Clicking any image in the slideshow above will open an enlargement in a new tab or window. Years 1956, , 1976, 1989, and 1999 are sourced from the City of Burnaby Archives’ collection of orthophotographs, and stitched together to create the panoramas you see above. The 2011 image is based on the most recent map imagery from Google Maps. The colored overlay lines of the 2011 image show the Town Centre’s boundary and SkyTrain line, and are based on a custom Google Map based on municipal and regional data.
In the previous sections, we looked at the redevelopment of neighborhoods that were by and large, green space prior to their rezonings during the early years of the Town Centre planning program. In Brentwood, the Town Centre was designated at the southernmost reach of the Brentwood Park neighbourhood. South of that neighbourhood, there resided few residents. More recently, many auto-oriented and light industrial sites have been redeveloped for mixed use developments. In Lougheed, although there was some settlement prior to the Town Centre designation, much of it was sparse and consequently, easily redeveloped. Edmonds Town Centre had a varied development – there were various residential settlements, although they have been slow to redevelop into higher densities compared to the rapid redevelopment of various heavy industry and secondary high school properties. Metrotown, conversely, is a much different story.
As we can see from the 1956 satellite image at the top of this page, or even the 1960s image above, Metrotown, or Kingsway-Sussex as it was known back then (owing to two historically predominant cross-streets at its centre), looked no different than any other settled neighbourhood at the time. In fact, Kingsway-Sussex was perhaps more settled than any other vicinity in Burnaby, owing to a number of unique factors. Firstly, the neighbourhood is located on a plateau offering extremely attractive vantage points. Secondly, it is located in close proximity to Vancouver and straddling a traditionally busy corridor. As was stated in the previous section on Edmonds, Kingsway was a popular thorough-fare between the two historically well settled Cities of Vancouver and New Westminster. Consequently, whatever type of urban form existed in Vancouver, invariably crept into Burnaby, whether by strip mall development or single family housing.
The history of Metrotown (Kingsway-Sussex) is intrinsically tied to the history of Burnaby for a surprising reason. Throughout the 1930s, Canada and the world were in the grips of the Great Depression. Within the Lower Mainland, the Burnaby Reeve at the time was recognized by many residents (including those in other municipalities) as particularly sympathetic towards the working class, presumably granting better pay on make-work projects, one of the few forms of ‘unemployment benefits’ at the time. This did not help Burnaby’s finances, which were suffering as equally as other municipalities in the region. In December of 1932, the municipality’s financial situation became so dire, that the Provincial Government was forced to take control of Burnaby’s affairs, temporarily terminating the function of the Reeve and Council. The municipality’s governance structure was returned in 1942 when the municipality once again became solvent. But before this occurred, Provincial officials and municipal commissioners had struck a deal with the Ford Motor Company in 1938 to begin producing military vehicles for the impending Allied effort during World War II.
It appears though, that shortly after World War II, The Ford Motor Company facility (pictured above, looking south on Kingsway) did not produce vehicles for consumers, and so the facility was eventually acquired by Electrolier (a division of former electrical components giant GTE-Sylvania). Meanwhile, in 1948, Canadian food processing giant, Kelly-Douglas, moved away from its original location on the Downtown Vancouver waterfront and constructed a massive food processing facility directly east of the Electrolier plant. Kelly-Douglas was best known for it’s flagship Nabob and Squirrel brands. Along the way, the brands were wound up respectively with Unliver and Kraft, but the buildings went to the Loblaw Companies Limited. In 1954, the Robert Simpson Company (Sears) Ltd. acquired a parcel of land to the east of Kelly-Douglas for their Pacific Coast catalogue merchandise distribution and retail centre. At the time, the Sears catalogue store was easily the neighbourhood’s largest single retailer. Below, is a 1956 aerial photo of these large tenants in the Kingway-Sussex neighbourhood. Approximate current road locations have been overlaid for perspective.
Such a large industrial presence was widely regarded as a massive accomplishment in the years following World War II when returning veterans were in dire need of employment, but by the early 1970s, the area was viewed as an industrial blight. Partly due to ownership changes and, as was the case with Kelly-Douglas, and partly to general circumstances of deindustrialization of urban areas, it was anticipated that the properties would soon come up for redevelopment. In 1966/69, as we saw before, Burnaby Municipal Council had passed resolution on the Apartment Studies. The plan designated for Kingsway-Sussex (below) recognized these changes, calling for a Town Centre core within the heart of these industrial properties.
