The Yale (also formerly known as “The Colonial Hotel”) was once a bunkhouse for CPR employees but later this century it became a hotbed of live music and blues activity. It’s welcomed acts like Colin James, Jimmy Page, Jim Belushi, Buddy Miles, and is a staple venue for the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. Yesterday plans were announced surrounding its renovation.
…44 single room accommodation, or SRA, units in the building are being renovated, people living there will be displaced, at least temporarily.” [News1130].
It got me thinking about our “historic” buildings in town since things around here aren’t that old compared to an East Coast metropolis or anywhere across the Atlantic or Pacific. Our “old” and historic landmarks date back to 1910 or the 1920s, even though we knew folks were in Vancouver well before then and it was a booming port and logging town. So what happened to old Vancouver? It burned.
“In 20 minutes, Vancouver had been wiped off the earth. In 12 hours, it was rising again.” – [Chuck Davis on Discover Vancouver]
In February 1886 the CPR started clearing the townsite area north and east of what would be Burrard and Drake Streets. The clearing resulted in logs and deadfalls being left piled high for months. On a hot Sunday, June 13, 1886 a fire got away from crews clearing land around the site of the Roundhouse and this was the start of the Great Fire that destroyed the new city. The fire burned ferociously and the city was destroyed in less than an hour. 880 buildings were burned, 22 people died. A new city bylaw directed that buildings were now to be of brick or stone only. [Vancouver History]
You may notice the abundance of brick buildings in the older neighbourhoods – like Yaletown and Gastown – for this very reason. The Great Fire reshaped the community that was in its formative years and few buildings or structures survived. Even “Gassy” Jack Deighton’s hotel was reduced to ashes.
Yaletown was rebuilt and soon The Yale, that was spared by the fire due to bush separating it and the rest of downtown, became a main player in the swinging, rowdy days of Yaletown.
Hopefully the current residents of The Yale aren’t displaced for too long, and as for the Cecil Hotel next door which developers would like to replace with a 20-storey see-through teal condo tower, that’s another story about Vancouver’s vanishing buildings – that doesn’t involve a fire.