John and I enjoyed a few days exploring “The Other Vancouver”, which is Vancouver, Washington. Located about two hours south of Seattle along the I-5, this Vancouver sits along the Columbia River and was incorporated in 1857, 29 years before Vancouver, BC.
When considering what might be the oldest public park in the Pacific Northwest I immediately think of Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, established in 1882. However on our recent trip to Vancouver, Washington, John and I strolled through Esther Short Park which is in fact the oldest (at least the very first) established in 1853.
Esther Short Park is small public square, sitting at only 5 acres compared to Beacon Hill’s 200 or Stanley Park’s 1,001. In 1853, Esther Short, a pioneer wife and mother, donated the land to the City of Vancouver along with some other property which is now part of the Port of Vancouver.
The park had fallen on hard times by the 1980s, and was better known as an unkempt haven for drug dealers and street kids. The City boldly pushed a plan for mixed-use housing on the blocks surrounding the park, while redeveloping the park, itself, as an urban plaza. The project envisioned open space with a town square combined, drawing the larger community to the City’s center year-round.
The success of the park, and the ability of the investment in the area to spur larger downtown renewal, would hinge on the acceptance of new housing in the City’s core. So far, the results are promising, with the first phase of housing occupied, and new housing and hotel developments underway on adjacent blocks. [Source: Main Street Vancouver]
Private donations of $3.6 million and city investment of $2 million were used in 1998 to redevelop the park. The playground equipment was donated by the Angelo family and on the southeast corner is a 69-foot Salmon Run Bell Tower, which was made possible by generous donations from Burgerville founder and philanthropist, the late George Propstra and his wife Carolyn. A Glockenspiel diorama emerges from the tower on a regular schedule to depict a story of local Chinook First Nations.
We enjoyed the nice wide sidewalks and open grass-covered areas spotted with old redwoods, and water features (like at the clock tower and along the eastern perimeter) add movement — and a bit of misty refreshment on hot summer days.
With a revitalized town square, new condo developments, and the Vancouver Convention Centre (with a Hilton) surrounding the park, Esther Short Park is teeming with activity. It’s the home of the Vancouver farmer’s market and the bandstand hosts summer concerts and a community theatre as well.
I’ve now been to the oldest park in America (Boston Common, when I lived there 10 years ago), the oldest in the Pacific Northwest (Esther Short), and I’m lucky enough to call the world’s best (Stanley Park) my own backyard playground.