As we mentioned in The Town Centre Model, following 1971, the Burnaby Planning Department and Municipal Council were glad to move past the thorny public reception of Urban Structure. They were, however, not prepared to shelve the visionary concepts that grounded the text. Mixed-use developments with high pedestrian amenity and high densities sloping away from transit nodes were still a key goal. The Public Meetings: Phase One gave Council and the Planning Department the mandate they needed to resume this goal. Brentwood and Lougheed had already passed the stage where they could have realized the Metrotown model of development. But, by the early 1970s, it was becoming apparent that the other existent Town Centre still had strong potential. On July 2, 1974 during a special meeting of Council, Burnaby Council passed the recommendation to move the creation of the municipality’s first Metrotown towards reality:
[…] that the Kingsway-Sussex Town Centre be designated as a Metrotown development area with the existing core area hierarchy.
By 1970, Kingsway-Sussex was populated by 4,553 residents within low rise apartment buildings, and about the same number within high rises. But, Burnaby’s growth targets were aggressive. In late 1974, the Director of Planning identified apartment buildings as the preferred source of accommodation for a total expected 40,000 new units over the next 25 years, amounting to an 85% increase in population.
Before Larry Beasley became an internationally recognized urban planner, he was interested in what was happening in Kingsway-Sussex through his Master’s thesis, A Design Probe Comparison of Regional and Municipal Attitudes Toward Regional Town Centres: Case Study in Burnaby, B.C.. Beasley entered the foray at a particularly interesting time. He defended his thesis during the same year that the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) had published it’s regional growth management plan, The Livable Region. As we saw in section on The Town Centre Model, Kingsway-Sussex and had been designated as a Regional Town Centre (RTC). When The Livable Region was first proposed, Kingsway-Sussex was intended to be only one of two RTCs (along with New Westminster), but it was later made one of four. Regardless, it was always recognized that Kingsway-Sussex had the greatest potential to achieve the RTC concept mainly owing to the historic efforts of municipal planers. However, as Beasley found, there were notable inconsistencies between the concepts of a Metrotown and an RTC.
…the purpose of the present [Beasley’s] research is to determine if the GVRD’s notion of the RTC will stand up under local scrutiny, to isolate discrepancies from the Municipal perspective and to define how these might be resolved.
Beasley’s analysis was assisted by his ability to closely shadow municipal planners, having intermittently worked for the Burnaby Planning Department. Through his analysis, Beasley noted that “The local emphasis is on a comprehensive ‘settlement’ to house local people, not simply a central core to service outsiders.” While the GVRD was pursuing a regionally-significant centre, the municipality was following the blueprint created in Urban Structure: a more locally relevant and thus comprehensive core. This singular difference had lead to variations in the intended pattern of growth by regional planners and municipal planners. Widening the chasm, municipal planners were leery about how soon the region would receive the transit system that was seen as the lynchpin in the Livable Region plan. As such, the Metrotown concept was modified to depend more greatly on automobile transit and a balanced share of modes (including vehicular) than the RTC concept was envisioned for. As Beasley found, though, Burnaby’s proposed a two-pronged compromise. Municipal planners proposed the creation of ‘Metropark’, a public agency intended to provide public parking until such time that rapid transit was constructed, upon which time Metropark would incrementally phase out parking spaces in order to encourage a local modal shift to transit. In the interim, Burnaby planners suggested that jitneys and buses could fill the public transit role. But, Beasley found that perhaps the most frustrating challenge for regional planners was that municipal planners refused to provide a timeline for development.
They feel that the Kingsway/ Central Park site has major areas ready for immediate development, but that this cannot blind them to the necessity of ensuring that all projects meet their requirements. This is necessary to keep amenity high. It is better to forego development in the short run, say the planners, than accept something less desirable that will set into motion development trends contrary to public conceptions of the area.
(as an aside, the Kingsway-Sussex area name was frequently traded interchanged with other names. Beasley referred to it as Kingsway-Central Park, while others referred to it as Simpson Sears-Kingsway). In his conclusions, Beasley suggested a compromised approach to resolving the issues between the regional vision of an RTC and the municipal vision of a Metrotown. Beasley sided with Burnaby on the vision of a Metrotown as a complete, mixed-use community, versus the regional vision “as a town centre accommodating offices, commerce and jobs to serve the requirements of a surrounding regional population.” However, he sided with the GVRD in accusing the municipality of being too picky with it’s design standards. The regional district took the perspective that growth management was an urgent issue, and needed to be addressed at the same pace throughout the whole region; waiting for Burnaby to patiently shape Kingsway-Sussex into a Metrotown, while following stringent design standards, produced an obstacle.
