The Ground Beneath our Feet: China Creek and VCC’s Broadway Campus
The place where Vancouver Community College’s Broadway campus now sits has a fascinating history involving flowing water, pig farms, garbage dumping, and some very fast bicycles!
Only 150 years ago, the area surrounding today’s VCC campus was a dense, temperate rainforest with numerous creeks passing through tidal flats on their way to the ocean. At that time, the “False Creek” area extended as far east as Clark Drive. Large coniferous forests surrounded these flats where bears, cougars, elk, deer, and beavers roamed free. Oral histories, according to VCC’s Aboriginal Elder-in-residence Deanna George, tell of Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, and Squamish First Nations fishing, hunting, and building longhouses.
One of the creeks, China Creek, was approximately 16 km long and flowed from 45th Avenue near Renfrew Street and through Trout Lake before reaching its destination where China Creek Park now sits.
By 1888, European settlers had cleared the land to create a five-acre agricultural operation known as Maddams' Ranch. “China Creek” obtained its name thereafter from the Chinese-owned market gardens and pig farms that populated the creekside south of Broadway around 1900.
The fast-running waters of China Creek carved deep ravines that were later used as garbage dumps. By 1940, due to the dumping, the area was deemed a health hazard by the City of Vancouver. As a result, the waters were diverted into a sewer pipe and the ravines covered over. Today, China Creek, along with several other creeks, continues to flow through the area but is completely contained underground.
In the early 1950s, the China Creek Bowl, a 250-metre oval cycle track made of yellow cedar planks, was built atop the ground that now covered the sewer pipe and ravines. The track, or velodrome, was constructed for the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games. One of the first of its kind in Canada, the track was steeply banked to allow for speed and maneuverability. Lorne “Ace” Atkinson, honoured in the BC Sports Hall of Fame, famously raced on it in the 1954 games as captain of the Canadian team.
While restored in the 1970s, the China Creek Bowl was eventually demolished in 1980 to allow for the construction of Vancouver Community College’s new King Edward (now Broadway) campus.
In 2013, a Places that Matter memorial plaque was unveiled at VCC to commemorate the cycle track. Many of the people who had raced on it attended a special event put on by the Vancouver Heritage Society. The plaque can be seen today along the sidewalk outside VCC’s Building B on Glen Drive. Another plaque, part of the Mount Pleasant Walkway project, sits at the corner of Glen Drive and East 8th Avenue.
What history lies beneath the buildings we use every day! For more photos and stories about the China Creek area, visit the sources listed below.
- BC Sports hall of Fame - Lorne "Ace" Atkinson
- Celia Brauer - False Creek’s Watershed Then and Now
- City of Vancouver Archives - Sewer construction at China Creek (1913)
- False Creek Watershed Society
- Flickr photos:
- Kriswestwood.com blog - China Creek Velodrome
- New City Institute - False Creek Urban Heritage Trail Guidebook
- Vancouver Heritage Foundation - Places that Matter Facebook album: China Creek Cycle Track
- Vancouver Heritage Foundation - Places that Matter Plaque Project
- Vancouver Is Awesome - Vancouver Heritage Foundation Weekly: China Creek Cycle Track "the sound of wheels on wood."
- Vancouver Then - Facebook Page
Submitted by Jacqueline Dale