Heritage Now

Heritage Now by Rick Walker
Learning & Instructional Development Centre
Simon Fraser University

Vancouver’s Past, Present, and Future

The key to the success of social networks is that they allow people to tell their “stories” online to make connections that can exist both online and in real life. Communities that allow people to do this in a user-friendly way will have the most success in the long run.
David Liu, Vice President – Social Media, Messaging, and Homepages AOL


Heritage Now is a broadcast video and online communications centre that recognizes cultural identity is a live experience that people share. To facilitate this process, the centre is designed on social networking technology that gives people the opportunity to participate in the heritage experiences and initiatives in their community.

Every community has stories that define and explain how the community came to be and where it is going. In Vancouver, the roots of the city can be seen in its older neighbourhoods, like the Downtown Eastside, in cultural icons such as the Burrard Bridge, in historic institutions like the Vogue Theatre, and in public gathering places like Stanley Park.

Cultural resources of this nature have unique, historic stories that define the development and growth of the community. Interwoven within this storytelling perspective are also many individual stories that enrich the picture and strengthen connections contained within the overall stories. By contributing narratives of personal experience, people can become part of creating an ever-evolving story of our cultural heritage.

Our heritage is a valuable collective resource. Heritage Now creates an interactive facility that enables each person in the community to present personal views and experiences by presenting stories in a digital format that can be shared and contributed to by every generation. By allowing people to tell these stories in their own words with the most open platforms available, this community-shared site builds an accessible environment that gives people a voice in creating, preserving, and increasing the value and contributions of our local history


As a shared resource that belongs to the entire community, heritage contributes a number of valuable economic, social, cultural, and environmental benefits. These are benefits that already have been demonstrated throughout Canada and the world.

For many years, local heritage preservation has focused on opposing development initiatives that threaten the destruction of heritage buildings. Many of the heritage treasures within the local community are currently at risk of disappearing or being altered to the point that their heritage value becomes questionable. At present, there is limited heritage protection in the city, province, or country and nothing can stop the owner of a heritage property if that person chooses to take this action. Considering the scarcity of heritage resources within the local community and the threats to some of our most valuable heritage resources, community involvement is becoming increasingly necessary.

It has also become clear that heritage goes beyond preserving physical architecture. Heritage landmarks are living art and contribute to our cultural identity by providing opportunities for creating a durable and sustainable local community identity. Unfortunately, their significance and contribution of heritage sites are often hidden from view as the stories attached to our local landmarks fade away.

Heritage Now gives our community the opportunity to retell and preserve these stories, engaging the community in their own cultural history and encouraging their active participation in cultural preservation and community development.

Overall Design

Heritage Now will bring cultural history to life through on-line video storytelling. The stories will be supplemented by narrative description that will present heritage resources as characters within the community that have grown through time and continue to face challenges. The intent is to engage, inform, and educate while inviting the audience to participate by posting their own narratives, photographs, and video files.

The project will begin with three broadcast-quality video documentaries entitled Heart of the City, The Art Deco Gateway, and Nightlife Landmarks. These programs will be offered to local and national television broadcasters including Knowledge Network and the CBC.

The films will also be digitized and accessed through click-on video windows as the opening centerpiece for the online communication centre. A short synopsis will accompany the centerpiece to explain the purpose of the site, demonstrate how the site can be used, introduce the stories, and invite viewers to participate by contributing their own written and audiovisual material.

To engage this participation, there will be a number of interactivity components. These include a streaming bin for photographic, audio, and video clip contributions, a blogspace for written narratives, interactive games, and web quests. There will also be video heritage tours that mirror live tour opportunities and allow users to take tours online. A live webcast component will also allow users to view presentations and conferences on heritage issues and participate in online question and answer periods. These webcasts will be archived for future viewing. In addition, the communication centre will contain links to other supplementary material such as photographs, memorabilia, miscellaneous archival imagery, maps, documents, and biographies.

Ultimately, the initial stories will be expanded upon through user participation and their contributions of more stories, incorporating audiences in the process of preserving our heritage – a resource that ultimately belongs to all members of the community.

