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Opportunity and the workingman : a study of land accessibility and the growth of blue collar suburbs in early Vancouver McCririck, Donna


During its formative years Vancouver appeared to offer unusual; potential for land and home ownership to its blue collar workers. The coincidental growth of the city's streetcar system with that of the early population itself, gave settlers of moderate means greater housing choice than that available to workers in the older cities of central Canada. The large supply of residential land opened up by the streetcar favoured the spread of detached family homes in the suburbs, in contrast to the attached and semi-detached dwellings characteristic of the older pedestrian city, which housed many Canadian urban workers. The study examines the availability of residential land and the extent to which it benefitted Vancouver working men prior to 1914. Vancouver's early real estate market however, was subject to speculative swings which constrained opportunities for blue collar land ownership. Initially, virtually all residential land was in the hands of the C.P.R. and a few B.C. entrepreneurs who together, fostered a speculative land market in the city. The records of early land companies, and after 1900, the real estate pages of Vancouver dailies, record the rapidly rising price of residential land in workingmen's areas as investors and speculators traded blocks and further out, acreage, among themselves. Land prices dropped temporarily during the depression of the mid 1890s but tax sales and auctions mainly benefitted those with the capital to ride out economic malaise. During the massive wave of immigration between 1904 and 1913, rising urban land costs and speculation in suburban land were endemic to Canada's rapidly growing cities. In Vancouver however, land values rose faster than elsewhere, culminating in the real estate boom of 1909-12. During this period, economic security for many workers was precarious. Seasonal as well as cyclical unemployment was a feature of the city's lumber manufacturing and construction industries. A large Asian minority added to the general preponderance of single male migrants in the city produced a labour surplus; and high hourly wages were offset by the high costs of living in the city. As Vancouver's population climbed after 1904, suburban settlement began to take shape. Two residential areas which attracted workingmen--Hillcrest and Grandview, are examined in some detail to determine the nature of the settlement process and, where assessment rolls are available, early land holding patterns. In general, large areas of both suburbs were owned by investors/speculators until 1909. By 1912 almost half the lots in Grandview and Hillcrest still remained undeveloped although rooming houses and small apartment blocks could be found near the streetcar lines. Turnover among Grand-view residents was high and a large minority did not yet own homes, a reflection of the volatile land market in the city. With the exception of a few years during the late 1880s and early 1900s, the struggle for home ownership in Vancouver differed little from the struggle in most Canadian cities.

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