West Vancouver’s Ambleside: Then and Now

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If you live on the North Shore, chances are that you spend at least some of your summer at Ambleside. Did you know that you are sitting on reclaimed land? Prior to 1965, much of this land was a swamp.

Ambleside Beach in 1918. Photo 0002.WVA.PHO

In 1914, Ambleside was subdivided into 17 lots and filled with makeshift homes and a few businesses. Because much of the area was often under water, many of the structures, including Overington’s barber shop, were raised on stilts, and most comprised little more than a floor, some wooden sides and a canvas top.

Ambleside East of 13th, taken from Sentinel Hill in 1910. 423.WVA.THO

In those days, a large slough cut through Ambleside and ran between Capilano River and 14th Street, and boats moored on the north side of Marine Drive. In the winter, residents skated on the frozen slough, in the summer they fished for cod, and shot pigeons and ducks on the surrounding marsh.

Ambleside was designated as a park in 1918.

The Ambleside slough, mouth of the Capilano River and the Capilano Fog and Light Station in 1921. 0461. WVA.RAH

Just across from the sports field at Ambleside Park is a building that houses the Ambleside Youth Centre. Before that it was home to the West Vancouver Rod and Gun Club, and before that it was one of 18 huts built by the Department of National Defence with four-gun emplacements and anti-aircraft guns to defend the harbour entrance below the Lions Gate Bridge during World War 11.

Ambleside Beach, 1932. 3411.WVA.PHO

After the war, the huts were converted into housing for war vets and their families. Officially, the housing development was named the Ambleside Park Village; unofficially locals called it “Diaper Lane.” The huts were built on low land that flooded several times a year, and at those times, food and supplies were brought in by rowboat.

Ambleside War Assets Corporation Huts in the 1940s. Photo courtesy West Vancouver Archives

The playing fields and pitch-and-putt are built on sawdust, bark and wood waste from a North Vancouver sawmill. The duck lagoon was created by dredging part of the slough, while Ambleside beach is a product of 85,000 cubic metres of sand and gravel hauled from the sandbanks west of Navvy Jack Point.

Ambleside Beach 2017. Photo courtesy Eyoalha Baker

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



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  1. Thanks for the history lesson. My wife and I have walked the sea wall from Ambleside to Dundarave a few times. Awesome scenery and a pleasant mostly cyclist free walk.
    Is the timing of this post coincidental with a “3 day rock and roll” event planed for Ambleside?
    I cant imagine why the people of West Van would be interested in this sort of event.

      1. Some of us were born and raised in West Vancouver during the 60’s and 70’s and are wholeheartedly looking forward to Rock Ambleside

  2. Really great post, Eve!

    I first learned about the slough when I heard the history of the First Nations burial ground on the hill behind Park Royal Towers. The burial ground seemed to be in an unlikely spot until I read that the Ambleside slough once extended to the base of the hill.

    For centuries I expect, mourners would canoe up the slough and lay the departed to rest on the hill above.

    Knowing that, I now walk along Pound Road quietly.

    1. My late mother, father, grandparents and great grandparents and so on are buried in that cemetery. Not it sits amongst a concrete jungle. 😪

  3. Two things to note:
    First the cemetery located above Park Royal is still in use. Chief Joe Mathias was buried there, an event I attended.
    Second: A large part of the original Indian Reserve, mostly what is now Park Royal South, were originally included the Reserve. Theses lands were “Cut Off Lands” assumed to be surplus to any requirements the Squamish Nation would have, and were removed after the 1916 Royal Commission (McKenna/McBride) and came into the hands of the province. In later years, when Hon Allan Williams was the sitting MLA for West Vancouver, and the B.C. Minister Responsible for Indians, he was unable to persuade the Cabinet to pay the compensation for those lands to the Squamish First Nation, which would have kept those lands in the provincial system. The amount involved was approximately $8.0M, but the residents of West Vancouver were not at all pleased that those lands were returned to Squamish. I grew up in North Vancouver, swam at Ambleside, and learned to shoot at the Rod and Gun Club…and we had family friends living in houses on stilts on reserve on the other side of Lions Gate Bridge. When we visited there you checked the tides first, since the long walkways out to the house were periodically covered by the rising tide.

    1. Thanks for this Ambleside info and your post. So interesting! Did you say this is included in one of your books? My Mum was raised in Vancouver and had family in West Van that she visited via the ferry at the time….would love to show her the history!

      1. It’s not in any of my books – but probably should be! I came across the history when I was doing some research for the North Vancouver Museum and Archives. It was part of an exhibit called Water’s Edge

    2. when it was returned to my people you say the residents of west van weren’t happy. Boo boo how do you think my ancestors felt when they were forced to leave? My great grandfather had a longhouse where winner area is.

  4. Ambleside holds many happy memories for me! My grandmother Ethel Brown lived on the ninth floor of The Windsor of Park Royal Towers. When I was growing up in the 70’s our family would visit almost every weekend in the summer and spend the whole day at Ambleside. Nana loved to bring a picnic lunch, her thermos of coffee, and a paperback to read while me and my 2 older sisters swam for hours on end. We also would volunteer to walk the dogs from the S.P.C.A. Best memories ever!

  5. Thanks for this interesting info. I walk the seawall daily and love it! Always something new to see. I remember in the fifties playing off the dundarave pier.

  6. Hi Eve, my parents lived in the Navvy Jack house at 17th and Argyle. It was built in the late 1860s and was the oldest known continuously occupied house in the lower mainland. They bought it in the late 1960’s and lived there for 51 years until my father’s recent passing this April. Dad had a wonderful flower and vegetable garden right there on the beach and talked to everyone who passed by on the seawall. We have so many fond memories of this grand old place.
    Jane Williams

      1. Looking forward to our chat, Eve. We’re hoping it will be a nature house facilitated by the Stream Keepers. JW

  7. We Just Kinda Moved In And Took Over.
    There’s A Large Piece Of The Story Missing.
    But I Don’t Think Most People Want To Hear
    The Ugly Truth.

  8. We moved to Ambleside in August, 1946. The trenches, barbed wire and a quonset hut were still there. The duck pond was a natural part of the slough. A simple dam with a spill way allowed water to enter at high tide and and ensured that the pond maintained a depth of about 10 feet in the middle. Spring tides allowed two arms of the slough to be navigable by rafts we constructed as far as Marine Drive and almost to Begg’s Grocery Store at 13th and Bellevue.

    I was a ‘Swamp Rat’ for many years and the slough was our adventure playground. My greatest find, washed up on Ambleside Beach was Half of a dugout canoe split down the middle and 18 feet long. We skimmed over the calm waters of the slough in this marvelous find.

    Several decrepit homes stood on stilts were the Hollyburn Sailing Club now stands. The irony is that these waterfront dwellings were considered a local slum at that time !

  9. I still have the old west van High school annuals, I graduated in 1960 would have to spend some time looking for them though

  10. I have lived in both north van and west van 4084Wellington Crescent in North Van & 2955 Roseberry Ave in West van great spots both of them. I live in Australia now and Love the climate here but LOVE getting back to the north shore when possible

  11. I have wonderful photos of my family & I (age 3 ) enjoying the beach around 1946 . Long before the swimming pool, it was a favorite place to picnic & swim .

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