*Heart of the City is the story of Vancouver’s historic neighbourhoods – Gastown, Chinatown, Strathcona, Oppenheimer, and Victory Square. These neighbourhoods have a rich and colourful history and a strong community fabric. They are home to a large, dynamic, and varied urban population of people from many ethnicities, ages, and incomes. At one time, this area was the centre of the city, containing Hastings as the major commercial street between Main and Granville, City Hall, numerous theatres, and the Carnegie Library. In 1971, the Province of B.C. designated both Gastown and Chinatown as historic districts. The city of Vancouver has recently submitted an application to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board to have Gastown declared a National Historic Site. This neighbourhood has one of the most concentrated collections of heritage buildings in the city. The Gastown Management Plan was also introduced by the city in 2002 to provide a variety of incentives to preserve and restore the heritage buildings and provide guidelines, including legal limits for the development of the area. This plan has now been extended to include Chinatown and Hastings Street.

Collectively, the historic heart of the city offers significant heritage resources including re-purposed government buildings, such as the original city hall and courthouse, and significant ethnic neighbourhoods such as Chinatown and Japantown. Meanwhile, the area is undergoing restoration initiatives and social developments meant to revitalize the overall neighbourhood while sustaining and supporting the existing population. Although the challenges are considerable, there are many positive stories evolving within this area and, with the support of the entire community, the neighbourhood has the potential to become a significant civic success story.

The Art Deco Gateway is the story of the Burrard Bridge. Completed in 1932 to provide a high-level crossing that would link the western neighbourhoods to the downtown core, the Burrard Bridge is a key gateway structure in the city. As the ceremonial entrance to Downtown Vancouver and to Burrard Inlet, this bridge is also a prime example of an architectural “character” that contributes to the community as a visual and cultural icon. Its utilitarian function is complemented by art deco sculptural details, including scrolled towers and torch entrance pylons that are a tribute to Canadian World War I prisoners of war. The bridge is recognized and treasured by Heritage and Art Deco organizations worldwide. However, re-purposing initiatives are now threatening to compromise the original design. The story of this bridge needs to be told to stimulate conversation on how this valuable member of the community can continue to contribute character to our community while complementing growing needs.

Night-Life Landmarks is the story of three of Vancouver’s heritage theatres, the York Theatre, the Vogue Theatre, and the Pantages Theatre. One of the most significant qualities of heritage venues such as these is that they serve as living memories for the many people within the community who have attended showings, gone on dates, and socialized while at these theatres. As a result, the stories of these theatres offer many opportunities for Heritage Now audiences to contribute their own unique experiences at these historic venues.

The York Theatre, originally named the Alcazar Theatre, was built in 1913 at a time when all the other theatres in the city were located in the downtown area. This theatre was built in a new and developing part of the city, which is now known as Commercial Drive in the Grandview neighbourhood. Upon opening, the theatre became a cultural centre for this part of the city, housing the Vancouver Little Theatre Association for fifty-four years and later serving as a cinema venue and live performance stage.

Opened in 1941 as a first-run movie house, the Art Deco style Vogue Theatre now serves as a popular venue for performing arts, including concerts and live theatre, and is known for its superb acoustics and intimate atmosphere. This theatre has been the home of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival and Vancouver International Film Festival, is a designated Heritage Building by the City of Vancouver, and is one of three buildings in Vancouver that are National Historic Sites. It has also bee an important venue for Rock and Roll shows with Dionne Warwick, Colin James, the Holly Cole Trio, and K.D. Lang being just a few of the many artists who performed there. The Vogue Theatre represents a rich cultural history that has thrived on Vancouver’s Granville Street Theatre District.

Alexander Pantages built the Pantages Theatre in 1907 as part of the Pantages chain of 72 vaudeville theatres. All of Pantages’ early theatres have been demolished, making this the oldest surviving one in North America. The theatre has operated under many names, most recently as the Sung Sing Theatre and before that, as City Nights. During its time as the Pantages, this theatre headlined comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, as well as sports legends Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth. Later it was used as a movie house. Over the years, the interior has remained remarkably intact, despite the change from live performance to playing movies. The theatre closed its doors in 1994 and has twice appeared in recent years on Heritage Vancouver’s annual top ten lists of endangered sites. The theatre also has heritage value for its supporting role among the many fine turn-of-the-century buildings that line this part of Hastings Street.

Opportunities Created

Heritage Now could create opportunities in creative and program development for the creative industry community in the positive application of our creative and technical know-how.

Contribution opportunities in creating connections with target audiences for the business community as presenters and conversation hosts.

Heritage Now could create a larger stage and larger audiences for government institutions as contributors of resources and connections such as:

The Heritage Legacy Fund of British Columbia
Heritage Canada

The Direct Access Program Grants of the BC Lottery Corporation
2010 Legacies Now – Arts Partners in Creative Development