This video helps understand Vancouver BC Canada explaining how some decisions were made that gave us the metropolitan region we have today.

Whether you are bored and looking for something to do in Vancouver or are a tourist wanting to better understand what you are experiencing or are a student of urban development history you will find this video interesting.

This documentary reveals the history of municipalities like Burnaby, New Westminster, Richmond, Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, North Vancouver and Coquitlam as well as places like Buntzen Lake and the Vedder Canal.

The first 40 years of Vancouver development had surprisingly little government involvement. The Canadian Pacific Railway laid out and named its streets before the city government even existed.

Robert Horne-Payne, a young financier in London, bought three bankrupt BC streetcar companies and created the BC Electric Railway Company. His ability to raise capital and his careful management led him to become one of the most important influences on the Metro Vancouver we know today.

From his home and wheelchair in Brentwood England Robert Horne-Payne personally made all major Vancouver streetcar decisions.

After a local manager jeopardized the company by overextending commitments, Horne-Payne personally took responsibility for all major decisions up to 1928 when he sold the company and died shortly after. During the great period of growth Horne-Payne used a three wheeled wheelchair and never visited Vancouver.

BC Electric provided transit for Metro Vancouver and Victoria without public subsidies until it was nationalized by BC Transit in 1961. Transit has been subsidized by taxes ever since.

BC Electric decided which streets would be major arterials based on the needs of the streetcars and market forces. Vancouver’s much loved shopping streets are former streetcar lines that were built before zoning. Homeowners along the lines converted their houses into stores.

Vancouver house with store added in front

Most transit lines built after zoning was introduced to Vancouver do not have intensive retail. Horne-Payne shunned real estate speculation or development, focusing instead on his core business.

Horne-Payne developed BC’s hydroelectric sector by building the innovative Buntzen Lake power project (Buntzen was the local manager).

Although the streetcar tracks were removed in the 1950s their influence remains. It is not possible to understand the city and the region of today without a good knowledge of how the streetcar influenced development.

Vancouver and New Westminster were the original streetcar cities. In 1890 they were linked with an interurban line that prompted South Vancouver and Burnaby to incorporate. Other cities like Chilliwack also incorporated in anticipation of the interurban line. Richmond, Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford, North Vancouver and Coquitlam were greatly influenced by Horne-Payne’s decisions.

Special thanks to Henry Ewert for his advice on this video.

BC Electric Railway car.

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