Burnaby Metrotown: planning from above
In 1977, with the assistance of Norman Hotson Architects, Burnaby released Burnaby Metrotown: A Development Plan ( incidentally, Norman Hotson Architects also released an update to the Granville Island redevelopment plan that same year). Burnaby Metrotown extended the promises made in the Public Hearings document, not just in the pursuit of a different physical form than traditional auto-oriented development, but also in the pursuit of a more humanistic citizen-oriented planning.
The principle behind such a community is to apply the qualities which one hopes to find in a completely new town, to the redevelopment of an already settled area. Although Burnaby Metrotown is located within a metropolitan area already housing one to two million people, the residents of the new community, numbering some 27,000 persons, and the residents of the surrounding area served by the community, numbering some 100,000 to 200,000 persons, will feel that they are an important part of, and can relate to a recognizable town rather than feel that they are an insignificant part of an unrecognizable metropolis: people want to be known by name; not by number.
Burnaby Metrotown also contained other bold statements for the time. It identified the 1960s as a period dominated by single family home construction, but echoing the discussions that brought in the Apartment Studies, the single family home was no longer suitable for the municipality’s changing demographics and desire for diversification of housing stock and affordability.
These considerations, among others, led to the municipal view that the development of multiple family accommodation offered a positive environmental and social opportunity provided such was accomplished within a carefully planned framework.
But tantamount to this formula was the inclusion of “appropriate commercial facilities and job opportunities in close proximity.” Furthermore, to ensure that the boundaries of this comprehensive community were protected, planners had met with City of Vancouver staff to ensure that Boundary Road would be respected as Metrotown’s boundary. Planners were concerned that competing develoments from Vancouver would take advantage of the impending growth.
The text criticized the pattern of pre-existing development within Kingsway-Sussex (2011 image shown above, unchanged from its original form). It criticized retail development as beign generally ribbon-oriented (euphemism for strip malls) along the Kingsway corridor, an apparent euphemism for strip malls. It criticized the Simpson-Sears and Old Orchard Plaza, among others, as lacking the “identity and cohesiveness that should be characteristic of a municipal town centre.” It identified Kingsway as having a potentially divisive impact on the pedestrian flow between the developments that would invariably locate on its north and south sides. Because rerouting Kingsway was not a feasible option due to external realities (Provincial highways jurisdictional issues), planners proposed a work-around. They suggested that the “design concept should provide […] a separation of important pedestrian ways from direct vehicular influence,” presumably a reference to elevated pedestrian walkways.
Although planners were skeptical of repeated promises of regional rapid transit, they were also reluctant to permit the dominance of automobiles.
Recognizing the long term unacceptability of an automobile dominance in the area and the uncertainty of the proposed LRT system, it is considered essential that priority be assigned to the development of a bus system that will efficiently serve Metrotown.
In the interm, the plan made allotment for a traditional roadway hierarchy with thoroughfares, collector routes, and local roads. It also clarified that underground and structured parking would be a condition for developments. It also continued the concept of a Metropark to give the municipality the ability to influence commuting patterns when rapid transit would flow through. The conceptual diagram, below, offered a sense of what this would look like.
The plan also revisited alternative options for the Metrotown concept:
Not surprisingly, planners recommended the same tye suggested from earlier municipal plans: the single core (centrally located). What is most striking is the rationale provided for the rejection of the other concepts. They were chiefly concerend that other models would be less able to foster pedestrian connectivity in the way that a centralized core, bounded on one side by transit and the other by a roadway, could. The series of conceptual diagrams below shows what this would have looked like for the core. Firstly (see image below), the Town Centre would eventually take advantage of a rapid transit line located along the old interurban right of way. An underground station would pass underneath the centre of the core of the Town Centre.
Utilitizing the single core model, planners imagined how the massing of Kingsway-Sussex could appear (see image below).
This view is from the north side looking south. On the far right is Central Park, and on the foreground (south side) are the residential high rise buildings that preceded the the development plan. As you can see, the plan intended for a variation in buildings heights and size within the Kingsway-Sussex Town Centre core. In fitting the mixed-use design model of a Metrotown, planners also envisioned variation in use, as expressed below in the Development Concept diagram.
The Burnaby Planning Department embarked on an ambitious public outreach campaign, soliciting input from various sectors, touching well over 300 organizations and citizens. The campaign included literature distribution to area residents within and bordering Metrotown, and at least 14 slide presentations. As far as can be guaged form the responses, the Burnaby Metrotown plan was received quite warmly by both the public and institutional stakeholders. So the question begs to be asked. Why does Kingsway-Sussex look so different today?
View Larger Map
And, if it looks so radically different than the original Metrotown planning proposal, why do we still call it Metrotown? Indeed, there had to be such a spectacular event as to caust it to look completely unrecognizable from its intended form.
