The Past, Present, and Future of Vancouver’s Japantown

Japantown Historical and Cultural Significance

Presentation by Hugh McLean
City of Vancouver

City of Vancouver Planner Hugh McLean made this presentation at a Heritage Vancouver event on January 17, 2008, on the “Past, Present and Future of Vancouver’s Japantown.” Hugh presented information on the evolution of the area and its historical and cultural significance.

Buddhist Temple Heritage Plaque Local Houses

Local Street Scene Local Community Scene Grocery and Produce Corner Building

Click images to enlarge

Number ten on Heritage Vancouver’s 2007 Top Ten Endangered list, this neighbourhood, centred around the 300-400 blocks of Powell Street, was the heart of Vancouver’s Japanese community. Over the past two decades, the accelerating decline of the Downtown East Side has hit Japantown particularly hard. The years of neglect have taken their toll, businesses have moved from the area and there has been a noticeable deterioration of the building stock. Due to a lack of heritage incentives the rehabilitation of the buildings has been minimal.

This is an opportunity to have a frank conversation regarding the future of this historic neighbourhood. The City of Vancouver issued a Request for Proposal in December 2007 for an Historical and Cultural Review of the Powell Street area known as Japantown.

Powell Street – Japantown Evaluation of Historical Significance – PDF

JapanTown Historical and Cultural Review

The Powell Street area, Japantown, is the site of Vancouver’s earliest beginnings. Some stories about the early and developing city are to be found in its streets and buildings, and nowhere else. This unique historical precinct has been and remains home to a unique civic culture that is intensely connected and committed to the place and its stories. In advance of planning the future development of the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer area, one critical task of this report was to determine what are the most important stories that the place has to tell, to identify the spaces and buildings needed to tell them, and to suggest ways to do the telling.

This Historical and Cultural Review report explores the history of the Powell Street area, and identifies places and activities that can relate its important stories. This exploration is conveyed through the Historical Context Statement, Historical Themes, and the lists of Historic Places and Cultural Activities.

Following the identification of the important stories and the places and activities critical for the telling, the report includes a high-level review of management tools that are options for the management of historic and cultural resources in the Powell Street area. This Heritage Toolkit will support the rehabilitation of heritage sites and visibility of ‘intangible’ elements of heritage through public history projects and community arts activities. Heritage Management Tools are presented in the context of the Downtown Eastside Official Development Plan, recent initiatives in the study area, and responsiveness to stakeholders in the Oppenheimer Park Development Plan process.

This historical and cultural review is part of the city-wide Heritage Register Upgrade initiative. In keeping with the principles of this initiative, this study engaged the diverse community, responded to their values, and built community capacity in so doing.


Japantown Historical and Cultural Review – PDF