Growing up in Vancouver, I never gave much thought to the Strathcona neighborhood. To me, it was the undesirable, industrial part of town that existed somewhere between Chinatown and PNE. I’d come down to visit the restaurant supply store with my parents once in a blue moon and there was that one time we took a school field trip to the Rogers Sugar refinery. That’s about it.
But there is so much more history to this area and, if anything, the only constant for Strathcona over the years has been change. It was the first home to wave after wave of immigrants to Vancouver, including Italians in the earlier part of the 20th century, followed by the Japanese and Chinese, in addition to those of First Nations heritage.
As the settlement expanded around the Hastings Mill and with Vancouver establishing itself as a railway terminus, the population continued to grow. But Strathcona has always been a neighborhood of working class people.
City zoning is a very complex issue and it is especially complicated in Strathcona. On the north side of Hastings, much of the land is zoned for industrial use. This means that even if they allow a retail front, there must be a manufacturing-type element in the back. That’s what we see with Strathcona Beer Company, as the brewery portion is clearly visible from behind the bar. The streets to the south side of Hastings, on the other hand, are largely zoned for residential.
And then there’s the issue of gentrification. In an effort to open up attractive new businesses like Yolks, Ask for Luigi, and MakerLabs, development must also been keenly cognizant of the area’s working class and lower income roots. New zoning is going up that will allow for greater density and many of the area’s residents simply cannot afford retail housing in these new buildings (nor can a great number of Vancouverites in general). That’s why social housing needs to built into these plans too.
But they are trying hard to strike this delicate balance. They’re looking for independent, locally-minded businesses, rather than multinational corporations and chain stores. You won’t find a Starbucks or a McDonald’s here, at least as far as I can see.
And then you see community efforts like these gardens set up on underutilized land. The produce grown by local residents can then be sold to restaurants, generating income from land that may have otherwise gone vacant. This also brings a sense of pride and signs of life to the neighborhood.
But if you want to be the most walkable street in Vancouver, you’ve also got to look good doing it. That’s why murals are being commissioned throughout the neighborhood, connecting local artists with local businesses, and paying these artists a fair market rate for their hard work. It’s win-win all around, because beautiful murals like this Transformer-themed one deter graffiti and attract positive attention.
The photo at the top of this post further illustrates this effort. Several planters are being installed throughout the area, all of which are decorated by local artists and cared for by the nearby businesses too. This helps to further inject a dash of personality and character that’s reflective of Strathcona’s unique place in the city’s history.
Did you know that Strathcona has more artists and craftspeople per capita than any other area in Canada?
If you go to the southwest corner of Campbell Avenue and East Hastings Street, just behind S.K. Cooling & Food Equipment Supplies, you’ll find this massive mural that outlines much of Strathcona’s story before World War I. Learn about the establishment of Japantown, the creation of Vancouver’s first ballpark, and the laying of the first tram tracks along Powell Street.
Did you know that the Hotel Patricia was originally a medical center? Or that the Hastings Mill Store, established in 1865, is the oldest building in Vancouver?
Disclosure: I was treated to the pizza and beer, but was not otherwise compensated for this post. Opinions are my own.