City of Vancouver Heritage Awards: 36 Years of Excellence

Susan M Boyce
May 20, 2015

It’s a little-known celebration of Vancouver’s heritage and history, a night honouring the architects, community organizations, developers, writers, artists, and ordinary citizens who go to extraordinary lengths to preserve the unique outlook and vision that define this West Coast city.

Celebrating their 36th anniversary, the City of Vancouver Heritage Awards take place every two years in either April or May. They acknowledge special achievements in furthering the City’s heritage conservation goals through projects ranging from restoration and rehabilitation of buildings to features or sites that promote heritage conservation. Winners are selected by a jury that includes three members of the Vancouver Heritage Commission and two members of the public.

Among the 2015 cohort of winners announced on May 4, residential restoration made an impressive showing for sheer outside-the-box thinking and vision. Here are the highlights.

Jeff’s Residence: People’s Choice

Located in Vancouver’s popular Grandview-Woodlands (aka The Drive) neighbourhood, this stately manor was once the home of Dr. Jeff, a prominent doctor and city coroner. Upon his death it was converted into a rooming house until the 1907 structure was reimagined as six dramatic apartment homes plus a one-of-a-kind, turreted penthouse. The building was also shifted 15 feet toward the street to allow construction of much-needed infill townhouses on the northeast section of the property.

As a bonus, the grand lawn that used to play host to exquisite garden parties, in the days when this neighbourhood rivalled Shaughnessy for prestige, has been restored to prominence in the landscape.

Opsal by Bastion Developments: Award of Recognition

Located at Quebec Street and Second Avenue in Southeast False Creek, Opsal garnered its award for restoring the Opsal Steel Building, originally built in 1918 for the Columbia Block and Tool Company. Once a star among Vancouver’s rising industrial presence, over the decades the barn-like structure had suffered the ravages of neglect – peeling paint, broken windows and a sagging roofline.

Rather than put it under the wrecking ball, Bastion meticulously took the heritage building apart, piece by piece, numbering and documenting each component so it could be put back together and begin a new life as a social hub for the two residential towers that are now rising on either side. Original cladding was reused in the interior courtyard, the iconic exterior signage was restored, and the giant Douglas fir beam – a rarity since most beams of this size would have been made of steel – used to support the gantry crane has been preserved. The crane itself, along with some of the wooden casting moulds, will become an intriguing part of the building’s public art.

Yale Hotel: Award of Honour

Also proving that with careful design old and new can coexist, the revitalized Yale Hotel in downtown Vancouver is an integral part of Rize Alliance Properties’ tower residence, The Rolston. For many years one of the grand old ladies of the City’s blues and jazz scene, the hotel received an interior and exterior restoration plus extensive seismic upgrades. The Rolston too has already garnered multiple awards for its distinctive, playful architecture and innovative design.

662-668 Union Street: Award of Recognition

Two Strathcona heritage homes were reborn as showcases of modern-day energy efficiency and gentle densification, with townhouse and coach house additions. All seven homes maximize passive solar opportunities through state-of-the-art features including solar hot water, air source heat pumps, insulated concrete forms, tankless hot water system as well as a drainwater heat-recovery system. The two residences were repositioned 60 feet farther back on the site and now have new foundations and a basement.

Although the homes were never planned for presale, response was so positive that all units were accounted for prior to completion.

Prefontaine House: Award of Recognition

Built in 1902, this early example of residential growth in the South Cambie neighbourhood was designed in the Edwardian-era architectural style and built primarily from local, easily obtained materials. A Category B building on Vancouver’s Heritage Register, the in-situ restoration preserved this house’s character and much of its original integrity. A welcome surprise came when the asbestos cladding from an earlier renovation was removed to reveal most of the original wood siding could be restored and retained.

Now fully restored, this house presents a historically accurate example of early residential architecture in Vancouver.

For information about all 21 winners in the 2015 Vancouver Heritage Awards, visit the City of Vancouver’s Heritage Awards web page here.

Susan M Boyce
Susan M Boyce is a Vancouver-based freelance writer specializing in real estate and residential development. She has co-authored four books on writing and business and is a regular contributor to and Real Estate Weekly newspaper.