Grandview’s Parks to 1930


In 1888, more than a dozen years before Grandview began any proper existence, a prosperous merchant, the Toronto-based E.J. Clark offered to give to the City of Vancouver seven acres of land he owned east of False Creek to be used for “athletic purposes”. This was not the simple philanthropic gesture that it may appear to be at first glance. Clark owned a great deal of land around what would become Clark Park, and his thought was that if the City spent money to improve the Park, this would increase the value of his other properties. Therefore, the donation of the seven acres came with several conditions: he required that the City cut a trail from the logging road at Venables Street to the entrance to the Park, a trail that in time would become Commercial Drive; and, just as important for Clark, the City would clear the park land itself and improve the property. This latter condition would be the driving force behind many years of legal wrangling over ownership that would only be settled by the Supreme Court of Canada many years later. But those difficulties were in the future in 1888 and the City Solicitor was instructed to work with Clark on drawing up the legal papers for the land transfer.i

In his New Year address to the City at the beginning of 1889, Mayor Oppenheimer expressed his gratitude to Clark for the donation, and by March of that year it seems that the necessary conveyancing documents had been drafted. Later that spring, City Council issued a by-law to raise $125,000 for various purposes, including improvements to the “east, west, and south parks,” and by the end of 1891 it could be reported that “the clearing in South Park has been completed and the seeding done.”ii

Given the remoteness of the site, and the general lack of funds available to the Parks Commissioners generally, the “South Park” was largely neglected for many years thereafter. In the 1904 Report of the Park Commissioners, it was not even mentioned in passing, with all the funds devoted to either Stanley Park or the Powell Street Grounds. In the early years of the 1890s it was even suggested that Clark’s land could be used as the site for an isolation hospital to handle the smallpox epidemic of 1892, an idea that was only shelved when a better site at Templeton was purchased.iii

In 1899, E.J. Clark’s son, acting for his father, sought to recover the seven acre property. His claim was that the City had failed to live up to the conditions attached to the original donation. The Board of Works had cleared most of the land but one-eighth had been unimproved due to an issue with the survey lines. It was for this “failure” that Clark sued the City. He lost in the BC Courts and the Court of Appeal and, eventually, in June 1904, he lost again at the Supreme Court of Canada.iv

The fact that Vancouver City now definitively owned Clark Park did not immediately encourage the City fathers to expend any funds on its improvement. The Park Board budget for 1907 only allowed for $200 to be spent on the site; and that was probably used up when local residents complained that the timber on the uncleared portion of the park was blocking their view and a team was sent to cut down the trees.v

However, by the summer of 1907, the newly-formed Grandview Progress Association (GPA), chaired by William Miller and with Professor Edward Odlum as a leading proponent, joined with Mount Pleasant citizens to lobby the Parks Board to improve Clark Park. Some work seems to have been undertaken because, by the following summer, Clark Park was included in the list of park grounds that would enjoy some of a series of concertsthat the Park Commissioners planned. However, as an indication that the site was still outside the usual City haunts, three of the military bandsmen scheduled to perform on 20th July were “unable to find their way to the Park.”vi

In October 1908, the Parks Superintendent requested a budget that included $6,000 for Clark Park. In his report, the Superintendent stated his opinion that Clark Park was “perfect for pleasure purposes, and could be put in shape for $6,000, including an athletic field, pavilion, and setting shade trees,” and building a fence. When the By-Law was published in January 1909, the amount for Clark Park had increased to $6,600 and was approved at the election on January 14th. In March 1909, tenders for the work were advertised, and by the following summer, musical concerts and lacrosse games were a regular feature of the activities at Clark Park.vii

Meanwhile, the Grandview Progress Association made a demand for a park to be created more centrally-located in the neighbourhood. In the Municipal election of January 1909, the public overwhelmingly approved plebiscites granting the Parks Board $255,000 to acquire new parks in Vancouver, some of which was directed to the purchase of Block 137B in Grandview. This vacant block, sitting between Victoria and Salsbury Drives, Grant and Kitchener Streets was surrounded by residential sections already built or soon to be so. It was an excellent location for an inner city park, and the GPA asked for it to be put “in suitable condition for park purposes without delay.”viii

As usual, matters did not move ahead quickly at the Park Board — the Commissioners wrote that no funds were available that year — and it was not until February 1910 that a tender for the work was issued to S. Becker for $1,350. In September, the GPA requested that the Board of Works “plow and grade” the park that fall so that it would be ready for seeding in the spring. They also asked that the large maple trees on Professor Odlum’s property on Grant Street be moved to the new park. These requests were agreed to later that month. By the following July it was reported that the Park “is perfectly level now and we hope to be able to use it soon.” A few months later it had been “planted with grass. Probably next spring it will be a landmark for beauty and social gatherings.” The Western Call prophesied that it would be “a great attraction … a thing of beauty.” In August 1911 it was determined that Grandview Park would hereafter be known as Victoria Park.ix.

