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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Price Points: Towers in the Bush

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You see these towers from Highway 1, heading east, way beyond the Vancouver City border.   Why aren’t they in the West End?



This surprising pocket of Sixties-style highrises at Lougheed Town Centre was actually influenced by the presence of Simon Fraser University on Burnaby Mountain (Arthur Erickson and Geoff Massey’s career-making commission).  The University had opened in 1965, and there was already a plan to build a community in close relationship – the Simon Fraser Townsite.   It didn’t turn out, as David Pereira explains, quite as intended.

Nonetheless, these buildings were erected in the years following the opening in 1969 of what actually did get built: the Lougheed Shopping Centre – and the influence of Erickson’s SFU architecture is evident:


…  sloping design is very common throughout the area. Stairways cascade over each other, winding seamlessly into wooded pathways interrupted by the occasional planted flower bed. There is also a strong emphasis on natural forested areas; many creeks run through the area, some of which are active salmon bearing streams ….

This is just one observation in David’s extensive review of Lougheed’s development history.  It is, as previously mentioned, part of a larger thesis, and no doubt there is more information here than you might be interested in.   But there are gems scattered thoughout – like the very origins of the name.

While one would think that the name Lougheed (for the Mall) came from the adjacent highway, they would be mistaken. According to media reports concerning a 1988 inheritance court case, it was noted that Lougheed Shopping Centre Limited was actually an endeavor by a partnership of companies controlled by Bill Lougheed, his brother Gordon Ellsworth Lougheed, and Jack Brown, of the Brown Bros. automotive firm.

The highway on the other hand, was named after Nelson Lougheed, B.C.’s Conservative Public Works Minister in 1928. Nelson Lougheed had promoted the construction of the road to link a lumber mill he owned in Port Haney.

While subsequent relationships between developers and government weren’t quite that cosy, as Pereiera documents, the interactions among politicians, planners and landowners were sometimes rather intimate.  The gap between what was envisioned and what got built is fascinating – particularly when it came to the politics of the SkyTrain line, which has its own little section.

Check out the site even if you’re not into all the detail.  Right at the beginning, David features a series of six aerial photos, each of which precisely and automatically blends into the other.  If you want to take a closer look, just click a map.  I’d recommend exploring the differences between 1956 and 1976.



Oh, and why are towers we associate with downtown density and design like those in the West End found in such distant places, almost in the bush at the time they were built.  It’s a characteristic of Sixties Vancouver: concentrations of concrete all around the region: Ambleside, Lonsdale, Kerrisdale, upper New Westminster and here – each rezoned in the 1950s, built in clusters in the 1960s.

I’m honestly not sure of all the factors – especially since there was no shortage of developable land that might otherwise have constricted supply and forced densities up.

Clearly the market thought it worthwhile, and municipal and regional governments were encouraging.  Such towers-in-the-park were all the rage, and British Columbians, of course, are good at building big, particularly when it comes to pouring concrete and opening up the bush.