False Creek

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False Creek between Granville Street Bridge and Burrard Street Bridge
Entrance of False Creek as seen from the Burrard Street Bridge
False Creek at blue hour

False Creek is a short inlet in the heart of Vancouver. It separates downtown from the rest of the city. It was named by George Henry Richards during his Hydrographic survey of 1856-63. Science World is located at its eastern end, with the Granville, Cambie, and the Burrard (which is furthest west) Street bridges crossing False Creek. The Canada Line tunnel crosses underneath False Creek just west of the Cambie Bridge. It is one of the four major bodies of water bordering Vancouver along with English Bay, Burrard Inlet and the Fraser River. In 1986 it was the location of the Expo 86 World's Fair.


During World War I, the easternmost part of False Creek, which formerly ran to Clark Drive, was filled in by the Great Northern Railway and Canadian Northern Pacific Railway to create new land for their yards and terminals.[citation needed] Talk of draining and filling the inlet to Granville Street continued into the 1950s, but that never occurred.

The False Creek area was the industrial heartland of Vancouver through to the 1950s. It was home to many sawmills and small port operations, as well as the western terminus of the major Canadian railways. As industry shifted to other areas, the vicinity around False Creek started to deteriorate. In 1960, BC Forest Products plant and lumber storage facility on the south side of False Creek caught fire in Vancouver's first-ever five-alarm blaze. Every piece of firefighting equipment and all of Vancouver's firefighters fought the blaze for hours, but the facility was totally destroyed.

The future of False Creek south was subsequently shaped by debates on freeways, urban renewal, and the rise of citizen participation in urban planning. Through the 60s, the ruling NPA city government and senior city bureaucrats had hatched a plan - with little or no public consultation - to run freeways through the city. In the same period, the City razed large portions of Strathcona under the aegis of urban renewal. A group of influential citizens formed The Electors Action Movement (TEAM) to oppose the freeway and to radically change the way decisions were made on land use. A key figure amongst these people was Walter Hardwick, a Geography professor at UBC who envisioned the retrofit of this brownfield industrial site into a vibrant waterfront mixed-use community.

First elected to City Council in 1968, Dr. Hardwick led the City's redevelopment team and helped secure the participation of the Federal Government which owned Granville Island. A major public involvement and co-design process followed which established public priorities for an accessible waterfront seawall; mixed-tenure housing including market condominiums, co-op and low-income housing and live-aboard marinas; and a vibrant waterfront market. These plans were formalized in a 1972 Official Development Plan (http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/BYLAWS/odp/fccdd.pdf). The form and mix of development were revolutionary for Vancouver at the time. A third of the site was set aside for housing at 40 units/acre with the balance converted to park, waterfront and community uses.

The North Shore of False Creek (NFC) was further transformed in the 1980s, as it took centre stage during Expo 86. Following Expo, the Province sold the NFC site to Li Ka-shing who brought ideas of a higher density waterfront community to the downtown peninsula. Vancouver's experience with South False Creek and the public participation that shaped it was key to developing NFC as a livable high-density community. For example, Ka-shing's company wanted to develop "islands" of market condos on the waterfront but was soundly rebuffed by the public and by planners who favoured the extension of a 100% publicly accessible waterfront and seawall. The 1991 Official Development Plan enabled significant new density commensurate with the provision of significant public amenities including streetfront shops and services, parks, school sites, community centres, daycares, co-op and low-income housing. Since then, most of the north shore has become a new neighbourhood of dense housing (about 100 units/acre), adding some 50,000 new residents to Vancouver's downtown peninsula.

On December 1, 1998, Vancouver City Council adopted a set of Blueways policies and guidelines[1] stating the vision of a waterfront city where land and water combine to meet the environmental, cultural and economic needs of the City and its people in a sustainable, equitable, high quality manner.

Southeast False Creek (SEFC) is the designation given to the neighbourhood bordered by Cambie, Main, West 2nd Avenue, and False Creek.[2] The 2010 Olympic Village, for athlete housing and logistics of the Winter Olympics, is found in Southeast False Creek. The City of Vancouver has plans to see this neighbourhood developed into a residential area with housing and services for 11,000-13,000 people.[3]

Sports and recreation[edit]

False Creek is a very popular boating area for many different activities including dragon boating, canoeing, kayaking, public ferries, charter ships, and visiting pleasure boats. It has 10 marinas with berths for 1500 watercraft[4] and several paddling clubs or boat rental facilities. Since 1986, the creek has been the venue for the Canadian International Dragon Boat Festival and other paddling events.


Aquabus and False Creek Ferries are two ferry companies that operate daily scheduled service to and from points along False Creek. English Bay Launch provides daily scheduled service from Granville Island on False Creek to Bowen Island. False Creek can also be crossed via Canada Line at Olympic Village Station and Yaletown-Roundhouse Station.

