Historical Walking Tours

Historical walking tours are a great way to learn more about local history in a fun, immersive and engaging way – and the lazy, hazy days of summer are the perfect time to partake.

Shipyard Sal and Sam
Shipyard Sal and Sam from the NVMA historical walking tour of the Burrard Dry Dock Shipyard in North Vancouver. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Last Friday, I did exactly that. I joined 7 others for an engaging historical walking tour of the Burrard Dry Dock Shipyard site beside the Lonsdale Quay Market. Led by our tour guides, Shipyard Sal and Sam, we were transported back in time to the 1940s when North Vancouver’s Burrard Dry Dock and Shipyards was hopping with war-time shipbuilding action.

North Vancouver Museum and Archives – Historical walking tour of the Burrard Dry Dock Shipyard site.

This year, costumed interpreters dig deep into the unique lives of BDD employees and reveal the patriotic passion and spirit of workers, both on and off the docks. Bond rallies, variety shows, and tug-of-war competitions are just a few of the ways Burrard Dry Dock (BDD) employees fundraised for the war effort. Shipyard Sal and Sam will regale you with stories, songs and poetry, as they describe first-hand, what it was like to build 10,000 tonne Victory Ships for war. Listen to songs, participate in rivet-toss demonstrations, and giggle at quick costume changes!  July and August – Wednesday to Saturday at 1:30pm and 3:00pm. Meet Shipyard Sal and Sam for your tour at the foot of Lonsdale and Carrie Cates Court.

Cost: FREE!

Shipyard Sal and Sam
Shipyard Sal and Sam in performance on the NVMA Historical Walking Tour of the Burrard Dry Dock Shipyards. Photo: C.Hagemoen

I have compiled a list of a few of the historical walking tours available this summer in the Metro Vancouver Area. I suggest you research historical walking tours in your local area and be a history tourist in your own home town this summer.

Historical Walking Tours – $20 or under (Check the website links for more information)

Steveston Museum – Steveston

Summer Walking Tour Program – Tours begin in the park next to the museum and last around 50-60 minutes. Every Thursday and Saturday in July through to September in 2013 we will be offering walking tours:

11:00am to noon – Murder, Mayhem and Morality in Old Steveston
Slide into the seldom seen seedier side of Steveston with us as we guide you through scenes of notorious murders, squalid brothels, bootleg grog and gambling joints. This tour, by its very nature, is best suited for a more mature audience.

12:30pm to 1:30pm  – Boardwalks, Bar Rooms and Boats
Explore the past and present of Steveston as a heritage expert takes you on an insider’s tour of the streets of this historic town. As well as discovering the town’s fascinating and culturally diverse heritage, we will also be pointing out places and buildings used in film and TV. This includes the current hit show “Once Upon A Time” in which Steveston doubles as the town of Storybrooke, Maine.

2:00pm to 3:00pm – Murder, Mayhem and Morality in Old Steveston
Slide into the seldom seen seedier side of Steveston with us as we guide you through scenes of notorious murders, squalid brothels, bootleg grog and gambling joints. This tour, by its very nature, is best suited for a more mature audience.

Cost: $5.00 per person per tour


John Atkin Historical Walking Tours – Vancouver

John Atkin is a civic historian and author who organizes and conduct tours for groups and individuals. John has explored Vancouver like few others have and offers an interesting and offbeat insight to the city’s architecture, history and neighbourhoods. He has created, and conducts, a number of unique and popular walking tours throughout the City of Vancouver. John brings an insight of urban planning and development, a love of architecture, and the fascination of the curious to all his tours. John’s walking tours take approximately 2 hours – depending on the group size and route – and are organized year round.

Cost: $10 per person.

Hotel Europe
Gastown’s ‘Hotel Europe’ – a six-story heritage building located at 43 Powell Street (at Alexander) . Photo: C. Hagemoen

Vancouver Heritage Foundation walking tours – Vancouver

Explore Vancouver’s neighbourhoods on foot. Join us for informative and entertaining walks through Vancouver’s diverse neighbourhoods with our guides Maurice Guibord and John Atkin. VHF will also be hosting several special event and limited engagement walking tours through out the season, so be sure to check back to ensure you don’t miss out! April to October 2013, Select Fridays at Noon and Saturdays at 10am.