On November 17, 1979, the Burnaby Citizens’ Association suffered one of its biggest upsets in years, and for the first time in decades, lost the Mayor’s seat. Incumbent Councillor and long-time right-leaning Burnaby Voters’ Association (BVA) party organizer Bill Lewarne attributed his party’s landslide win to a stronger electoral organization and a platform that was “more receptive to the ideas of all, and not just special interest groups.” Elaborating on reasons for his party’s success, Lewarne admitted that he “had not anticipated a voter sweep by Mercier, but said that the mayor-elect’s support of extended shopping hours and the advertising campaign in local shopping centres and through the mail had a ‘dramatic effect’.” Lewarne was referring to a fairly heated debate that had occurred just prior to the election, where the incumbent BCA Council had openly opposed an extension to shopping centre hours.
As local media reports pointed out, the owner of the Brentwood and Lougheed shopping centres did not take well to Council’s considerations. Seeking to shift the perspective on the issue, Trizec Equities Ltd.
[…] sponsored an advertising campaign in their malls and in the mail under the heading “Why can’t you?”, a catchy phrase to draw the reader into the current controversy over the extension of shopping hours for retail stores, with the emphasis on opening up Wednesday nights and (ever so gently) Sundays. The advertising copy outlined findings of a recent survey, sponsor by Trizec itself, showing 78 per cent of Burnaby residents in favour of extended shopping hours and, among other findings, that 100 of 141 merchants in the two malls also favor the extension.
Pictured with this material was mayoralty candidate-and the eventual winner-alderman Dave Mercier and mentioned his affiliation with the Burnaby Voters Association, as well as a statement of his support for extended shopping hours.
Trizec’s support did not end with mail-out campaigns either. Long before the days of corporate websites and social media campaigns, mall merchants associations distributed newsletters to their patrons as a means of promoting upcoming sales and other mall-related information. In editions of the Brentwood Banner and the Lougheed Lucky Shopper leading up to the election, an article appeared with the headline “time for a change,” featuring Mayoral candidate Dave Mercier as advocate for the hours extension.
Almost immediately following the election, the newly installed Council quickly made their style known. Echoing the events of 1962 when Burnaby’s first town planner was terminated by the Burnaby NPA, BVA Councillor Vic Stusiak presented a notice of motion during an in-camera Council meeting to rescind approving officer authority for Director of Planning, Tony Parr. Defending the motion, Stusiak stated that “He has very broad interpretive powers. I will say that I think it may be a conflict of professional interests, no matter who the approving officer is.” It is unclear if the motion was carried, but douing so would have severely hampered the ability of the Planning Department.
As time marched on, it was becoming increasingly clear that the Metrotown plan was coming off the rails, perhaps part owing to financial market recovery from the recession. But, Council did not help matters. In 1981, in a symbolic show of policy, BVA Councillors rejected a recommendation by the planning department to prevent the reconstruction of a single family home in the area designated for Metrotown development. Weeks later, Mayor Dave Mercier called for a restudy of the Metrotown plan. To this day, that area remains the only vicinity of single family homes within the Metrotown area.
In the lead-up to the 1981 election, first-time Mayoral candidate Lee Rankin stated that he was “firmly committed to the BCA policies of low-cost, low-rise housing, a moratorium on road construction until rapid transit gets going and lower taxes for home-owners, through a different system of taxation.” Rankin and the BCA were most opposed to the BVA’s recent obsession with roadway construction. BCA’s policies however, were not well received by the voters. Despite a largely fresh team including first-time Council candidate Derek Corrigan, the BCA plummeted even further in the polls, electing only two Councillors. By this time, the Burnaby Metrotown Development Plan was just a distant afterthought. The name though apparently, had stuck. In 1982, despite intentions to run a contest to adopt a proper name for the area known previously as Kingsway-Sussex, the Mayor had called off the contest amid concerns that renaming recently published GVRD promotional documents would cost too much. More than 50 suggestions were received, including Kingsbee Square and Rockborough, while Orchard Park received the greatest number of votes.
The recession hits hard
Early on, the lingering effects of the recession continued to batter plans for Metrotown. However, by 1982, it appeared that the plans for Metrotown had become substantially different. At this time, BVA Mayor Lewarne felt compelled to come to the defense of Daon Development Corp., which had by this point come to be the primary developers in the area. Daon had proposed a “Park Royal-sized [a reference to the then-largest regional mall in British Columbia, located in West Vancouver] shopping centre and apartment complex.” Lewarne took great pains to continually reaffirm the presence of Daon in Metrotown’s commercial core, but as more recent reports retrospectively point out, the writing was likely already on the wall when Daon first balked. It wasn’t just the recession that harmed Daon – it was also risky business, as BC Business reporter Gary Mason found.