But what kind of a park should it be? One devoted to recreation or designed purely for aesthetics? The recently organized Grandview Ratepayers came down forcefully on the side of the local athletes, passing a motion that called for the park to be designed with “an oval in the centre sufficiently large for recreation and games such as baseball and lacrosse.” Their argument was that “if young people were not given an opportunity to exercise their physical energies in a healthful way they would drift into something worse.” The GPA, however, wanted a floral park which they believed would upgrade the district and improve property values, and the debate raged at a Parks Board meeting in May 1910. x

To resolve the issue, a public meeting was called for June 6th at the Grandview schoolhouse. The meeting, chaired by W.E. Flumerfelt, was described as “one of the biggest yet held in the district,”and produced “with great enthusiasm and practical unanimity” a decision to proceed with a floral garden following a plan laid out by the Park Commissioners.xi

By the spring of 1912, the park was “taking shape on a very attractive plan.”

“Around the outside borders is a bouevard strip … and within that is a floral border in which are planted trees and shrubs. Broad shell walks … extend entirely around the park inside of this floral border and across the middle another walk extends broken in the middle by a large oval flower bed … All the work of seeding and planting has been done by gardener Thomas Harper.”xii

A report in 1915 suggested that a total of $28,000 had been expended on Victoria Park to that date. However, during an inspection in 1917, the Commissioners found the walks were soggy and the grass was not growing as well as they hoped. They agreed to put in the work needed to improve the park, and the following year a new drainage system was contemplated.xiii

Unfortunately, the reality didn’t measure up to the dream. Although the park was regularly meantioned as a local feature in real estate ads, it was in truth neglected and under-used. By 1932, when it was proposed to turn the Park into grounds for the Grandview Lawn Bowling Club, there were few complaints.xiv

Which brings us to what is today called Grandview Park, in the 1200-block Commercial Drive and stretching west to Cotton Drive. The legal description is block 43 of District Lot 264a and it was purchased by George McSpadden, former City Assessor and soon to be Alderman, sometime in 1904 for just $1,500. He built himself a $1,600 house near the south end of the block on Park Drive, and before long he had a real estate shack operating at the north end. During 1907 and 1909 the owners of seven lots at the west end of the block had erected houses, though only one would last into 1916. By 1911 McSpadden was said to have sold the block to the Dominion Ministry of War for the enormous sum of $125,000.xv

McSpadden built himself a new mansion in Kerrisdale, vacating his house and office. People living in the houses on Cotton, William and Charles were also obliged to move. The Irish Fusiliers of Canada took over the block, using the house at 1614 William as their headquarters. They set up a large brick field kitchen and put up numerous bell tents in which new trainees slept during their training period. The Ministry continued to use the block for drill training and as a recruitment office throughout World War One. By summer 1915 it was reported that 3,500 applications had been received – better than anticipated — and “no less than 2,000 has passed medical and are either at the front fighting or ready to go.” However, in February 1917, the Regimental Headquarters was moved to Hastings Street, and most Vancouver soldiers were being drilled at Hastings Park by the end of that year. In 1919 the Canadian Engineers used the old Fusiliers facilities as a depot, and by the following year they were gone too.The Irish Fusiliers maintained a regimental office in Grandview into the 1920s, and it became the home of the Regimental Band which was in much demand. xvi

The Ministry of War continued to hold title to the land into the late 1920s. As the years passed, residents and businessmen realized that having an army base in a prime block on a commercial street was not helping the community move ahead. After severe grumblings from Charles Smith, the Grandview Chamber of Commerce, and others, the Ottawa government agreed to lease the property to the city for a nominal rent. The Ministry originally retained ownership over two old houses that had been on the drill hall site, but they had little value, interfered with the layout of a new park, and in June 1928, at the request of the Grandview Ratepayers Association, they too were transferred to the city and quickly demolished.xvii

 Smith had by this time become a local power-broker along the Drive as property owner, property manager, real estate agent, insurance broker, and inveterate joiner of worthy organizations. It was Smith once again who, working this time with Aldermen Harry DeGraves and John Bennett, persuaded the City to come up with the necessary improvements. Cleared, graded, seeded and equipped with modern wading pool, swings, tennis courts, “commodious” dressing rooms and showers, the new park represented an outlay of $10,000 by City Council.xviii

