They Paved Paradise and put up a Parking Lot: Larwill Park

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Bus Depot , 150 Dunsmuir Street in 1953. Photo Courtesy Vancouver Archives LP 205.4

My friend Angus McIntyre was a Vancouver bus driver for 40 years and often took photos of heritage buildings, neon signs, street lamps and everyday life on his various routes. His photos are always so vivid and interesting (see his posts on Birks and elevator operators) and when he sends me one, I stop whatever I’m doing and nag him for the back story.

150 Dunsmuir Street
Inside the bus depot in 1979. Angus McIntyre photo.

Angus shot this photo of the old bus depot on Dunsmuir Street (Larwill Park) in 1979. He tells me: “This was just after Pacific Stage Lines had been dissolved, and Pacific Coach Lines had started the replacement service. The signs have tape covering the word ‘Stage’.” Angus says that on an earlier busy Sunday, employees conducted a mock funeral for Pacific Stage Lines. “Afterwards, there was a wake at the bus drivers’ booze can across the street on Dunsmuir. Seems Vancouver has this thing for mock funerals,” he says.

150 Dunsmuir Street
Larwill Park today via Google Maps

Seems we also have a thing for parking lots. Vancouver seems to revere parking lots as much as other cities value heritage buildings, public space, and art. (See Our Missing Second Hotel Vancouver).

Larwill Park is now the huge downtown parking lot that is bounded by Cambie, Dunsmuir, Beatty and Georgia Streets. It began life as the Cambie Street Grounds, a park and sports fields. And, being opposite the Beatty Street Drill Halls, at times operated as a military drill ground. The park was named after Al Larwill, who the story goes, was made “caretaker” after squatting in a shack on the land for many years. He was given a house on a corner of the land where he stored sports equipment and allowed team members to use his dining room to change.

150 Dunsmuir Street
Military exercises Cambie Street Grounds ca.1907. Photo Vancouver Archives 677-980

In 1946, Charles Bentall of the Dominion Construction Company built the bus depot, and it opened the following year as the most modern in Canada. Pacific Stage Lines, Greyhound, Squamish Coach Lines and others operated out of the terminal, until car culture struck in the 1950s and ‘60s and some of the companies went under.

In 1979, when Angus took his photo, Pacific Stage Lines had just merged with Vancouver Island Coach lines to become Pacific Coach Lines. In 1993, the bus depot moved to Pacific Central Station and the land became a parking lot.

150 Dunsmuir Street
How the Vancouver Art Gallery sees the future of Larwill Park.

The Vancouver Art Gallery has its sights on the land and wants to turn it into a backdrop for its for its bizarre bento-box building.

For more posts see: Our Missing Heritage

© All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Eve Lazarus.

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  1. Was the park ever a “real” park?

    How did Bentall come to build on it?

    Who actually owned the land before it became a depot?

    Thanks Eve and Angus!

      1. Many thanks, Eve –

        I appreciated reading the stories about it in Changing Vancouver. I still don’t understand how a Park Board park was given over to a bus company and why, when that use was done, why the Park Board didn’t get it back to use as a park for the people of Vancouver. As Changing Vancouver states,

        “The Cambie Street Grounds were eventually named after Albert – the Canadian Pacific Railway initially cleared the land, and subsequently sold it to the Park Board in 1904. In 1946, in a complex land deal the site was leased as the bus depot, and more recently it has become a parking lot, curiously still known officially as Larwill Park (a name the Park Board eventually bestowed in 1943). If the Vancouver Art Gallery successfully find a way to develop on the site, the Larwill name association is probably likely to fade.”

        Does anyone else have any info on this “complex land deal” from 1946?

        Thanks again for your great site and books, Eve!


  2. I heard Bruce Allen comment that the art gallery was so far away from its funding goal that it isnt going to be building any time soon.

    The old bus depot didnt survive but Greyhound is on life support. The Scottish company that owns the Greydog doesnt want to operate schedules and lanes that arent profitable.

  3. Thanks to you and Angus for this memory jog.

    In my teens, I lived in New Westminster … but Vancouver was where the action was (W. 4th Ave & flower power, be-ins at Stanley Park, rock concerts at various venues, including the PNE!), so I saw that bus station regularly.

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