The abridged version goes something like this: Big development company borrows billions to build projects throughout North America. And then interest rates begin climbing to unforeseen levels. “We built the company on debt,” says [company president Jack] Poole. “We were extremely successful but had not factored into our plans the recession of 1982 and interest rates of 23 per cent. Business stopped. You couldn’t sell anything and we owed $2.3 billion to 47 banks and couldn’t pay the interest.”
Transit planners knew better than the Mayor’s rose-tinted outlook, and did not let hopeful speculation influence their plans. BC Transit architects told local media that they had planned to build in contingencies should the Metrotown core development fail to materialize
“We have a dual approach,” said station architect Dick Mann, “If the market doesn’t turn around and there’s no commercial venture, it will be able to serve as just a station.”
“However, the pedestrian walkway is also designed so commercial stores could be built all around. We’re fixed with a deadline for the station, but developers aren’t. We’ve got to avoid the vagaries of the marketplace.”
In 1983, when Daon toyed with returning to Metrotown, Mayor Lewarne put his full support behind them.
First phase of the project would involve re-development of the Kelly Douglas property with $150 million worth of commercial and office space. The mayor said it would be completed by 1987.
Part of Daon’s plans for the first phase calls for a department store complex similar to the Eaton’s Centre in Toronto. “It will be a beautiful domed structure that connects by skyway with the Metrotown ALRT station.” Lewarne said.
During SkyTrain construction, development still had not picked up around Metrotown.
A Competing bid
Metrotown’s slow birth was not entirely the fault of developers. In 1984, Edmonton-based Triple Five Corp. approached Burnaby Council to seek approval to build what was at the time billed as “a $380-million mall and ‘mini-Disneyland’ at Lougheed and Boundary.”
View vicinty of Fantasyland in a larger map
The name Triple Five may sound unfamiliar – it is the same corporation that constructed North America’s largest and second largest shopping complexes: West Edmonton Mall and Mall of America (respectively below left and below right).
Burnaby’s Mayor Lewarne quickly voiced his opposition to the super-mall proposal, dubbed Fantasyland, fearful that if it proceeded, retail elsewhere in the municipality (particularly Metrotown’s) would suffer. Lewarne instead suggested that the developers instead collaborate with Daon Development to create an amusement park in Metrotown. In response to the Mayor’s suggestion, a spokesman for Daon indicated that each company’s “styles of operation are very different and it’s not a joint venture I think would be effective.”Daon’s representative may well have been referring to the Ghermezian family’s (Triple Five’s owner) unique business model. On various accounts, the family has been accused of bribing politicians, contributing to campaign funds in return for support, and slyly attempting to coerce senior levels of government to provide tax-exempt development access in exchange for regional economic benefits.
Despite Council’s rejection, Triple Five persisted. Shortly afterwards, the developer had entered into negotiations with staff at both BC Hydro and BC Transit to secure surplus land that the crown corporations owned at Boundary and Lougheed. When BVA Councillors refused to accept political campaign contributions to reverse their decision, Triple Five demanded that Council include the proposed site as a ballot question during the upcoming election. Failing Council’s permission for the ballot question, the Ghermezian family approached the Provincial Government with a proposal to Cabinet. Unbeknownst to the Ghermezians though, what would have otherwise seemed like a slam dunk was not going to be so. As BC Business reporter Gary Mason discovered, Jack Poole, principal of Daon Developments, was very closely tied in to the Social Credit Party.
It was the late ’80s and the provincial Liberal party was a moribund institution, led by a little-known economics professor and pig farmer from the Sunshine Coast named Gordon Wilson. Poole had been recruited by some people to replace him.
As the Social Credit party under Bill Vander Zalm continued to self-destruct, Poole quietly set up a team to study the situation and brief him on issues. He put together a campaign team. Among those working behind the scenes was Colin Hansen, who would later become provincial finance minister. When Social Credit MLA Kim Campbell resigned her seat in Point Grey to run for federal politics, many of those around Poole advised him to announce he would be running as a Liberal candidate in the byelection. A campaign bus was ordered. A readiness plan was put in place.
“We were going to take Jack on the road with the Cloverdale Rodeo Band,” Manning recalls. “We were going to travel the province signing up new members for the Liberal party. Jack was going to give great speeches and even sing a few songs.”
