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Vancouver Neighbourhoods

Sketching old buildings

When first exploring Vancouver, I sketched  older buildings which seemed to encapsulate unique neighbourhood character whilst not knowing much about the city’s history. In the 1980s, many areas had clusters of wooden buildings that included commercial stretches of two-three storey apartments, with stores and cafes, as well as a variety of areas with single family homes.  Leafing through these sketches now, they hold iconic glimpses of a period prior before building boom which took planners by surprise. Many of these sketches reflect the dominant aqua blue that was used mostly as a trim , like this house — but occasionally used more extensively. See two houses below plus trim on commercial buildings

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Steveston BC

Funky old store in Steveston BC

All images are copyright of the artist and cannot be used without permission

I love markets as I grew up partly in Argentina and Peru, with a break for high school in Ottawa. There’s something irresistable about poking through piles of “stuff” in search of a treasure. A “find” to me – versus you – can be a very individual reaction. I treat my sketchbooks the same way; they hold a myriad of memories. Often an image will morph with time to become something rare … old stores can be like that. Suddenly one day they are gone, without a trace, and we bemoan their absence.

sunny day on Granville Island, under the bridge – Vancouver BC

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Neighbourhoods

West 5th Ave, Vancouver BC

(All images are copyright of the artist and cannot be used without express permission)

In 2015 I was taking a UBC course with John Atkin: Understanding Neighbourhoods. On those walks we looked at original houses, built on newly cleared lands, circa 1910 to 1920s. Even more so now than seven years ago, these older houses continue to disappear as land values in Vancouver escalate, far outstripping these house values in an ever increasing ‘need’ to create density. More and more I treasure these drawings as memories of walks along original streetscapes whilst acknowledging the needs of a thriving modern city.

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NEIGHBOURHOODS

East Vancouver

A majestic house on the up slope of Salisbury Street afforded it a sweeping view of a wide panorama when it was built. The painting remains unfinished as it had enough details focused on its main features. A proposed townhouse development came to the City of Vancouver’s Heritage Commission in the 1990s , which I strongly favoured as it included respectfully preserving this house on the corner. The neighbours were pushing back against the townhouses but looking at what is happening now, I am glad the site was built out then and not available for high desinties being proposed now.

The east side of Vancouver has pleasing areas of older neighbourhoods, developed early thanks to streetcars and interurban  trains that facilitated a direct journey to downtown. Early decades in Vancouver saw downtown industries clustered near the water, and the many creeks that flowed down the south slopes of False Creek. Downtown air was polluted by tanneries, pulp mills and breweries so new housing developments often advertised fresh clean air.

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STRATHCONA

BARNS – (images copyright protected – request permission to use from the artist)

In the 1980s, when I was driving regularly to Seattle, I developed an interest in barns. Some were abandoned and overgrown but most were well maintained, functional and appeared to fit into set design styles. Learning more on the subject added to the pleasure of my drive. The pampas of Argentina where I grew up, have a scarcity of wood so cement and galvanised tin were more usual building materials. In my Strathcona series, John Atkin told me about the barns which still existed there and I painted several. Recent floods here have reminded me of the barns I painted in the Fraser Valley. Only this yellow barn, with its iconic silo, remains in my collection. Sadly, a flood in my studio in the 1990s destroyed my photos of others, which had all sold. (If you own one, I’d love a picture.– Jo)

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GROCERY STORES

Sammy’s old store on E. 49th

In a painting I was able to emphasise the red alarm, upper left, red sign on the wall and red fire hydrant with its companion red sign. It makes the yellow awning (right) more poignant as the building deteriorates.

When I noticed old wooden grocery stores vanishing in the 1980s, often under vinyl siding, I began searching out originals. As people heard what I was drawing they told me about their own favourite – often with childhood memories of spending pocket money.  My quests took me to previously undiscovered treasures as I learned more and more about Vancouver.

I had a similar experience researching original medieval church benches in East Anglia UK. When drawing them, people would stop to chat and suggest other churches I should visit. They offered information – or personal contacts – on accessing a site if it was locked. Local friends were happy later to be shown interesting ancient churches in villages, with a charming local pub selling quality ale and good food.

re-visiting memories

A grocery store in Vancouver BC, one of the series I painted built 1930s or older, which won a Heritage Award from the City of Vancouver in 1989

Reviewing a body of heritage images, it reflects my passion for characteristics of historic neighbourhoods in Vancouver BC. I began painting them in the1980s, when I would find myself searching again for something old and iconic only to find it had vanished. Asking friends how I could learn early about decisions which allowed buildings to vanish, I was advised to join the Heritage Committee of the Community Arts Council of Vancouver and was soon drawn into campaigns to save historic landmarks. This led to me using my work as a way to raise public awareness. It is not just a building to be preserved, it deserves a sympathetic setting. Old European cities provide a neighbourhood patina; Vancouver is a thriving New World city but even so the scale of new buildings can be designed to keep an icon.

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Neighbourhoods

Strathcona

(all images are copyrighted and cannot be used without artist’s express permission)

Old store inserted on the front of the pink house

Strathcona is Vancouver’s oldest residential neighbourhood. Close to the port, it received waves of immigrants, many of whom later dispersed throughout the city. I was interested to discover the original topography was hilly. Streets were flattened later for easier traffic flow, but this resulted in some buildings losing their original street connections. Careful scrutiny shows these houses rising from right to left. There also exist houses with their second storey providing street access as the original front door is well below street level. Other houses are so high they are stranded above street level, held in place with a tall retaining wall. Many rear laneways still have original up and down rolling land. The turquoise blue paint on the taller house was a colour found all across the city when I was drawing. By the 1990s more era original palettes were encouraged for use in restorations. I have no wish to embalm old buildings nor to encase them in a glass bubble but there are ways to bring them forward into adaptable modern use and maintain the integrity.

Re-launching Blog

This site is emerging from a break enforced by COVID. It feels good to be back after a period of re-focusing my work and preparing for a new heritage related project, no longer focused on older character buildings in Vancouver BC. This hint about my background is an old steam locomotive taking on water. Both my father and brother were mechanical engineers and Dad worked with the railways in Argentina and Peru, though this is an English photo. I’ll credit the photo – if you tell me who you are, thanks.