Opening day of the park in November 1928 was a grand affair. More than 10,000 people packed every corner of the new park for the opening ceremonies. It was “an inspiring display of community spirit and enthusiasm that even the intermittent drizzle could not dampen.” Representatives of the provincial government, city council, parks board and Amateur Athletics union, who had responded to the invitation of the Grandview Chamber of Commerce, sat on a flag-draped platform on the Cotton Drive side of the park. The recently organized Fire Department band, under the leadership of conductor James Copeland, and with Ald. Harry DeGraves making an imposing drum major, played appropriate selections for the crowd and the VIP’s pleasure, opening with “O Canada.” Charles Smith, as president of the Chamber of Commerce, presided. In his opening remarks, he “expressed the gratefulness of the people of Grandview to the city council for its material aid” in putting the park together. He predicted that its value to the rising generation for athletic development would be many times what was spent on the improvements.xix

At this point, Olympic champion and Canadian hero Percy Williams was introduced “as a shining example of the benefit to young Canada of athletic training.” The popular runner, who had won gold medals in both the sprints at the Amsterdam Olympic Games that summer, was given a great ovation. The Park was then formally opened by the Hon. R.L. Maitland of the provincial government, Mayor-elect W.H. Malkin, and E.G. Baynes of the Parks Board. Baynes called the city’s $10,000 expenditure a gilt-edged investment. The day’s festivities concluded with a series of running races along Commercial Drive, for which the Chamber had raised more than $300 of goods from the merchants of the Drive as prizes for the athletes.

Exactly two years later, on Remembrance Day 1930, the flagstaff and cairn to the memory of the Grandview lads who had fallen in the Great War were dedicated in the Park by Archbishop DePencier. The memorial had been the idea of Catherine Bufton who, with her husband Hubert, ran the very popular Bufton’s Florists on the Drive. Her efforts had paid off handsomely. Mayor Malkin gave a brief but “stirring” speech and massed choirs sang “O Canada”, “For All The Saints” and “O God Our Help In Ages Past.” The solemn ceremony was completed with two minutes’ silence.xx


There were three other parks that were, essentially, sports fields — Templeton, Garden, and Woodland Parks — but they cannot be discounted. The 4.2 acres at Templeton were valued at $68,000 in 1912, while the 2.4 acres of Garden Park was worth $41,500, and the 1.8 acres on Woodland a massive $75,000. They were officially given their names at a Park Board meeting in January 1914.xxi

In the winter of that year, as Vancouver suffered through the depression that had struck the year before, the hiring of unemployed men to clear land was considered a useful way of dispensing welfare, and 25 men each were assigned to clear both Templeton and Garden Parks. Later, during the War, the unused parks were opened up for residents and the School Board to use as vegetable gardens. While there was little money for improvements, Woodland Park had been made available as a ballpark; but at the end of 1917 both Woodland Park and the northern half of Templeton, former site of the Isolation Hospital, were ordered to be plowed and made ready for cultivation. In the following March local residents who wanted to grow food were instructed to make application as soon as possible.xxii

It took a while for things to get back to normal after the War had ended, but by February 1921, workers were being hired to cut and burn the brush at Templeton Park, and in the following spring Vancouver City Council donated an additional $5,000 to assist the creation of playgrounds on the east side. With this, the Parks Superintendent suggested that the northern half of Templeton should be prepared as a ballpark. Garden Park was to have a small ballground and tennis courts. However, in this case, the engineer had to deal with a slope in one section of the site and a swamp in another.xxiii

In October 1922, the Parks Board suggested that the block of E. Georgia Street that bisected Templeton Park be closed to allow for a larger playing area. City Council approved the move subject to the agreement of local residents that no compensation would be paid. However, even though 39 householders signed a petition objecting to the closure, City Council made move to proceed with the closure by-law until the City Solicitor warned there might be legal consequences, and the matter was dropped.xxiv

September 1923 saw a few teams practicing baseball and soccer on Templeton Park, even though the grass had not yet settled in. When the Park Commissioners made their annual tour in February 1924, they declared that Templeton boasted “one of the best ballparks in the city” complete with an all-metal backstop. That summer, cricket was added to the park’s schedule. xxv

As the Great Depression approached, Grandview had two major parks, and easy access to a third, plus three equiped sports fields. That was alright for 1940, perhaps, but the struggle to maintain adequate greenspace as the neighbourhood developed was to be a long, frustrating, and an ultimately unsuccessful one.

