History of the Vancouver River District
Vancouver’s River District area boasts a long history, first as a settlment and then an industrial zone before becoming a modern residential neighbourhood. Find out more about the fascinating history behind the District with our thorough History Timeline!
Arrival of the Musqueam to the River District area, attracted by the Fraser River’s bountiful sockeye salmon runs. “Musqueam” is their name for the grass that grows on the river bank, and a village is settled west of the current District. The river and forests, along with the wildlife they support, provide sustenance for First Nations communities along the Fraser River for thousands of years.
Fur trader and explorer Simon Fraser explores the river from its headwaters to the Pacific Ocean. As he approached this area, he received a hostile reception from the Musqueam. Image: Simon Fraser Descending the Fraser River 1808 CWJefferys
The first settler farms are delineated by British Army surveyor, William Rowling. For his service, he receives a large land grant that became known as Rowling Heights. It encompassed 3.5 kilometres of Fraser River shoreline, including the River District, and today’s Killarney neighbourhood.
Seattle industrialist, Julius Bloedel, builds the Dominion Mill at the foot of Boundary Road. It is Canada’s first mill to produce pressure-treated wood. From its agricultural beginnings, the River District area comes to be dominated by the forest industry.
H.R. MacMillan opens the Canadian White Pine Mill next door to Bloedel’s Dominion Mill. It was the first facility in what would eventually become BC’s largest corporation, MacMillan Bloedel. Many homes in South Vancouver during the post-war boom were constructed using wood. The mill shut down in 2001, after which the equipment was dismantled, and the soil remediation began. Image: City of Vancouver Archives
Dominion Mill ceases production. H.R. MacMillan buys the operation and merges it with the Canadian White Pine Mill. In 1937, the Canadian White Pine Mill burned to the ground. It was rebuilt in 1939 and a third mill was constructed in 1944.
With the end of World War 2, the South Vancouver area experiences a construction boom. Thousands of homes are built for returning veterans supplied by lumber from the mills.
The three mills are consolidated into one. It processes Douglas Fir, Hemlock, Sitka Spruce, Western Red Cedar, and Western White Pine. Image: Wesgroup
A deep recession forces the closure of the mill with 700 workers laid off. It reopens the following year with scaled-down operations employing only 500 workers.
MacMillan Bloedel is purchased by American timber giant, Weyerhaeuser. Two years later, the Canadian White Pine Mill is closed and most of its equipment is sold to a mill in New Zealand.
ParkLane Homes and Wesgroup Properties purchase the mill site. The East Fraser Lands Committee is created to begin planning and community consultation. Image: Wesgroup
The City of Vancouver adopts the East Fraser Lands Official Development Plan. This provides the guidance for the development of the River District as a sustainable, complete community. Image: Wesgroup
The City approves the district’s first rezoning. Area 1 includes floor space for approximately 4,000 new homes and 250,000 square feet of retail and service space.
Rezoning of Area 2 is approved for 2,000 new homes, land for the elementary school and childcare facilities, and more than 10 acres of parks. Image: Wesgroup
Polygon Homes constructs six developments along Riverwalk Avenue in Area 2, including New Water, Rhythm, and Currents at Water’s Edge. Image: Polygon Homes
A 10 Year Review of the East Fraser Lands Official Development Plan (ODP) is initiated by City Council. Extensive community consultation is undertaken from 2017-2019.
Wesgroup completes the Town Centre, Quartet, Avalon, and Mode developments along Sawmill Crescent in Area 1 — River District’s main shopping area.
Wesgroup creates the River District Apiary to support a colony of pollinating honey bees. Image: Wesgroup
As a result of the 10 Year Review initiated in 2017, the EFL ODP is amended to increase the amount of housing for River District, along with additional childcare spaces and more parkland. Wesgroup also assumes responsibility from the City for construction of a community centre.
River District’s development continues in phases, subject to approvals from the City of Vancouver. Wesgroup estimates being able to complete 50% of River District by 2025. Final completion is expected to take an additional 20-25 years.