As it winds its way around the perimeter of the largest urban park in North America, Vancouver’s iconic seawall provides a testament to visionary urban designers of nearly a century ago.
The original idea for the seawall is attributed to the superintendent of the Stanley Park board, W.S. Rawlings, who in 1918, said, “I doubt if there exists anywhere on this continent such possibilities of a combined park and marine walk as we have in Stanley Park.” Rawlings’ vision has become a point of pride for modern-day Vancouverites.
The stone seawall, topped by a paved pathway, stretches 22-kms across this west coast city’s waterfront. From the Vancouver Convention Centre at Canada Place overlooking Coal Harbour, it reaches around Stanley Park and False Creek and continues on past Granville Island before ending at Kitsilano Beach Park, perhaps the crown jewel of this city’s beaches.
The seawall is the most popular outdoor, year-round recreational facility for joggers, cyclists, inline skaters, and pedestrians out for a stroll. And it’s easy to see why. One of the greatest attractions along the marine walkway is the multiple views of the city it provides — a landscape photographer’s dream come true.
From the westernmost point of the seawall straddling Stanley Park’s Third Beach, the open ocean lies dead ahead. Head to the east end of Stanley Park, and you can see downtown Vancouver while literally standing in a forest, and admire the calm waters of the Burrard Inlet.
Interestingly, although most of the Stanley Park portion of the wall was built between 1914 and 1971, its entire length wasn’t completed until 1980. When the Granville Island portion of the seawall was officially opened in 1997, local Member of Parliament Ron Basford remarked that the seawall had transitioned the island from a “somewhat dishevelled industrial area” to one that is people-oriented. The area once referred to as “Mud Island” by locals is now a multimillion-dollar property and thriving civic amenity.
And for all its history, the Vancouver seawall is a contemporary statement for how public space and urban development can coexist in harmony. By ensuring this city’s waterfront stays in the public realm, urban development has thrived.