Project 200 and the Waterfront Freeway

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Project 200, 1968. Note we've kept Woodwards but nixed the 1914 Seabus station. Image courtesy Tom Carter

Project 200, 1968. Note we’ve kept Woodwards but nixed the 1914 Seabus station. Image courtesy Tom Carter

Gordon Price called it “the most important thing that never happened” to Vancouver, and certainly if Project 200 and the rest of the freeway plans had gone ahead, Vancouver would be virtually unrecognizable today.

The plan was to construct a $340 million freeway system that would connect Vancouver to the Trans-Canada Highway and to Highway 99. The freeway would run between Union and Prior Streets, and wipe out Strathcona, most of Chinatown, much of the West End, plop an ocean parkway along English Bay, and turn Vancouver into a mini Los Angeles.

The freeway system under Project 200, 1968
The freeway system under Project 200, 1968

The Chinatown section of the freeway would connect to a giant ditch that would run through downtown along Thurlow to a third crossing of Burrard Inlet from Stanley Park. Fortunately, the only part of the plan that eventuated is the contentious Georgia Viaduct built in 1972.

“What they proposed for Vancouver would have laid concrete on elevated decks, in tunnels and trenches over and through much of the land now occupied by residential towers, parks and the seawall,” writes Price.

The almost new Georgia Viaduct in 1971. CVA 216-1.23
The almost new Georgia Viaduct in 1971. CVA 216-1.23

To get a sense of Project 200—which took its name from the needed $2 million investment—take yourself to the bottom of Granville Street and check out the plaza. Then look up at the Sun/Province tower. Then imagine a forest of office and residential towers, plazas, a major hotel, and parking for 7,000 cars that would destroy Waterfront Station, most of the Sinclair Centre and the heritage buildings in Gastown. Notes Price: “The site would have demolished practically everything from Howe to Abbott Streets, north of Cordova, and covered over the rail tracks on the CPR yards, with a southern extension to Woodwards on the east side.”

"This first area at the foot of Granville Street will add a new quality of excitement and colour to the fabric of Vancouver’s life. The base of the office buildings will be related to waterfront cafes, restaurants, clubs, theatres, boutiques and the transportation centre grouped around delightful squares, courtyards and gardens.” Project 200, 1968.
“This first area at the foot of Granville Street will add a new quality of excitement and colour to the fabric of Vancouver’s life. The base of the office buildings will be related to waterfront cafes, restaurants, clubs, theatres, boutiques and the transportation centre grouped around delightful squares, courtyards and gardens.” From Project 200, 1968.

The experts say that the freeway proposal died because of lack of federal and provincial funding, but I’m clinging to the belief that it was defeated by grassroots opposition.

What we got. 2016
What we got. 2016

Gordon Price will be discussing the discontented ‘60s, the great freeway debate and urban renewal next January 26 for the Vancouver Historical Society’s monthly speaker series. Please join us at the Museum of Vancouver. For details see:  Vancouver Historical Society Events.

 

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7 comments

  1. Project 200 and the Waterfront freeway died because of the dispute between the two senior governments. Without their contribution the whole project didn’t make financial sense and collapsed.

    The east/west freeway running through the east side and Strathcona died because of grassroots opposition.

    BTW, Woodwards survived because they were investors in Project 200.

  2. How about the North Fraser River Harbour Commission with plans for a Massive Ferry Terminal and bridge to Point Grey on the Iona Island Jetty and Highway across Sea Island to Y. V. R, and the Freeway ?
    I still got a copy of the first concept report .

  3. Though the Georgia Viaduct destroyed Hogan’s Alley and disrupted Union Street, it did provide an excellent base for my camera gear in the 1980s. On the NW exit, I photographed the beginning of the development of Keefer Place, the Sun Building Woodward’s “W”, etc., all now obscured by the condo towers … and, of course, that vantage point will be gone if plans to demolish the viaduct proceed.

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