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Architecture Residential

Robin Ward's Vancouver

by (author) Robin Ward

Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd.
Initial publish date
Jan 1990
Residential, General, General
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Jan 1990
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it

Out of print

This edition is not currently available in bookstores. Check your local library or search for used copies at Abebooks.


The talented hand of Robin Ward captures the unique character of Vancouver's classic landmarks. This handsome book contains 70 of Robin Ward's drawings, which thousands of readers have come to know though his regular Vancouver Sun column. Along with his distinctive illustrations, the author's commentary provides an insightful look at some of the heritage and history of Vancouver's celebrated places.

About the author

Robin Ward was born in Glasgow in 1950, studied graphic design at the Glasgow School of Art, drew and wrote about Victorian buildings for the Glasgow Herald, and published three books on the buildings of Glasgow and Edinburgh. After travelling throughout Europe and Canada, he and his wife settled in Vancouver. He soon became a well-known local, drawing and writing his enormously popular weekly column, "Robin Ward's Vancouver," for the Vancouver Sun and working as an artist, writer, photographer, book designer and architecture critic. Author and illustrator of the bestselling Robin Ward's Vancouver, Robin Ward's Heritage West Coast and Echoes of Empire: Victoria and Its Remarkable Buildings, and co-author and photographer of Exploring Vancouver, Ward has won two City of Vancouver Heritage Awards and a Heritage Canada Achievement Award. He is a favourite guest on local radio and television, speaking on architecture and heritage issues.

Robin Ward's profile page

Excerpt: Robin Ward's Vancouver (by (author) Robin Ward)

There was a solitary light on high up in the Sun Tower on the Sunday evening when I finished this drawing. A spectral newsman perhaps, shirt-sleeved as if in the tropics, clattering out Monday's story on an old typewriter. In the gloaming, the city lights came on. Trolley buses hummed along the empty streets. The run-down hotels, the old warehouses, that lonely light-the area took on the ambience of fifty years ago.

Many stories were once written here. The Vancouver Sun was published in this building from 1937, leaving its name and memories when it crossed the Granville Bridge to the new Pacific Press building in 1964.

Publisher Louis D. Taylor wrote himself into the city's history books with this colossal structure, a long term as Vancouver's mayor and the subsequent financial trouble that forced his paperthe Vancouver World, for which this tower was builtto move out in 1917. "There is no limit to the possibilities of the city," he once declared, his skyscraping newspaper tower evidence of Vancouver's growing metropolitan status.

There's a Citizen Kane ring to this story, and to the look of this building. With a facade as bold as a banner headline and a tower that punctuates the Beatty/Pender corner like a giant exclamation mark, this building was designed to be seen throughout its newspaper's circulation area-the free press and the publisher's prominence symbolized in architecture.

In 1912, when it was built for the Vancouver World, the Sun Tower was, briefly, the tallest in the British Empire. It may also have been the most risque. The facade is embellished with naked caryatids, sensuously posed, who support the cornice above the arcaded gallery halfway up the building.

Western civilization's concept and practice of law and order, as we know it today, has its origin with the Greeks and Romans. The style of their buildings was considered an appropriate manner in which to represent the dignified panoply of the law, banks and government institutions. Classical architecture too has its law and order, an unwritten constitution of harmony and proportion. Its laws are easily broken, its order difficult to attain.

Architect Francis Rattenbury, who in 1906 won the competition for the Court House with this neoclassical design, didn't break any laws here. But he didn't quite achieve the order which lifts a classical composition above the ordinary. He played all the right notes - a facade colonnade, columned and pedimented portico flanked by imperial lions, and a Palladian rotunda - to serenade the local judiciary with a flattering tune. But he lacked the skill and rigour, that hard edge of discipline and restraint, that sounds the chord of perfect classical proportion. The interior of the rotunda is more deftly handled than the building's outside detail.

Rattenbury's late-Victorian English sensibility was more at home with the romantic concoctions at which he excelled - the provincial Parliament Buildings and the Empress Hotel in Victoria, for example. But his Court House makes a fine art gallery, which it is today - a romantic and mildly subversive irony, given that art should challenge, as much as establish, order.

The most likable feature of the Court House is the two lions that flank what was once the main entrance on Georgia Street. To enter the building today, you go in the back door: that pleasurable sense of importance, of both the building's status (as the Vancouver Art Gallery) and one's approach to it, has unfortunately been lost in the change of use. The lonely lions guard a purposeless portico, a poor reward for their patience.

They were carved in 19 10 by a Scottish artisan, John Bruce, employed by McDonald (stone cutters) of Main Street. Bruce modelled them after those by Sir Edwin Landseer, erected in 1867 in Trafalgar Square. Landseer's London lions were popular beasts, not only in Vancouver. Copies can still be found outside public buildings throughout the former British Empire.