i  Vancouver Daily World 1888 Nov 6, p.4; 28, p.4

ii  Oppenheimer speech quoted in Vancouver Daily World 1889 Jan 7, p.4. Conveyancing: Vancouver Daily World Mar 12, p,4. By-law: Vancouver Daily World May 14, p.4: “east park” became Hastings Park, “west park” is Stanley Park, and “south park” is Clark Park. “seeding”: Vancouver Daily World 1891 Dec 30, p.8

iii  Report: Vancouver Daily World 1905 Jan 7, p.10. “Isolation hospital”: Vancouver Daily World 1892 Jun 15, p.4, July 12, p.1; Vancouvwr Weekly World editorial 1892 Jun 23, p2

iv  The legal wrangling can be followed in Daily News Advertiser 1899 May 9, p.3, 1900 Mar 13, p.5, 24 p.2, 1903 Aug 13 p.8; Province 1900 Mar 13, p.3, 24 p.2, 1901 Feb 26, p.2, 1903 Jul 29, p.1, 30 p.3, Aug 1 p.1, Sep 23 p.3, 1904 Jan 9, p.8, May 14, p.6, Jun 8, p.1; Weekly News Advertiser 1901 Jan 15, p.12, Aug 6, p.1; Vancouver Daily World 1901 Feb 26, p.3, Jul 23, p.4, 1902 Apr 10, p.5, 13 p.1

v  Budget: Vancouver Daily World 1907 Mar 23, p.14. Trees: Daily News Advertiser 1907 Jun 13, p.2

vi  Vancouver Daily World 1908 Aug 13, p.16

vii  Province 1908 Oct 29, p.7; Daily News Advertiser p.5; Province 1909 Jan 2, p29

viii  Plebiscite results: Vancouver Daily World 1909 Jan 15, p.9. GPA request: Daily News Advertiser 1909 Dec 9, p. 11

ix  Province 1909 Oct 13, p.7; Daily News Advertiser 1910 Feb 24, p.6; Province 1910 Sep 9, p.16; Daily News Advertiser 1910 Sep 29, p.2; Western Call 1911 May 5, p.4, July 21, p.6, Oct 13, p.8; new name: Western Call 1911 Aug 4, p.2

x  The Grandview Ratepayers Association was formally organized at a meeting on 18th January 1911. They seem a little less elite than the GPA: Vancouver Daily World 1911 Jan 19, p.16. Debate on flowers v athletics: William C. McKee The Vancouver Park System 1886-1929 in Urban History Review 3-78, p.46; Vancouver Daily World 1910 Apr 5, p.12; Province 1910 Apr 8, p.18; Daily News Advertiser 1910 May 19, p.3, 26, p.2

xi  Daily News Advertiser 1910 Jun 7, p.2; Vancouver Daily World, p.17

xii  Vancouver Daily World 1912 May 16, p.14

xiii  Daily News Advertiser 1915 May 28, p.8; Province 1917 May 19, p.7, 1918 Feb 16, p.7

xiv  In 1928, when a bowling green was first mooted, the Park Board suggested a putting green might be a better use: Sun 1928 Apr 13, p.15

xv  McSpadden’s house: BP dated 20 June 1904. “$125,000”: R.J. McDougall Vancouver Real Estate in BC Magazine June 1911, p.607. Other BPs: Heritage Vancouver database, GW database; City Directories 1908-1916.

xvi  City Directories, 1913-1921; Highland Echo 1963 Nov 14. “3,500 applicants”: Vancouver Daily World 1915 June 28, p.12, qv. 1914 Jan 3. HQ moving: Vancouver Daily World 1917 Feb 10, 14, p.14. Hastings Park: Vancouver Daily World 1917 June 16, p.18

xvii  Sun 1928 Apr 13, p.15; Province Jun 7, p.22

xviii  Province, Sun 13 Nov 1928; qv. News Herald 1 Jul 1938

xix   Opening ceremonies described in Morning Star 12 Nov 1928; Province, Sun 13 Nov 1928

xx  Province, Sun 11 Nov 1930; News Herald 1 Jul 1938

xxi  Block 9 (Templeton) was purchased from the Beecher Estate for $43,000 in 1912. Block 142B (Garden Park) was purchased from P.W. Charleson for $41,500 in 1912. Sun 1912 Mar 20, p,16. Naming: Province 1914 Jan 29, p.11

xxii  Daily News Advertiser 1914 Dec 24, p.8. “vegetables”: Province 1917 Feb 2, p.7, 19 p.7; Sun Nov 15, p.6, 1918 Mar 18, p.12

xxiii  Province 1921 Feb 24, p.14; Sun 1922 Mar 27, p.14, May 24, p.14, Jul 30, p.2

xxiv  Sun 1922 Oct 25, p.6, Nov 1, p.11, 20, p.7, 1923 Jan 10, p.9; Province 1922 Nov 9, p.24, Dec 20, p.14

xxv  Province 1923 Sep 12, p.13, 1924 Feb 9, p.14; Sun 1923 Sep 14, p.8, 1924 May 27, p.10