blocks into place over 32 years.

In December 6, Blackcomb Mountain opened for skiing with a capacity of 4,000 skiers per day, on four triple chairs and a beginner double chair, serving 4,068 vertical feet. It grew slowly at first, as it was still much smaller than its largest competitor and neighbor across the valley, Whistler Mountain.

An improvisational group called the TheatreSports League began performing late night shows on weekends at City Stage. Mark Leiren-Young wrote that “the ever-changing cast of improvisational comedians (which has included such successful performers and/or writers as Jay Brazeau, Garry Chalk, Roger Frederichs, Dean Haglund, Christine Lippa, Colin Mocherie, Louise Moon, Morris Panych and Veena Sood) . . . gradually developed a devout following and in 1986 took over the City Stage space themselves, renaming their venue The Back Alley Theatre.”

The B.C. Penitentiary, a federal maximum-security facility and the largest prison in the province, was phased out. It was replaced by Kent Prison in Matsqui and other institutions as part of a decentralization plan.


On January 26, William John “Torchy” Peden, cyclist, died in Northbrook, Illinois, aged 73. He was born April 17, 1906 (another source gives April 16) in Victoria. A “flame-haired youth who led the pack like a torch,” he was famed during the Depression as “a six-day immortal” bicycle racer, winning Vancouver’s first such event in 1931. In 1929, Peden set a world speed record on a bicycle of 81 mph (130.3 km/h) that stood for 12 years. With his brother James Douglas Peden, Torchy won races across North America, setting a world record of 38 victories that lasted 28 years. He was inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 1966 and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.

On August 14 Vancouver-born actress and Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten was killed by her husband in a West Los Angeles apartment. This site has details, and there is a fan site. A movie about the tragedy, Star 80, starring Mariel Hemingway was made in 1983.

Vancouver’s Lois Wilson was the first woman to be named moderator of the United Church of Canada on August 16th.

The Downtown Eastside Residents Association, DERA, hired an organizer. DERA had been having financial problems, exacerbated by non-supportive provincial and civic governments. But then both Bruce Eriksen and Libby Davies were elected to city council, and with other supporters such as Harry Rankin and Mike Harcourt the organization was eventually able to obtain the funding to hire that organizer. His name was Jim Green.


On March 1, Canada’s first all-jazz station, Vancouver CJAZ-FM 92.1 signed on, followed by CISL AM 940 Richmond on May 1. See this site for more information on Vancouver broadcasters.

Southam acquired ownership of the Vancouver Sun on August 27. It now owned both dailies in the city, the Vancouver Sun and the Province. In 1964 the two papers had established Pacific Press Ltd. to print both newspapers from a single shared plant at 2250 Granville St. The Sun was given exclusive jurisdiction as the evening newspaper and the Province became a morning daily when the old News-Herald (latterly called, simply, the Herald) was killed. There were two separate owners, Southam Inc. for the Province and, successively for the Sun, Sun Publishing, FP Publications Ltd, and, briefly, Thomson Newspapers. Now there was just one.

The north side of Whistler Mountain opened. So did the first phase of Whistler Village with hotels, restaurants, pubs, shops, the Whistler Conference Centre, banks and tour companies.

The Knowledge Network was created. A B.C. government-funded educational channel, it would make its on-air debut in January 1981. During that year the Knowledge Network staff increased from one to 30.

Assets at Vancouver City Savings Credit Union (VanCity) hit the $1 billion mark.


The building housing the Surrey Central Library and the city’s Chamber of Commerce opened on March 29.

The CN Station (1917-19) and its rooftop neon sign were designated Schedule A Heritage Structures by Vancouver City Council in April. Today, that handsome building is called Pacific Central Station, the terminal for Greyhound Lines, Pacific Coach Lines and two passenger railways: VIA Rail and Amtrak.

Vancouver Firehall No. 2, circa 1915. Photo by Stuart Thomson. Item # CVA 99-2.Vancouver Firehall No. 2, circa 1915. Photo by Stuart Thomson. Item # CVA 99-2. 

In July the 1932 Coroner’s Court at 238-240 East Cordova and Firehall No. 2 (1907) at 270 East Cordova were designated Schedule A Heritage Structures by Vancouver City Council. Today, the Coroner’s Court has become the Vancouver Police Centennial Museum and the Firehall is now home to the Firehall Arts Centre.

On September 14 the first phase of the Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver’s Chinatown opened.

The Eastburn Community Centre opened at 7435 Edmonds Street in Burnaby.

The Cascades Drive-In Theatre, a Burnaby landmark since August 30, 1946, closed. The site is now occupied by the Cascade Village condominium development.

The Boeing plant on Sea Island was demolished. It was built in 1939 for the production of Canso and Catalina and later B-29 superfortress aircraft. At the peak of production it employed 6,000 people.

The Aquatic Centre indoor pool at UBC opened at a cost of $5.4 million, largely paid by students, alumni and the community. The pool is Olympic size—50 metres long, 25 metres wide—and holds three million litres (644,000 gallons) of water. Designed for recreational and competitive use, it holds up to 738 swimmers and allows several different activities to take place at one time.


The Samson V, one of a line of “snagpullers” used to keep the Fraser River’s channels free of hazards, particularly deadheads, and also to maintain marker buoys and lights, was retired. It is now a New Westminster-based maritime museum portraying the history of the Fraser River.

The B.C. ferry Queen of Surrey was refurbished at a cost of more than $10 million, renamed Queen of the North and put into service on the Queen Charlotte run. The ship—with 99 passengers and crew aboard—would sink after hitting a rock about 135 kilometres south of Prince Rupert on March 22, 2006. Two passengers lost their lives. All other passengers and crew were rescued.

AirBC was formed when the Jim Pattison Group of investors purchased six smaller commuter airlines and amalgamated them into a larger, more efficient operation to serve destinations across western Canada (connecting B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) and the northwestern U.S.


HRH Prince Charles unveiled the striking Bill Reid sculpture, Raven and the First Man, at the Museum of Anthropology. The work, commissioned by Walter and Marianne Koerner, was carved by Reid from a 4 1/2 ton block of yellow cedar formed from 106 beams. Haida people brought the sand at the base of the sculpture from the beach where the trickster Raven is said to have made his discovery of the first humans in a clam shell.

The 13-minute NFB film Nails, made by Vancouver film director Philip Borsos, was nominated for an Oscar. It won the 1980 Canadian Film Award for Best Short.

Barry Downs, a Vancouver architect, receives an Eaton’s B.C. Book Prize for Sacred Places, a celebration of B.C.’s early churches and church sites.

Other books published in 1980 on local issues include:

*A Guide to Sculpture in Vancouver, by Peggy Imredy.

*The House (Convention Centre, Stadium, Rapid Transit System, etc.) that Jack Built: Mayor Jack Volrich and Vancouver politics, by Stan Persky.

*Chuck Davis’ Vancouver Appointment Book, published by New Star Books, held space for a week’s appointments on one page, a brief historical vignette on the other. The historical material was from Chuck’s weekly columns in the Province. The book’s success led to two sequels.