 Friday afternoon walking tours – with Maurice Guibord
Join Maurice select Fridays at 12pm for 1.5 hour tours through Vancouver’s most historically provocative neighbourhoods (West Hastings, Yaletown, Railtown, and West End). Learn about the history and evolution of our city with these fun, inclusive tours.

Saturday morning walking tours – with John Atkin
Architects and Their Neighbourhoods. Where did those responsible for the early city’s skyline live and just what were their chosen neighbourhoods like when they took up residence there? Join John select Saturdays from 10am to 12pm for an exploration of some familiar and some maybe not-so-familiar neighbourhoods  as he looks at Vancouver’s great architects and where they lived.

Cost:  $12  (Walk-Ups are welcome, space permitting)

The Vancouver Heritage Foundation also offers free Self-Guided Neighbourhood Tour guides.

Combine history and interpretive information on a self-guided neighbourhood tour. Visit the Vancouver Heritage Foundation website for brochures covering Japantown, the historic markets of Strathcona and even ubiquitous “Vancouver Specials” (a style of house unique to Vancouver). The City of Vancouver website also has maps that expand on topics such as historic mansions in Shaughnessy and the transformation of Yaletown. The guides are available online and through the following locations: Tourism Vancouver Visitor Centre; Vancouver Public Library Central Library; and the VHF Main Office – Suite 402 – 510 West Hastings St (The Standard Building).


Heritage Vancouver Society’s Walking Tours – Vancouver

Heritage Vancouver wishes to thank our experienced tour guides for their generous contribution in creating a greater appreciation for Vancouver’s built heritage. Our guides are all unique — their backgrounds, their personalities, and their stories bring Vancouver’s historic neighbourhoods to life. Thank you for making these tours possible. Additional tours will be posted, once confirmed. Watch for them!

July 20: Granville Street’s 800 to 1200 Blocks
July 27: Vancouver’s Granville & West Georgia Streets
Aug 10: Estates of South Kerrisdale
Aug 18: Delamont: Kitsilano’s Oldest City Block of Houses
Aug 24: Planning tour of Vancouver’s West End
Sept 7: Grandview, West of Commercial
Sept 19: UBC Campus: Modern Buildings & Landscapes
Sept 22: First Shaughnessy: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Cost: $10 Members , $15 Non-members

Ferrera Court building lintel
Ferrera Court building lintel, 1912 – East Hastings street, Vancouver. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Stanley Park History Walking Tours – Vancouver

Historical interpreter and event co-ordinator Jolene Cumming has been producing and presenting local historical walking tours, programs and events since 2001. She founded the Stanley Park History Group (2011) and is the co-founder and co-coordinator of the Herstory Cafe, (2007-present). Working with the Stanley Park Ecology Society (SPES) since 2003, Jolene has presented a variety of historical walking tours and illustrated talks about Stanley Park.

Tour # 9    Where the Park Meets the City: West of Denman & Stanley Park Entrance. Wednesday evening, July 17, 2013, 6:30pm – 8:00pm.

Tour # 10  Brockton Point Secrets Walking Tour  (includes access to Deadman’s Island, with permission to “come aboard” from the HMCS Discovery, Canadian Navy) on Sunday July 28, 2013. 1:30pm – 3:30pm (please arrive 10 minutes early). **Pre-registration required for this tour before Tuesday July 23, for access to DMI.

Tour # 11  Where the Park Meets the City: West of Denman & Park Entrance on August 3.

Tour # 12  Protests, Rallies & Demonstrations: a Labour Day weekend tour on September 1.

Cost: $10 cash per person. Rain or shine.


History walks in Vancouver with James Johnstone

My History Walks are up and running for the Summer Season. I will be offering tours every Saturday, with the second and fourth Saturday of each month dedicated to Strathcona: Vancouver’s Oldest Neighbourhood. On other Saturdays I will alternate tours of the West End, Mount Pleasant, and Strathcona north of Hastings, as well as offer some Community-Based History Walks for the East End. I am currently developing an Old Little Italy Tour and one that features Hogan’s Alley and The East End’s black community. Tours last approximately two hours, depending on the size and pace of the group.