False Creek Ferry

Wildlife and the environment[edit]

Several decades following the suspension of industrial activity in the area, a number of shore and seabirds such as cormorants, ducks, herons, kingfishers, owls, geese, crows, and gulls have returned, as well as harbour seals. In an unusual sighting, in May 2010 a grey whale entered False Creek and traversed its length before returning to the open waters of the Strait of Georgia.[5]

Factors working against the further return of wildlife include residual industrial contaminants, spillage from the sewer overflow system into the creek, and the seawall that constrains much of the shoreline with little habitat value. The city has attempted to recreate the natural shoreline in some areas and is working to phase out the antiquated sewer overflow system.

Panorama of False Creek, showing BC Place, Plaza of Nations, and Science World with downtown in the background.

Architecture and urban planning[edit]

The False Creek area is an eclectic group of neighborhoods with very different urban planning and architectural techniques/styles. The discrepancies between the north and south shores of False Creek are apparent from the built landscape but, as David Ley from the Geography department at UBC argues, these discrepancies are representative of the social, economic, and cultural movements from which they sprang.[6] The Modern and Post-modern aesthetics that helped to shape western culture during the course of the last century were not wasted on architecture and urban planning either. These movements in art and culture had significant effects on the way people thought about and interacted with their environment and False Creek offers a good example of the disparate design elements and goals that characterize these respective approaches, and of the how the sequence of development changed in response to social pressures. [6]

South False Creek[edit]

The south shore of False Creek has had quite a diverse history of land uses since its founding. South False Creek went from being an industrial park, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, to being the populous residential area that it is today.[7] The development of this area, beginning anew in the 1970s, occurred at a critical time in Vancouver’s history when citizens were organizing support for a new picture of the city, one that broke away from the standardized utilitarian cities that were so popular in North America and, instead, pushed for a more livable and diverse built environment.[6] This neighborhood, located on municipally and federally owned land, offered an opportunity for project leaders, often led by TEAM members, to create a new kind of space, what Ley calls a post-modern space.[6] Architecture and urban planning that embrace diversity of design, human-scale proportions, open public spaces, historical and vernacular allusions, diverse demography and the trade of local goods reflect the post-modern goals of inclusion and tradition that were important to the project leaders behind South False Creek.[6] The result is a medium-density area with a variety of architectural designs, ownership opportunities, recreational activities, and modes of transportation, which allows for easier mobility within the community and a more picturesque landscape to be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.[6] Bike paths, parks, unique three-story homes, a public market, and the intentional preservation of mountain-views, and other characteristics, distinguish the area of South False Creek as one of the earliest conscious attempts to create a more “livable” environment for Vancouverites rather than focusing on efficiency and profitability as modernists are often criticized for doing.[6]

North False Creek[edit]

The north shore of False Creek, on the downtown peninsula, has undergone multiple stages of development since its purchase by the province from the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 1980s.[7] Before the BC Cabinet bought the land of North False Creek to begin development for Expo ’86, the land was used for industrial purposes, however, provincial leaders developed a plan to build a sports stadium (BC Place), commercial outlets, and high-density residences on the newly cleared land.[8] The circumstances surrounding the initial development phase of the northern shore of False Creek – strong provincial government involvement, incorporation of corporate partners, the appointment of Arthur Erickson as a project leader, etc. – worked to set the development of the area on a path to modernism with the primary goal being economic profit.[6] BC Place and the accompanying high-density residences and commercial retailers set North False Creek in stark contrast to its southern neighbor, but the differences are more significant than design alone. Yes, the standardized condominiums and streets of the downtown peninsula may offer a more functional or efficient landscape for the modern worker, but even more, this kind of landscape, with its adherence to rational, large-scale, technological spaces, works to keep residents and visitors within the economic dynamo of the city.[6] Although the early development decisions continue to play a role in the experience of the built environment in North False Creek, however, new strides have been taken by the land’s new owner Li Ka-shing, in response to public concerns, to create a more livable and accessible space, although the high-density and mixed use characteristics of the landscape were maintained in this case.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vancouver Blueways Policies
  2. ^ "Southeast False Creek Planning". City of Vancouver. Retrieved February 7, 2012. 
  3. ^ Southeast False Creek: About the Neighbourhood. City of Vancouver. Retrieved 2011-11-22.
  4. ^ False Creek Policy Broadsheets, section 3
  5. ^ CBC News: Whale spotted in Vancouver's False Creek, 5 May 2010
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ley, David (1987). "Styles of the times: liberal and neo-conservative landscapes in inner Vancouver, 1968-1986." Journal of Historical Geography. 13(1): 40-56
  7. ^ a b Alexander, Don; Dobson, Charles; Canning, Patricia; Hurley, Brendan. "False Creek Urban Heritage Trail Guidebook." New City. Retrieved November 03, 2012.
  8. ^ McMordie, M.J. (1994). "Modern Architecture in Vancouver." Canadian Architect. 29(3): 22-27.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 49°16′10″N 123°07′26″W / 49.2694°N 123.1238°W / 49.2694; -123.1238