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Vancouver west end
By Socceronly [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

The West End In Vancouver In Focus

Situated on the west side of Downtown, Vancouver’s West End is bordered by water on three sides: Coal Harbour, English Bay and Stanley Park’s internationally renown Lost Lagoon. Leisure facilities are a short walk away for those who reside in this densely populated area. Davie Village is a notable feature of the West End. This is a focal point for the gay residents of the city. Denman Street is another well-known landmark, with its’excellent restaurants and shops. Also, there are some excellent retail outlets on Alberni Street and Robson Street.

The Heritage and History of the Area

Vancouver’s West End is set in a bustling lower mainland area. It is on the same peninsula as the central business district, Stanley Park and Downtown. Before the twentieth century, it was not a densely populated region, because of how far it is from Gastown (the Granville Townsite).

Historical Overview

Throughout the 1890s, forest logging took place, and the trees were eventually replaced with grand Victorian properties for wealthy families. In 1910, the CPR developed Shaughnessy, so the West End’s reputation as a place for ‘better off’ people to live subsided, and the second part of the area’s development started. Flats were constructed, houses along the Denman, Davie, and Robson were converted into shops, and more prominent properties were turned into rooming homes.

The first flats in the area were built on the streetcar route on Robson Street. Famous architects Fee and Parr designed The Manhattan (which is a housing cooperative these days), and this still sits at the corner of Thurlow and Robson Streets. Building laws in the city, which existed before 1956, limited these constructions to six stories, and wooden framed buildings to a few stories.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, another spate of flat developments happened. These low rise buildings had stunning Tudor style and Art Deco facades. They aimed to create a sense of respectability and permanency within the community.

During the 1950s, the West End underwent further redevelopments. Primarily, these changes occurred in reaction to technological developments and zoning shifts, which facilitated superior and less expensive multi-floor construction. Most high rise flat developments happened from 1962 to 1975, with over 220 highrises being built over this period. This boom in construction produced the area’s modern-day skyline.

Over the 1970s and 1980s, concerns were expressed by residents about changes in the area. To address this, the City Council introduced planning schemes for the local area, which West End residents, City workers, and local businesses could have a say in.

West end map
By (WT-shared) Shaund (Image:Vancouver streets.svg) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Fun Facts

  • The yearly Gay Pride March starts in the West End, before finishing on Sunset Beach.
  • The ‘Fortes’ drinking fountain lies on English Bay, on the outskirts of Alexandra Park. This fountain is a memorial for Joe Fortes, who was the first lifeguard in the city. During the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, Fortes became synonymous with the beach at English Bay, where he taught countless children from Vancouver to swim.
  • The potter John Morton, who was the city’s first settler, came to the region from New Westminster in search of clay and coal deposits. Over the summer months of 1859, coal had been discovered by a survey vessel on the Burrard Inlet shore, close to Bute Street. While coal was not proactively mined in the region, its’ discovery caused Morton and a couple of associates to claim the territory as their own, with the aim of setting up a brick manufacturing company.
  • In 1894, after the Catholic Church founded Saint Paul’s Hospital, it was situated on the Burrard Street route ‘in the middle of nowhere.’ This route went south to the English Bay, then linked to Yaletown.

The Local Heritage

Nowadays, not many Edwardian Builder, Arts, and Crafts or Queen Anne style properties are left from the previous century. During this period, Georgia Street in Vancouver was nicknamed ‘Blueblood Alley,’ while the West End became home to railway executive families.

Located northwest of Nicola and Davie, Gabriola is the only remaining grand mansion in the area. Constructed at the start of the twentieth century for Benjamin Rogers (the industrialist who founded BC Sugar), this property was the brainchild of Samuel Maclure. It was commonly referred to as ‘the most impressive private property ever built in BC.’ Its’ outstanding stonework was sourced from Gabriola Island, while the Bloomfield Brothers designed the stain glass windows. The property was spared demolition, revamped during the 1970s, and now houses a range of eateries.

Barclay Heritage Square showcases other instances of early home architecture in the West End. These consist of various distinctive heritage properties that have been restored. Bordered by Broughton, Barclay, Nicola and Haro Streets, the block is adjacent to Roedde House. This is an understated property, constructed in 1892, which has a lovely Queen Anne porch and tower. Today, Roedde House is run as a historic property museum. Also, the Square features Weeks House and Barclay Manor, along with six other properties from late Victorian times, revamped to house eighteen subsidized accommodation units (each building is on the Heritage Register of Vancouver).

On Nicola Street, Kensington Place epitomizes West End apartment living during the early twentieth century. The property was constructed from 1912 to 1914 and has Second Renaissance Revival design features. It makes impressive use of precast decorative concrete trim. Moreover, it has recessed balconies, which give it a refined appearance.

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