But instead of running for leadership, as Mason points out, Poole helped behind the scenes to transform the Social Credit Party into the BC Liberal Party. Being as Poole was still deeply connected to developments at Metrotown, the government was probably not the receptive audience the Ghermezians were accustomed to. In 1985, Victoria refused to get involved in the Fantasyland land deal. Shortly thereafter, officials at BC Hydro and BC Transit ceased negotiations with Triple Five. It was a highly unusual move for an otherwise free-market government in a slumping economy.
The move however, could not save Daon’s interests in Metrotown. Despite Daons’ earlier intention to go ahead with Metrotown, the delays caused by the competing Triple Five development did not help their already strained financial situation. By late 1985, Daon had passed passed its stake on to Cambridge Shopping Centres. By 1986, Daon had ceased operating.
Metrotown gets a kick-start
While Daon was crumbling and municipal officials were breathing a sigh of relief over the failed Triple Five bid, West Vancouver development firm Cal Investments had received $100 million from partner Manufacturer’s Life Assurance Company to immediately begin development on a 10 hectare site, expected to bring 780,000 square feet of primarily retail space. Within months of the capital infusion, Cal was the first to break ground. However, the celebrations would be short-lived. Exactly one year after the groundbreaking ceremony, Council received a report from the Director of Planning with concerns about the pace of retail development in the Metrotown core. The report pointed out that the adoption of a construction phasing policy “would mean that none of the second phases of the three projects constituting the primary core would be recommended for advancement until all three first phase projects are completed and occupied.” It appeared that overnight, the BVA Council was suddenly concerned that Metrotown would become an exclusively retail destination.
Cal Investments quickly balked at the phasing policy, rightly concerned that it was designed to temper their development. BVA support was clearly divided over phasing policy. On one side, there was the Mayor and a Councillor who at one time owned a clothing store at the competing Old Orchard Shopping Centre. Those members were joined by BCA opposition Councillors Lee Rankin and Doug Drummond. Within weeks that the phasing policy was first introduced, Council repeatedly brought the phasing policy forward and tabled it, going through repeated approval and rejection motions. Thoroughly frustrated by the process, lawyers for Cal Investment took the City of Burnaby to court in a landmark court case. In his ruling, on April of 1987, B.C. Supreme Court Justice John El Spencer rendered judgement in favor of Cal Investments, stating:
[…] to permit repeated reconsiderations… would both impede the business and bring uncertainty to the affairs of the assembly. No one could rely upon its declared policy from day to day on a closely contested matter.
Undeterred by the Court ruling, Councillor Lee Rankin insisted that Council should proceed with the phasing through the submission of a new community plan for Metrotown. In an attempt to strike a compromise, Cal Investments signaled intentions to revise their predominantly retail plan with the inclusion of options on apartment and office components, mainly in the form of tower blocks on the mall’s periphery and an office galleria on the top floor of the shopping centre. Talks, however, again broke down between Councillors when Council attempted to introduced the revised community plan for Metrotown. Attempts at reintroducing a phasing policy were struck down, when the Council meeting where it was introduced was recessed. The following week when Council returned, the Mayor was away. BVA Councillors then systematically removed every reference to a phasing policy in the revised Metrotown plan.
The fracture between BVA members proved too much to hold the party together. On the municipal election held November 1987, the centre-right party was trounced at the polls, going from eight seats to two, never to recover again.
The shopping centres opened in 1986 shortly after opening of the adjacent Metrotown SkyTrain Station. As we see in the two images below, the property lines barely changed since 1956 when the sites were occupied by industrial uses (click to enlarge).
The Kelly-Douglas processing plant was developed by Cambridge Shopping Centres. It’s largest tenant is the Real Canadian Superstore, a massive retail grocer owned by Loblaws – successor of the Kelly-Douglas company. The Sears property barely changed at all until Cal Investments later constructed an addition extending to the Hudson’s Bay Company, located on the lot’s eastern portion. In the years following the retail complex’s build-out, competition between Cal Investments and Cambridge Shopping Centres became intense. A single, second-storey hallway was constructed to connect the two malls. Signage however, was inadaquete, and the passageway was obviously unsuitable for the number of shoppers who used it. In 2002, Cambridge brokered a deal to buy out it’s competitor. The transaction resulted in the merger of both properties, resulting in Canada’s second largest contiguous shopping centre. Cambridge then demolished the passageway, constructing a two storey complex in its place, containing a food court and additional retail space. The merger resulted in the destruction of one of the few flow-throughs connecting the north side of Metrotown with the south side. The image below, from Bing Maps, shows the current composition of the Metrotown core.
In the interceding years, despite its rock start, Metrotown has attracted incredible levels of development interest. Cambridge Shopping Centres constructed two AAA-class office towers on the southeast corner of their lot. In recent years, now-named Ivanhoe Cambridge has also begun working on a third tower, to be one of the first LEED Platinum developments outside of the downtown Vancouver core.
