British Columbia

Heritage Week marked by a look at B.C.'s main streets

Most Vancouverites may think of either Granville or Robson as the city's most prominent street. But it was Cordova that was originally singled out as Vancouver's main street.

Historian John Atkins says hustle and bustle of Cordova St. made it Vancouver's original main street

The 2015 theme for Heritage Week in B.C. is "Main Street: At The Heart of the Community." (Heritage BC/Facebook)

Most Vancouverites may think of Granville, Robson, Main or Commercial Drive as our city's main street. But it was Cordova that was originally singled out to be Vancouver's major road. 

Cordova Street was singled out because of its significance as a transportation artery,  according to local historian John Atkins.

"As soon as Vancouver was incorporated in 1886, a couple of years later, we had the electric street car running and Cordova Street was the main line for the street car," Atkins said in an interview with The Early Edition.

"And you see with the construction of buildings like the Army and Navy building and other very fine buildings, that was the focus and the street car really brought people there."

In honour of Heritage Week, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation is offering walking tours through a number of former main streets as part of this year's theme,  "Main Street: At The Heart of the Community."

Atkins is leading a number of walking tours through some of Vancouver's faded main streets. Here's what he says defines what makes the city's most historically important streets.

Shops galore

"It's where you find your major shopping, it's where you find day to day needs, office things, et cetera," said Atkins. "It was the centre of town, and so you had everything else around it, but main street was the place you went to do everything."

Business meets residential

"We actually had a lot of bars," said Atkins, referring to historic Cordova Street. "We've got a building which housed a number of offices, which was the Mercantile Building. You had in a row … very nice Victorian buildings, offices upstairs, retail down below. (There was) the Arlington Hotel, which was once a fairly decent hotel. So a real mixed-use business and residential community which we strive to create today."

The architecture says it all

"You can see the importance of a street through the design of its buildings." said Atkins. "You can often tell, even in old places where you walk down an old street and it's really kind of dead--look at the buildings. You kind of go, 'Oh, this used to be something.'"

To hear the full interview with John Atkins, click on the audio labelled: Heritage Week - what's your "Main Street"?

With files from Margaret Gallagher