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A Brief History of the Upper Lands

Situated on the North Shore of Burrard Inlet between the Capilano River and Howe Sound, West Vancouver’s south facing mountain slopes offer commanding panoramic views and a unique topography. For community pioneers and builders alike, they have long presented both an alluring and challenging prospect for community expansion and development.

Early years in a frontier settlement

The area was first settled by European immigrants in the 1870’s. Reflecting a slow but gradual growth, West Vancouver was incorporated as a Municipality in 1912, and by 1926, the Town Planning Act excluded new industry and firmly established the municipality as a residential community. With the settlement of the Ambleside, Hollyburn and Dundarave neighbourhoods and the founding of the ferry system, a unique and somewhat prestigious identity began to emerge. Promoting West Vancouver as “a residential haven from the city” Council regulated fifty and seventy-five foot lot size minimums in order to maintain the exclusive character and appearance of the growing seaside community.

Near bankruptcy and a helping hand

During the economic doldrums of the Depression, the municipality was threatened with bankruptcy when residents were unable to pay their property taxes. A.J.T. Taylor, a Victoria engineer turned real estate promoter, set about convincing the Guinness family of London to purchase 4700 acres in the Upper Lands in exchange for $1 million in improvements over the next five years. In addition, the family agreed to fund construction of the Lion’s Gate Bridge which would provide automobile access between West Vancouver and the city for the very first time. In August 1933, the city of North Vancouver approved the plan followed shortly by the Districts of North and West Vancouver. After considerable debate, a public referendum in the City of Vancouver finally approved the proposal by a wide margin on December 13th of that year.

A new era for West Vancouver

This agreement sparked a second major era of growth and development. Between 1931 and 1950, approximately 1000 acres on the lower levels of Hollyburn Ridge were the scene of impressive changes that would usher West Vancouver into the modern age.

Establishing a higher standard

In 1933, the Guinness family hired the Olmstead Brothers, a renowned Boston firm of landscape architects responsible for such distinctive city landmarks as New York’s Central Park and Montreal’s Mount Royal Park. Determined to create a remarkable subdivision that would feature pleasant parks, winding, treed streetcapes and spectacular vistas, the British Properties were designed as an exclusive sanctuary from the pressures and distractions of city living. The British Properties also set an innovative tone for future development and helped to establish the unique character and values of an emerging community.

The Guinness family finished construction of the Lions Gate Bridge in 1938 at a cost of almost $6 million – a welcome job creation program in its own right in the heart of the Great Depression. Providing easy access to the British Properties, originally known as Capilano Estates, the bridge was a major incentive attracting prospective new residents and homebuyers. It also spurred further development along Hollyburn Ridge with the creation of additional roads, parks and bridges to service the new residents.

In 1950, British Pacific Properties completed and opened Park Royal Mall, the first shopping centre of its kind of Western Canada. In the years since 1960, the Company has built thousands of homes in emerging neighbourhoods west of the British Properties. These include Westhill, Chartwell and Canterbury subdivisions.   Also Whitby Estates, Taylor's Lookout, Highgrove Place, Highview Place and The Aerie, a luxury “all penthouses” building.

To view a short video on Capilano in the Early Days, click below

The Upper Lands today

In the 1990’s, British Pacific Properties entered another new phase, disposing of its Park Royal Shopping Centre to focus exclusively on the planning and development of its upland properties. The lands earmarked for development constituted an area of approximately 4700 acres above the Upper Levels Highway between Marr Creek and Horseshoe Bay below the 1200 ft. contour. In line with the thinking of the times, the company concentrated on increasingly sophisticated urban planning and design, more efficient construction techniques and a continued sensitivity to the natural environment. British Pacific Properties had also by this time begun to build individual homes as well as developing its raw land.

Working closely with West Vancouver Council and its Official Community Plan, BPP has taken a proactive role in creating an overall vision for the evolution of these new neighbourhoods. The company has also played a major part in establishing the process that would lead to a consensus among the district’s various interest groups and to Council’s eventual approval of The Rodgers Creek Area Development Plan.

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