On the former Electrolier property located to the west of the Ivanhoe Cambridge property, Wesbild Enterprises Ltd. and later Anthem Properties built a Save-On-Foods retail grocer, a theatre, and a large format electronics retailer. The development also included a phased introduction of residential high rise buildings, a built form that, as we saw in the previous section, was adopted by successive Councils of varying political stripes. In more recent years, many residential high rise developments have sprung up. And, although retail is still a dominant theme in Metrotown, many office complexes have sprung up as well. There are, however, a number of unique developments worth noting.
Located on the southwest corner of McKay at Kingsway across from Anthem Properties’ Station Square Mall, the Crystal Mall features a Hong Kong style mall with significant office and hotel components, highlighted by a 218 unit residential tower completed in 1999.
Buoyed by extremely strong interest particularly from Southeast Asian immigrants, the area has experienced a flurry of development, including two large mixed-use towers and an ambitious redevelopment proposed for Anthem Properties’ Station Square.
The project, in partnership with the Beedie Group, will result in the renovation of existing retail spaces and the addition of office space and five residential towers. The 4.1 hectare site will house an additional 1,500 to 1,800 residents by 2020. One result of the municipality’s ‘s’ zoning designation is the construction of the Chancellor, a 245 unit, 37-storey tower with town houses, built on a former auto service station located within steps of the Metrotown SkyTrain Station. Under the designation, density bonus contributions will include the construction of an adjacent 800 square metre building to serve as a senior’s centre. The development (rendering below) was so sought after, that pre-sales drew a line-up one week in advance of sales.
Another quick sell, Sovereign by Bosa Properties (rendering below), located on the northeast corner of Kingsway and Willingdon is expected to contain a hotel in the first dozen floors, along with office and retail components.
More recently, with the demolition of temporary storage facility at Teleford and Beresford Streets, MetroPlace will take advantage of close transit proximity. Located directly across from the Metrotown SkyTrain Station, the development is expected to enhance the street ambiance around the station, as part of a larger municipal objective.
Conclusions (or, Does Metrotown Work?)
Metrotown’s success is undeniable. The popularity of residential development here is closely paced by the popularity of Vancouver’s downtown core. And, although even local residents may consider Metrotown to refer more to the shopping complex than the neighbourhood in which they live, the traction of non-retail uses can not be understated. Judging by the construction of Ivanhoe Cambridge’s Metrotower 3, the neighbourhood likely has a significant unmet need of a commercial office space, which will likely contribute to the diversity of the employment market well into the future.
In 2006, Metrotown was home to 25,610 people. The number is likely to climb significantly with the release of the 2011 census. The focus on transit, however, is what makes this Town Centre particularly impressive. The massing that will be created here in the coming years will likely come to define Metrotown as one of the more notable examples of Transit-Oriented-Development within North America. However, as this occurs, the area will need to be closely monitored in order to avoid the pitfalls of the past. Dealing with the shopping complex will be a challenge. Ivanhoe Cambridge’s centre currently attracts 25 million visitors annually. Shifting the shopping centre into the kind of development imagined under Burnaby Metrotown: A Development Plan will be a challenge, if that is what the City intends to do. In recent years, the municipality has collaborated with TransLink to envision a more pedestrian-focused environment around Metrotown Station. the construction of MetroPlace marks the beginning of this effort.
The municipality will also have to balance social and environmental objectives as it seeks to redevelop low rise buildings in the Maywood area, where various new residential developments have been proposed.
Despite these future opportunities and challenges, the events that brought us to this point can not be understated. In the previous section, we found that planners were reluctant to push extensive development into Edmonds Town Centre. In this section, we discovered that significant development anywhere in Burnaby would have likely hindered the progress being made in Metrotown. Looking at it now, it’s difficult, from a critical urban design perspective, to label Metrotown as ‘progress’.
This experiment in planning has received much criticism over the years – and some of it rightfully so. Walking about Metrotown is a bewildering experience. One of the few ways to cross from Kingsway to Central Boulevard after mall hours requires a path through an alleyway exclusively designed for loading bays, dotted with rodent traps and foul smells eminating from trash compactors. Walking around the shopping centre requires a massive detour; either route offers generous vistas, oftentimes of bare walls and poorly lit sidewalks. Crossing over Kingsway is an equally unbearable experience. Waiting for a crossing at the intersection requires gagging over vehicle exhaust fumes, while the City’s recent attempts at an elevated crossing have floundered, failed by lack of interest from the owners of Sears.
