Vancouver History: The Yale and The Great Fire


Friday, January 11th, 2008 — 8:57am PDT
Comments 11

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.


1944 – Photographer: Jack Lindsay – ITEM #: CVA 1184-624

…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.


Photo credit: Squeaky Marmot on Flickr

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.


Photo credit: Laura Grace on Flickr

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.

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11 comments

  1. Duane Storey says:

    I went to the Yale once.. It was actually kind of fun.

    Wings.

  2. Most of Vancouver was just a mill town, I doubt many of the buildings would have even stood the test of time if they had survived. The city didn’t really start to develop until the train line was completed in 1887.

    Ironically New West faced the same fate by fire in 1898. New West was originally the capital of the colony, until the creation of British Columbia in 1866. The entire place was burnt to ash.

  3. PS The Yale is great, I go there often, Brickhouse rule.

  4. Miss604 says:

    Yeah there’s a whole sordid drunken story there about when Victoria was named the capital 😛 I think I remember my dad telling me when they first moved here even in the early 60s that there were thick black clouds from smoke stacks hanging over the city, especially South Vancouver along the Fraser.

  5. fotoeins says:

    Way back when I was spending (too much) time over on the campus next to Point Grey, me buds and I would spend (too much) time at the Cece.

  6. Excellent historical piece, Miss604. I’ve become quite fascinated with the history of Vancouver’s development from a tiny commodities-exporting port town to a modern gleaming metropolis. The focus on the Yale Hotel was a great idea. As biographies are to social history, the heritage of buildings are to a city’s history.

    As for the short-term tragedy of displacement of people in a tapped housing market, one hopes that the renovation will go off without a hitch. Given the bed-bug ridden, crumbling brick nature of some of our housing stock, it has to happen. But when homelessness is rising to around 2,300 in Metro Vancouver, there certainly is an impetus to getting it all done.

    Ah, but I’m rambling again…

  7. […] The town of Yale – after which the downtown neighbourhood of “Yaletown” is named. […]

  8. […] I came home to find a similar neighbourhood-type discussion on Twitter, between @nickb and @ddonat. Nick, who works with the online creative writing community that is Protagonize, made a comment about the financial district in Vancouver. This lead to a discussion about what is exactly is Vancouver’s financial district and where are the boundaries? What do people consider downtown, midtown, crosstown and all the other ‘towns’ (like Gastown, Chinatown and Yaletown). […]

  9. […] got me thinking about our city’s architecture; from brick and stone to teal and glass, fires, fairs and economies have shaped the landscape. So, which exactly is your favourite building […]

  10. […] Yale was founded in the mid 1880s and was one of the very few buildings to survive downtown’s Great Fire of […]

  11. Hub says:

    The top picture has been removed from Flickr apparently.

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