Vancouver History: Sinclair Centre

Comments 10 by Rebecca Bollwitt

We may know it as a single complex but the Sinclair Centre started out as four separate buildings, built around 1910 and brought together in the 1980s.

I recently featured the buildings in one of my Then and Now posts so when Marc invited me down for a private tour of the heritage building I jumped at the chance.

Sinclair Centre

The Sinclair Centre joins together four buildings with a glass atrium:

The Post Office (1910)
It’s style is described as Edwardian Baroque and was the main post office in Vancouver until the late 1950s. Its 12-foot diameter clocks, which sit in the tower above Granville and Hastings, were restored in 1986.

The Winch Building (1911)
Located on the corner of Howe and Hastings this building was built by cannery pioneer Richard Vance Winch. It was designed by Thomas Hooper and was completed for $700,000 and sold to the federal government in 1925.

Customs Examining Warehouse (1913)
Sitting Howe and Cordova, this building was designed by Public Works’ Chief Architect David Ewart and was built by the federal government as a warehouse to handle federal requirements on imported goods. It was used by Customs until 1958. Until recently it was also the home of Morton’s Steakhouse.

Sinclair Centre

The Federal Building (1937)
At the corner of Granville and Cordova this was built as an extension of the Post Office.

In 1983 it was announced that a block of four buildings downtown (between Granville, Hastings, Howe and Cordova) would get a $40 million facelift. This brought them together under one glass atrium roof, and one name. James Sinclair, a businessman from West Vancouver and also the father of Margaret Trudeau, was the development’s namesake. [source:]

Sinclair Centre -- the old post office building & the Winch Building

The tour took us through the food court, past the Government of Canada Passport office, onto the roof of the Winch Building. The architecture in the Post Office and Winch Buildings is absolutely beautiful. Marble staircases, brass fixtures, copper roofs and the tiniest engraved details.

Sinclair Centre Sinclair Centre

Sinclair Centre Sinclair Centre

Sinclair Centre

Sinclair Centre

From the roof we went back inside and over to the tower entrance to get an inside-out look at the timepieces.

Sinclair Centre

Sinclair Centre

Sinclair Centre

As I stood atop a spiral staircase at the very peak of the clock tower I looked out windows at the street below. The seabus passed from one side of the North-facing window to the next while a horn honked at a pedestrian crossing the street down below. A carving on a wooden side panel told me that Clint wuz here before me and I could only imagine those who must have stood here a hundred years ago.

Sinclair Centre

Sinclair Centre

The offices are still used by various arms of the Federal Government while boutiques and shops (such as Leone and Armani) are over in the Winch Building. The original bell from the tower is on display in the Sinclair Centre food court.

Sinclair Centre

I made my descent with hands covered in dust and the smell of old library books in my nostrils. I write quite a bit about our city’s history but it’s opportunities like this, through hands-on exploration, that keep my passion (and curiosity) brewing.

The rest of my photos from today are online in this Flickr set.

The Sinclair Centre will have a special announcement in about a week so I will write a follow-up post at that time.

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10 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. PeterTuesday, March 30th, 2010 — 5:20pm PDT

    Sinclair Centre was the place lower mainlanders had to come to for their amateur (ham) radio licence exams, right through to the 1980s, in a dusty upstairs office.

    It has been suggested that the Tory government plans to sell off Sinclair Centre. That would be a sad development. Hopefully the “special announcement” alluded to above won’t be about a “done deal.”

  2. Marc SmithTuesday, March 30th, 2010 — 10:49pm PDT

    Rebecca thanks so much for coming on the tour with me today. I was so excited to be able to share an experience with you that only a handful of other ppl outside of Sinclair centre maintenance staff have ever had.

    Peter as for the big announcement not to worry it’s some fun 🙂 stay tuned!

  3. Robyn YagerWednesday, March 31st, 2010 — 9:11am PDT

    Is this tour available to the public??

    Love your photos of inside the clock tower as well!

  4. Julio AguilarWednesday, March 31st, 2010 — 10:13am PDT

    My mom always points out she became Canadian in that building when we go downtown.

  5. CaioWednesday, March 31st, 2010 — 11:09am PDT

    Thanks so much for this article, Sinclair Centre was my fav place to go during my break while I was working in the region. Amazing building with plenty of history!

  6. AlanWednesday, March 31st, 2010 — 12:12pm PDT

    Great post, funnily enough I must have been walking past this building around the time you was in it, I was going to CBSA in Dunsmuir St to sort out the customs clearance on my possessions from the UK.

  7. RishadWednesday, March 31st, 2010 — 9:38pm PDT

    I’ve been there so many times…never knew!

  8. Bob GarlickThursday, April 1st, 2010 — 11:09am PDT

    Great shots. You where mentioned at this mornings HOBN meeting. Nice to see some of the hidden parts of Vancouver brought to light. I also checked out your flickr photos too. Try (yep I am unashamedly promoting one of my sites) for some great maps and info on hiking the North Vancouver Mountains.

  9. HezFriday, April 2nd, 2010 — 7:53pm PDT

    Love this post and these photos, Rebecca. Look forward to hearing their big news.

  10. stuTuesday, February 28th, 2012 — 12:03pm PST

    Love it! I work right across from Sinclair, I’m often inside, and I always wonder about it’s ‘inner workings’! great photos and historic tidbits!

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