A grainy black and white photo of men working construction.

West Vancouver: Yesterday & Today

West Vancouver is on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish People, in particular, the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam Nation).

The District of West Vancouver, stretching along 28 kilometres of shoreline and up the slopes of Hollyburn Ridge, began as a popular summer holiday destination and has grown to become an affluent North Shore municipality.

The Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish People, villages and community) occupied and governed this territory since beyond recorded history. The First Nations village at the mouth of the Capilano River became the Capilano Indian Reserve (Xwemelch’stn) in 1923, a separate legal entity from the District of West Vancouver.

As Vancouver was established in the late 19th century and grew during the 20th century, its residents crossed Burrard Inlet from the city to picnic or camp in West Vancouver. Eventually, they settled in a string of small, self-contained communities, which were oriented to the shoreline and, over time, crept up the mountainside. The natural topography separated the early settlements and later served to define West Vancouver’s neighbourhoods.

The District of West Vancouver was incorporated on March 15, 1912, taking jurisdiction over what had been a part of the District of North Vancouver.

Apart from logging, the new municipality didn’t attract much commerce. Determined to turn that negative into a positive, the first Official Community Plan under the Town Planning Act of 1926 banned any new industry and called for building lots that were larger than elsewhere in the Lower Mainland.

That decision attracted a group of British investors led by the Guinness family, which purchased most of the Upper Lands and began to build the British Properties in 1932. The family built the Lions Gate Bridge (1937–38) to provide the first fixed crossing to Vancouver, and later built the Capilano Golf Course and the north part of Park Royal, one of the first shopping centres in Canada, in the 1950s.

Ambleside was an early subdivision built on a gridiron plan with a commercial strip along Marine Drive. John Lawson Park was named for one of West Vancouver’s founders. Dundarave was named for the Scottish castle that was home to the clan of early resident R.E. Macnaghten. Caulfeild owes its unusual spelling to Francis William Caulfeild, an Englishman who laid out an English-style village according to the contours of nature, including the paths of wild animals and cows. Before 1931, when Dan Sewell opened a marina and Whytecliff Lodge in Horseshoe Bay, only a few families lived there year-round.

As car ownership became more common after 1945, new neighbourhoods spread across the upper areas. Altamont is one such neighbourhood, with its large lots, mature trees, attractive landscaping and narrow public roads that give its homes the feel of country estates.

In 1959, 20 hectares of land were rezoned, permitting dozens of high-density apartment buildings to be constructed in Ambleside and Hollyburn. The Crescent Apartments (1961) was West Vancouver’s first high-rise. Some apartment buildings from that era, notably Villa Maris, also known as the Pink Palace, have paint colours influenced by the pastel palette of Miami, Florida.

From 1945 to 1975, West Vancouver was a centre of innovative residential design that became known as West Coast Style, which was inspired to a large extent by the dramatic landscape and the availability of wood as a building material. Hundreds of West Coast modern houses were designed by talented architects such as Arthur Erikson, Ron Thom, Charles Edward (Ned) Pratt, Fred Hollingsworth and Barry Downs.

As the population and diversity of the Metro Vancouver region have grown, so they have in West Vancouver. Compared to several decades ago, West Vancouver has a greater proportion of older residents and a smaller proportion of young children and young adults. Average income levels are higher than in the past, land values are have risen dramatically and the population is more diverse.

Today, West Vancouver’s ethnic and cultural diversity is drawn from Asia, the Middle East and Europe, as well as from elsewhere in BC and Canada. The Squamish First Nation, with its lands adjacent to the eastern border of West Vancouver, is a key partner with the District.

The District continues to have no industry and offers the same attractions that originally drew the first tourists: beaches, forests, mountain trails, golf courses and ski slopes. Residents place a high value on the natural environment, recreational opportunities, quality community amenities and a rich cultural life.