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An interactive map of buildings and sites on the Vancouver Heritage Register.

Pacific Central Station

Photo Credit: Bob Hare

Address

1150 Station St, Vancouver BC

Neighbourhood

Strathcona

Type

Commercial

Protection

D

Significance

A

Recognition

N

Description

Pacific Central Station was built as the western terminus of the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway, who went bankrupt in 1917 and merged with Canadian Government Railways to form Canadian National Railways. Designed by architects Pratt & Ross, the beaux-arts style structure echoes the CPR Station on Cordova St. and was opened in 1919 to serve the Canadian National Railway.

Early History

Prior to 1912, this area consisted of tidal mudflats that were infilled to allow expansion, in particular for heavy-industry and railways. Pacific Central Station was not the first railway terminus in the area. The Great Northern Railway terminus (Union Station) opened in 1917 and was later demolished in 1965. The majority of the land where it stood remains vacant and is the planned site for the relocation of St. Paul’s Hospital.

Pacific Central, then the CNR station, officially opened in November 1919. A Vancouver Sun newspaper article from the scheduled November 1st opening day estimates the cost of the station as one million dollars. Amenities included a lunch counter and a barbershop, and a ticket office sold tickets for both rail and steamship passages. The first train that arrived in the station included a large group of CNR officials and reporters from the prairies who traveled to attend the formal opening and banquet that marked the occasion.

Neighbourhood Connections

A significant landmark, Pacific Central Station has a historical connection to the surrounding area. The station was a place of employment for many of the Black men in the nearby neighbourhood of Hogan’s Alley, and some of the first Black inhabitants of Strathcona were railway porters who sought accommodation close to work. Employment discrimination limited the opportunities open to Black people, who in the 1940s in the Lower Mainland still were “largely confined to such occupations as barbering, cooking and semi-skilled work,” according to Crawford Killan. In the early 20th century, employment as a rail porter was one of the few opportunities available, a job that came with the challenges of long hours, low pay and discriminatory treatment from both passengers and employers, the latter who limited advancement and offered little to no job security. In 1917, the first Black railway union in North America was formed in Winnipeg, beginning an ongoing struggle to win labour rights. In the 1940s, the American Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters expanded into Canada, and notable Strathcona resident Frank Collins became president of the Canadian branch. To learn more about the history of the rail porters and the Collins brothers, see the video “Sleeping Car Porters” by Black Strathcona.

Current Day

Pacific Central Station is still in operation and since 1993 also includes intercity bus services, as well as operating as a terminus for VIA Rail and Amtrak. The building’s frontage is mainly unchanged, with a neon sign reading “Pacific Central” added in the 1950s.  The exterior is made of granite, brick and andesite, a volcanic stone from a quarry on Haddington Island off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. The building retains many historical features, including ornate classic interiors with ceiling mouldings and skylights, a smooth stone façade and strong Doric columns supporting the entrance.

Further Exploration

Canadian National Railways / VIA Rail Station, Canada’s Historic Places, https://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=4527&pid=0

Black Strathcona, http://blackstrathcona.com/

Sleeping Car Porters in Canada, The Canadian Encyclopedia, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sleeping-car-porters-in-canada

Frank Collins: union leader and black activist in 1940s Vancouver, BC Labour Heritage Centre, http://www.labourheritagecentre.ca/frank-collins-union-leader-black-activist-1940s-vancouver/

Literary Landmarks: Pacific Central Station, Vancouver Public Library, https://www.vpl.ca/literarylandmarks/wayde-compton

Canadian Northern Railway Station, Changing Vancouver Blog, https://changingvancouver.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/canadian-northern-railway-station/