The West End, like most of the downtown Vancouver peninsula, was once a thick forest, with a few streams and trails crossing through it. The peninsula is at an angle from true east and west, and the streets do not follow absolute compass directions.
Most of the West of Denman area is not far above sea level. There is a minor height of land near the intersection of Gilford Street and Haro Street.
There were two significant streams in the West End area. One started at about Cardero Street and Comox Street and flowed into English Bay about where Gilford Street is now.
The other stream was somewhat shorter, running from about the intersection of Robson Street and Denman Street and flowing into Coal Harbour, about where Gilford Street is now.Clearing the Area
Before developers and builders could construct houses, they needed open land. Contractors would clear away the trees, often leaving large piles of flammable brush and wood. The Great Fire of 1886 showed how dangerous this practice could become.
Vancouver’s downtown streets generally follow a rectangular grid pattern, with a few exceptions near Lost Lagoon and English Bay.
The grid system is quite ancient, and it appeared in many towns and cities throughout the world over many centuries. See Spiro Kostof, The City Shaped: Urban patterns and meanings through history [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiro_Kostof]; and CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation). Residential Street Pattern Design; CMHC: Ottawa, ON, Canada, 2002. [Socio-economic Series 75, Revised July 2002.]
Grid systems were very popular in North America in the 1900s. The general surveying system for western Canada used a vast grid to organize land descriptions. See W.A. Taylor, Crown Lands: A History of Survey Systems, 1975.
House Numbering System
Vancouver uses the Philadelphia (or decimal) system for street numbers:
By this system an even hundred numbers are allotted to each block and the principal advantage of the system is that the number indicates how many blocks distant it is from any given point on the street or avenue.
In blocks 500 feet or less in length a number is allotted to every 10 feet; in block over 500 feet in length to every 15 feet. All short streets take their numbers from the through streets, and the odd numbers are on the North and West sides of streets.
Source: Henderson’s BC Gazetteer and Directory, 1901, page 534. See also: Wikipedia article: Numbered Street: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numbered_street.
For historical reasons, the street grids in Vancouver do not follow one master scheme. Lauchlan Alexander Hamilton (1852-1941) was the land commissioner for the Canadian Pacific Railway, and he had surveyed the townsites of many settlements across western Canada before arriving in Vancouver [Lauchlan Hamilton’s survey.]
Hamilton’s issue in Vancouver was to reconcile existing streets in the Granville townsite and in District Lot 541 with the new streets in District Lot 185, which became the West End. [Elizabeth Walter, Street Names of Vancouver, Vancouver Historical Society, 1999, page xi; Richard Edward Allen, A Pictorial History of Vancouver: Book 1: Origin of Street and Place Names, 1982, page 3.]
The result is that not all east-west streets run straight through from downtown Vancouver to Stanley Park. Georgia Street, Robson Street, and Nelson Street do go straight through. (Davie Street would normally go straight through as well, but it stops at Denman Street, because of the curve of English Bay.) The other east-west streets run only from Burrard Street to Stanley Park.
The street names in the West End do not follow an alphabetical pattern.
Some street names come from well-known individuals.
Hamilton also chose many West End names from geographic features on an admiralty chart of the Pacific Coast. The chart itself had some errors, which the street names still perpetuate.
In particular, for the West of Denman area, Barclay Street should be called “Barkley Street.” (Other similar West End streets are Cardero Street, which should be “Cordero Street”; and Bidwell Street, which should be “Bedwell Street.”) [see newspaper articles on Barclay Street (“Barkley Street”), and references to updated names in John T. Walbran, British Columbia Coast Names: Their Origin and History. Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau, 1909.]