Are you familiar with the South East Vancouver neighbourhood of South Hill? South Hill is the area centred around the Fraser Street shopping district that runs from 41st – 51st. If you live, work or shop in this area, then we consider you part of South Hill community. South Hill is one of two neighbourhood centres for the larger Sunset neighbourhood. This website was created with the goal of helping neighbours to connect. This may happen in informal interchanges while shopping locally, or visiting neighbourhood parks. It also happens at events such as the annual SouthHill Festival and in groups that meet to learn, celebrate or plan projects together. You can use this website to find out what is happening in South Hill and how you can get involved.
We envision South Hill Neighbourhood as a vibrant, welcoming, safe and harmonious community that celebrates and embraces respectful interchange between people of all ages and backgrounds; a caring neighbourhood that promotes sustainability, encourages participation and fosters pride.
A LOCAL HISTORY
written by Sophie Petric
A dense old growth forest on the south slope populated by bear, deer and salmon begins to be reshaped in the early 1860ʼs. Early settlers clear land for farms near the North Arm of the Fraser River. Subsequently a narrow clearing through this heavily forested area establishes a direct north-south trail from the farms near the river to Granville Townsite. This North Arm Wagon Road of 1875 eventually becomes Fraser St.
In April 1892, the Municipality of South Vancouver is incorporated. Its growth is spurred by a wooden bridge built in 1905 linking S. Van to Richmond and the establishment in 1909 of a one-track streetcar line down Fraser St. to Ferris Rd.(49th Ave.) The streetcar line opened the floodgates to a population explosion and concurrent building boom from 1909-1912. Evidence of this boom period are all around us in the heritage homes still standing in the neighbourhood clustered a few blocks away from Fraser St. Many of the old schools in the area including Van Horne, Douglas, Sexsmith and the South Hill Adult Education Centre(originally Sir Alexander MacKenzie) date back to this era.
The commercial area of South Hill (10 blocks from 41st to 51st Aves.) was established around this time to serve the needs of new residents building their homes and feeding their families. Tom Fox Hardware (est. 1908) and Curry Grocers(est. 1910) were some of the original businesses catering to this newly formed settlement. Some original buildings from this time still stand and can be recognized by their distinctive facades.
Alas, the frenzied real estate boom ended under the shadow of huge tax increases, civic financial mismanagement and an overwhelming municipal debt. The municipality of South Vancouver declared bankruptcy and, in 1918, the premier of BC (John Oliver) appointed a commissioner who replaced the elected council for the next five years. This transformative chapter closed with the start of WWI.
The next big game-changer for the community came in 1929 when South Vancouver amalgamated with the City of Vancouver. This resulted in the renaming of street names for S. Van so that the two street grids would align. For example, the original Wilson Road had become 43rd Ave. After amalgamation, it became 41st Ave. as it is known today. Present day 46th Ave. had been 48th Ave pre-amalgamation.
At this time, the agricultural element of the area was still very evident. Dairies were abundant and the Chinese gardens along the Fraser River provided fresh produce for locals. Gradually these agricultural operations were lost to industrialization near the river as lumber and sawmills became a major industry.
The modern era can be recognized by the post-WWII building of some important civic institutions as veterans and their families began to populate the area. In 1950, a new John Oliver High School was built on the site of the original Wilson farm and later Wilson Park. This “modern” structure supplemented an original 1920 building that was to burn down in 1959. John Oliver is one of the oldest high schools in Vancouver. Established as South Vancouver High School in 1912, it was first located at Selkirk Elementary, then Fleming and finally moved to E.43rd in 1921. Some of the original buildings such as “The Barn” remain standing from this earlier era.
That same year, 1950, saw the official opening of the Sunset Memorial Centre providing some much needed recreational facilities for residents. Of course, the urban legend of Bing Crosby staging a benefit concert for the centre lives on and is a tribute to the resourcefulness of the community who brought the facility to fruition.
A notable feature of our community is the effort made to remember the lives given in the service of their country. South Memorial Park was named to honour the fallen of WWI. Sunset Memorial was a “living memorial” to honour those that served their fellow citizens. There are two legions on or near Fraser St. as well as an Army, Navy and Airforce Veterans club. And of course, Mountainview Cemetery is the ultimate memorial ground and the only cemetery in Vancouver. Again, urban legend tells us that the first client never made it to his formal resting place. The road to the cemetery was so poor, he had to be buried en route to Mountainview.
Residents who grew up in Vancouver can recall some local establishments that had legendary status such as Honest Natʼs Department Store(48th and Fraser), The Fraser Theatre(47th and Fraser) and the BlueBoyʼs beer parlour(Fraser & Marine). All these now exist only in our collective memory. But the history of South Hill is really about the people who came to lay down their roots in a new land: our story can be traced back to the waves of immigration that brought newcomers to this fledgling community. From the early Brits to the post-war Europeans to the Indo-Canadians, Asians and Filipinos, all have contributed to our multicultural fabric and character. And Fraser St. has been transformed along the way from a trail through the woods to a vibrant neighbourhood centre where the wares of the world can be found. Weʼve come full circle back to the South Hill where it all began when a group of immigrants worked hard to build a community. And weʼre still re-inventing ourselves and this neighbourhood.