On Sunday February 23rd, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation hosted a presentation for a Places that Matter plaque at Hinge Park in the Olympic Village. Appropriately it was the last day of the Winter Olympics. Snow was falling and likely discouraged attendance. In the end it was the invited who came: PFS Studio’s Marta Farevaag, Raymond Louie and Andrea Reimer from City Council, John Coupar from the Park Board, and Derek Lee from PWL Partnership, the Landscape Architects for Hinge Park and sponsors of the plaque.
City Council has been a supporter of recognizing and celebrating the industrial heritage in False Creek through many years of policy and planning reports. Raymond Louie recollected the long discussions that Council had to decide which of the heritage structures on site would be retained and rehabilitated; the Canron building was in too advanced a state of deterioration to make the cut. Both he and Andrea Reimer spoke of the loss of industrial land uses and the gritty character that the area once had from their childhood memories.
The Canron Building was on the site of Hinge Park until it was demolished 1998. Karen Estrin from the Vancouver Heritage Foundation noted that it was one of the last survivors from the shipbuilding industry on the south shore of False Creek. During World War I, the shipyard was Vancouver’s largest employer, with a 2,000-strong workforce and construction of the largest tonnage of steel ships in the British Empire. In 1935, a steel fabrication plant was built on the shipyard site. This three-acre plant came to be known as the Canron Building where steel was produced for some of the region’s major transportation routes, including the First Avenue Viaduct, the Pattullo Bridge and the towers of the Lions Gate Bridge.
During the Second World War, shipbuilding returned with fabrication of large sections of 10,000 ton freighters. Postwar, the shipyard site remained operational, employing up to 5,000 workers. During this period, the industry produced steel for iconic structures such as the Alex Fraser Bridge and Canada Place.
Derek Lee spoke of the many design elements in the park that celebrate its industrial heritage: the steel trusses that have become a gateway where the Places that Matter plaque will be mounted, seating walls made of dry stacked pieces of recycled concrete paving, and gabion retaining walls filled with crushed concrete from the foundations. These reused elements are presented without interpretation and require the visitor to observe and speculate on the history of what is incorporated into the park. Reused elements are found in counterpoint to new ones with an industrial character: stainless and galvanized steel details and heavy timbers.
The waterfront open spaces in Olympic Village, designed by PWL Partnership, PFS Studio, and other designers, have found many ways to incorporate the industrial heritage of Southeast False Creek into tangible reminders of its rich and interesting past and to use a contemporary range of materials to convey an industrial character that shapes a renewed sense of place for the Village.