UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Erosion control on Vancouver’s edge : an environmental history of the Point Grey Cliffs Baldwin, Katharine


This geologically-informed environmental history of the Point Grey Cliffs from the mid-1800s to 2023 explores how the cliffs became a site of struggle over greenspace and development in post-war Vancouver. The thesis asks, what factors led to increased erosion of the Point Grey Cliffs in the century following Euro-Canadian settlement, and how were decisions made regarding methods to mitigate erosion? Research methods include archival research, historical newspaper and aerial photo analysis, landscape observation, and expert interviews. The thesis argues that increased erosion from approximately 1860 to 1960 cannot be explained by the geology of the cliffs alone, but is a result of settler activities including logging, an aerial tramway for construction of the University of British Columbia, marine development related to the opening of the Panama Canal, military use during WWII, and recreation. Only reactive measures were taken to control erosion until the late 1960s, when university buildings became in danger of toppling over the cliff edge. The Vancouver Park Board, UBC Alumni Association, and the University of British Columbia each spearheaded initiatives to mitigate erosion. Due to contradictory expectations around the state’s role in both development and nature conservation, distrust of public officials, and questions regarding the role of additional development to fix challenges created by earlier development, the first two initiatives failed. After a public engagement campaign, the University-led initiative finally succeeded, and only minor follow-up efforts to control erosion have been required. Climate change is a new threat to the cliffs, and with knowledge of the cliffs’ history, planners will better understand the context and need for public input regarding future development in the area.

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