Granville Street's History

Granville Street is central to Vancouver’s history. The population of Vancouver increased at a startling rate and “after development expanded outside of Gastown, the Canadian Pacific Railway – whose terminal is at the north end of Granville Street – focused on developing Granville Street as the central commercial street in Vancouver”.

In 1870, the community of Vancouver was originally supposed to be named the “township of Granville” after Granville Leveson-Gower, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies. But Vancouver’s early population identified more strongly with Jack Deighton (or Gassy Jack), the city’s first unscrupulous saloon owner, and thus the community was called Gastown. Finally in 1886, “the city was incorporated as the city of Vancouver, after Captain George Vancouver”, the same year of the Great Vancouver Fire.

Granville Street began as a logging road through dense rainforest from the Fraser River to the Burrard inlet.  By the 1920s and 1930s the street slowly became the flourishing entertainment district of the city filled with dance halls, supper clubs and theatres popular for burlesque and various vaudeville acts.

By the 1950s, Vancouver becomes the second neon sign capital of the world, second only to Shanghai, with over 19,000 neon signs. That’s one neon sign for every nineteen people in Vancouver at the time. Dunns neon sign on Granville Street is the only neon sign with a heritage designation.

 
 

Slowly, along with the deterioration of the street, neon signs began to be associated with seedy areas and activities, and in the attempt to clean up the area and the “visual pollution”, the city banned all new neon signs in 1974. By the late 1990s, there was a major decline on Granville Street and many of the stores and theatres began to shut down. The street became flooded with strip clubs, dive bars, peep-shows, arcades and porn shops.

In 2003 Vancouver won the bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics and the city put more emphasis on Granville Street rejuvenation projects which focused on improving the pedestrian experience. The rejuvenation project “responded to a demand to improve the vitality of the street, to enhance the transit system, to improve pedestrian movement and also to re-establish Granville Street as one of the most important streets of the downtown area”.

MOBILE TOUR Explore Vancouver's Neon Neighbourhoods with this Walking Tour App

MOBILE TOUR

Explore Vancouver's Neon Neighbourhoods with this Walking Tour App

The rejuvenation projects were very successful and today Granville Street is lively with restaurants, high-end retail, theatres and clubs. Granville Street is home to timeless heritage buildings, such as the Hudson Bay Company building, and will soon be the home of the beautiful glass Nordstrom’s building. With many festivals such as Viva Vancouver, Granville Street has been re-established as a place of celebration and has been transformed into a vibrant public space.