'We have always torn stuff down': Bloggers explore Vancouver's past and present through photos

For more than seven years, John Atkin and Andy Coupland have been running the blog, Changing Vancouver, which features before-and-after photographs of the city, gathered mostly from the City of Vancouver archives and taken by Coupland.

John Atkin and Andy Coupland document then-and-now photos of city streets

This photo set compiled by John Atkin and Andy Coupland features the northwest corner of Robson Street at Hornby. (City of Vancouver Archives; Andy Coupland/Supplied)

For more than seven years, John Atkin and Andy Coupland have been running the blog, Changing Vancouver, which features before-and-after photographs of the city, gathered mostly from the City of Vancouver archives and taken by Coupland.

Atkin is a civic historian while Coupland is a London-born former city planner. They both run walking tours through the city's downtown and both are passionate about cities.

Their blog is a reflection of their interest in Vancouver's ever-changing landscape.

Changing Vancouver started with an online post made over 15 years ago.

The two were working for the City of Vancouver back in 2003 when they took a stitched-together photographic panorama of the city from 1978 and compared it to present-day photos.

They posted the project online to test the code. Someone found it and shared the link so many times it crashed the city's servers.

That's when they knew they were onto something.   

This shot compiled by John Atkin and Andy Coupland features then-and-now shots of the south side of West Georgia Street (City of Vancouver Archives; Andy Coupland/Supplied)

A labour of love

The blog is a follow-up to their 2010 book The Changing City, about architecture and historical walking tours through central Vancouver.

Just before it was published, they concluded that the book would be out of date the moment it was published, because the city was changing so quickly.

For Atkin and Coupland, it's about more than just the before-and-after shots. They try to put up posts to mark all of the city's significant changes.

They want their blog to become the go-to spot for those looking for a concise record of the city's history.

That's where where Coupland, the former city planner, comes in.

"Andy puts in most of the work, and gets the research done right," said Atkin. "I think that's what makes the blog work."

John Atkin (left) and Andy Coupland have been running the blog Changing Vancouver for over seven years (Haley Lewis/CBC)

Coupland said a lot of thought and care go into the composition of the shots; it's not as simple as posting side-by-side photos.

"Sometimes it takes me eight or nine times to photograph and get the right view," said Coupland.

There are so many things to consider, time of day, angle, where the curb is located and traffic. A lot of the time, replicating a clear image isn't possible. But they do the best they can.

Changing street corners

Atkin and Coupland said one constant with Vancouver's cityscape is that it's always changing. Buildings come and go.

"We tear stuff down and we have always torn stuff down," said Atkin "There's no difference to what was happening back then."

According to the pair, there are some street corners in downtown Vancouver that have changed four or five times and they'll probably change four or five times more.

This photo set compiled by John Atkin and Andy Coupland features the 500 block of Granville St. (City of Vancouver Archives; Andy Coupland/Supplied)