July 20 – 10am. City Hall to Main Street – MOUNT PLEASANT History Walk – Departs SW Corner of West 12th and Yukon.
July 27 – 10am. A walk back in time in Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood: Strathcona – Departs 696 East Hastings at Heatley.
August 3 – 10am. Vancouver’s Roots – A history walk of Strathcona north of Hastings – A prefect intro to Japantown and the Powell Street Festival. Departs 611 Alexander Street at Princess Avenue.
More tours are available all summer check the website for more information.

Cost: $20 per person.


Architectural Institute of BC (AIBC) walking tours – Vancouver and Victoria

In summer, take a walking tour with the Architectural Institute of BC to soak in the architecture and culture of neighbourhoods such as: the West End, Strathcona, Yaletown, and False Creek. For an in-depth look at the Chinatown neighbourhood, take “A Wok Around Chinatown” with Robert Sung to sample Asian foods and peek into specialty shops, or trace the history of Chinatown’s early immigrants with the Chinese Cultural Centre (daily drop-in tours during the summer).

The AIBC’s Architectural Walking Tours program offers unique perspectives of the cities of Vancouver and Victoria. Those interested are invited to take advantage of six distinct tours in each city. Summer tours are offered throughout July, August and early September.

Cost: $10 per person.

Dominion Building
Dominion Building, detail. Polaroid SX-70 photo. Photo: C.Hagemoen

Historical Walking Tours –  Over $20 per person (Check the website links for more information)

Forbidden Vancouver Historical Walking Tours – Vancouver

A walk on the wild side. Join Forbidden Vancouver on one of their historical walking tours and uncover the darkest and most scandalous secrets of prohibition-era Gastown and Chinatown. Wander back alleys, listen to stories, and delve into the histories (and mysteries) of the the city’s most notorious characters.

On Prohibition City you explore the strange, corrupt and colourful history of prohibition-era Vancouver. Hear of the unlikely alliance of temperance campaigners and anti-saloon activists who together convinced the province to go dry back in 1917. Discover what life was like under prohibition, with stories of blind pigs, private members clubs, corruption, bootlegging, and free-flowing medicinal liquor. And learn the stories of the city’s most notorious mayor, LD Taylor, its most beautiful showgirl and its greatest rum-runners.

Join your Forbidden Vancouver storyteller on an adventure through our city’s earliest and most gruesome history. On the Lost Souls of Gastown you are transported back to the 1800s when Vancouver was a violent frontier town. Only a few thousand inhabitants hustled to survive in the Wild West of Canada. Do not expect a conventional walking tour, this experience is visceral and dramatic.

Join aristocrat, vaudeville actor and legendary Granville Street bon vivant Lord Fothrington-Appleby on a light-hearted stroll through historic Granville Street. Lord Fothrington-Appleby will pull back the curtains on Vancouver’s entertainment district. You will hear stories of Granville Street as the once raging home to vaudeville theatre, as our city’s neon-lit “theatre-row”, as host to world-class live music venues like the Commodore Ballroom and the Orpheum Theatre, as a hiding place for drink-soaked speakeasies and bottle clubs during prohibition, and of course as a magnet for those seeking more ‘adult’ forms of entertainment…even to this day.

Cost: $19 for seniors and students $22 for adults.


And finally, for those who want to sharpen their photography skills and learn about local history Forbidden Vancouver also offers a History, Architecture & Photography tour called Hidden History Photowalk.

This summer Forbidden Vancouver has teamed up with award-winning photography training school Vancouver Photowalks to stage a series of nine Hidden History Photowalks. Each photowalk will last around two hours and will be jointly led by one of our storytellers and a professional photography coach. It will venture through the Victory Square area, nestled between Gastown, Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside. Victory Square contains our city’s most historic buildings like the Dominion Building and the Sun Tower. At each stop the little known histories and stories of the location will be shared, providing context to the rich visual scene on-hand for you the photographer to work with.

Topics covered will include basics of photo composition, lines and angles, black and white photography, and how to handle challenging lighting. You will learn the rich history of one of Vancouver’s oldest districts and go home with unique images.

Cost: $49 per person.


So get outside this summer, and immerse yourself in a little local history!

2 thoughts on “Historical Walking Tours

    1. Almost 10 years ago I went on a tour of the Penthouse that was put on by Heritage Vancouver, or was it Vancouver Heritage Society? It was great. I guess I am about due to go again.

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