But, if you look closely, the automobile has been tempered. During construction, one of the few conditions planners were able to put on the development of the shopping centres was the insistence of placing a majority of parking underground. Though there are still generous amount of surface parking within Metrotown’s shopping areas, it is often filled to capacity. This is quite atypical from what we’d find elsewhere in other suburban malls. The oversupply of parking is a shopping centre’s secret weapon: asphalt that refuses to fill up even during those extreme shopping days before Christmas.
And we haven’t yet mentioned transit. As we’ll see in the next section, Metrotown boasts some of the highest transit ridership rates in the Lower Mainland. In fact, according to the 2006 Census, Metrotowns’s residents used transit as a mode to work more than any other neighbourhood in the region. When we take Burnaby’s other Town Centres into account, a dense, mixed-use, highly transit dependant pattern comes into clearer focus. Of course, the mixed-use component is still yet to be tried in some areas, such as within Lougheed and Edmonds, but the reality is not that far off. These Town Centres are very remarkable areas. Although today they may appear dominated by malls, tomorrow, it is likely that they may be something completely different.
It took Vanouver 150 years to develop its downtown core into the comprehensive, internationally recognized core it is today. For Metrotown and Burnaby’s other Town Centres, it has only been 46 years since the 1966 Apartment Studies, and only 25 years since Edmonds’ designation. But even more notable than the pace of the development is the type of development, again: a dense, mixed use (some more striving than others), highly transit dependant pattern.
>> Continue reading onto the next section: Epilogue>>
14 thoughts on “Metrotown”
Wondering if there was a Holt Renfrew in metrotown at one time
I’m not aware of any. Try calling the shopping centre administration offices.
There was some high end retailer, like Holt Renfrew, in the place where Chapters is now, but for the life of me, I can’t seem to remember the name of it. I remember they had dual escalators in the middle surrounded by mirrors. Maybe Nordstroms?
this would be in the early 90’s
The other original anchor at Eaton Centre Metrotown (at the Chapters/Old Navy end) was Brettons. It was the Canadian version of Nordstrom, but went bankrupt in the 1990s.
You are most definitely correct! This would have been the Eaton’s Department store, for which the mall used to be previously named Eaton’s Centre, prior to the rebranding to Metropolis. Eaton’s Department Store was such a significant anchor that there was a certain cachet to be associated with this brand. As you can read from the Wikipedia entry, Eaton’s went bankrupt in 1999, and was acquired by Sears, then carved and sold off piece by piece. The space you’re speaking of was not viable because Sears already owned their space, which they actually are the full owners of. Most department stores hold their spaces as long term leases, but in this case, Sears owns the physical property that they currently occupy, along with the property occupied by the mall laying east of the food court to the Bay, where the old Metrotown Centre formerly existed, now rebranded and combined to form the supermall that exists today, Metropolis at Metrotown.
For the record, the legacy of Eaton’s Centre is not all lost, as the name persists in Toronto’s Eaton’s Centre: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eaton%27s_Centre.
Thanks for your comment!
Not Eaton’s, they were on the far west side, where Old Navy and Atmosphere (aka Sport chek) are now, or Rainforest Cafe and ? was.
Maybe it was Brettons, thanks Ron.
Abercrombie and Fitch
Hot damn, loikong pretty useful buddy.
This is so fascinating! Thank you so much for publishing it. I’ve been living in the metrotown area for 18 years and I never knew the history of it. I came here when I was 2 years old, I’m turning 21 soon. It’s amazing to see how many changes have occurred just in the last 30 years. The new station square is going to change everything so much. I wonder what it will look like in 30 years.
I came across your report, what a great story about the growth of Metrotown, I can’t beleive thier was just houses across the street for the station at that point.
It is an incredible place now and the mix of housing that is being built up around the stations seems in line with the growth of the skytrain system.
Cool discussion and some useful info. This explains why there’s no shortcut between the old navy area and the former Sears – because it’s actually 2 separate buildings!
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the history of Metrotownand how it came about. Thank you for publishing this David. I’ve lived here for the past 10 years and have seen the mall change so much in this time with all the new development. My neighbour mentioned that the Bob Prittie library used to be a meadow, so wonder if Old Orchard shopping centre used to be an actual orchard.
Yes it was, actually! I can’t recall the source now, but yes indeed it was a fruit orchard at one time.
I find quite often, that yes, developments with interesting nature-based names are usually named after the thing that was destroyed to enable their construction. James Howard Kunstler often laments on this phenomenon, particularly applicable to low-density landscapes that have a voracious appetite to accommodate single family homes and acres of roadway and asphalt parking. The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape might be a good read!