This was the original Aberdeen Centre mall in Richmond, up until 2002 (PHOTOS)

Jan 14 2021, 8:19 pm

It was about 20 years ago that the original Aberdeen Centre mall in Richmond shuttered its doors in preparation for its demolition for the redevelopment into a new gleaming, curving, glass-enclosed mall.

At the time of its closure, the original mall building was just 12 years old.

The original mall was conceived in the late 1980s during a period of accelerating mass exodus of Hong Kong citizens avoiding the British colony’s inevitable Mainland Chinese rule. Just years earlier in 1984, the United Kingdom signed an agreement that formalized a timeline for the transfer of the sovereignty of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China, marked by the scheduled handover on July 1, 1997.

This agreement, of course, had a profound impact on the future of Metro Vancouver, which quickly became one of the preferred urban centres where Hong Kongers chose to immigrate.

The largest wave of immigration occurred between the late 1980s and early 1990s, and it was within this window that Fairchild Group founder Thomas Fung saw an overwhelming demand for retail, restaurants, services, and entertainment that cater to these newcomers with disposable income. They also had a preference for indoor mall environments.

aberdeen centre richmond original

The original Aberdeen Centre in the early 1990s. (City of Richmond)

aberdeen centre richmond original

The original Aberdeen Centre in the early 1990s. (City of Richmond)

The $20-million, two-storey, 120,000-sq-ft Aberdeen Centre — named after Aberdeen district on Hong Kong Island — opened in 1990 as North America’s first Asian mall and entertainment centre, and it was an immediate success.

There were over 50 shops and restaurants, plus a 10-pin bowling alley, arcade, and a theatre that screened Hong Kong cinema. The eastern side of the mall along Hazelbridge Way was used as surface parking.

The landlord was able to quickly fill the mall with tenants by buying a 50% equity stake of the businesses. This proved to be a popular business model, as the business operators were able to retain the option of fully acquiring ownership after their business saw success.

After a year of the mall’s opening, nearly all of the retailers and restauranteurs — almost entirely comprised of family-owned, Chinatown-style, micro-businesses — bought the remaining equity on their business.

aberdeen centre richmond original

The original Aberdeen Centre in the early 1990s. (City of Richmond)

aberdeen centre richmond original

The original Aberdeen Centre in the early 1990s. (City of Richmond)

aberdeen centre richmond original

The original Aberdeen Centre in the early 1990s. (City of Richmond)

But competition for this booming marketplace was not far behind.

Parker Place opened just to the south in 1993 with over a hundred businesses, and this was followed by Yaohan Centre and Presidential Plaza in 1994 just to the north.

Over time, this so-called “Golden Triangle” eventually grew to become the “Golden Village,” with new commercial developments — mainly strip malls — in the area creating an even larger cluster of Asian shops and restaurants.

The explosive growth of the Golden Village effectively created a new contemporary Chinatown for Metro Vancouver, and in the process it became one of the largest factors for the rapid demise of historic Chinatown at the edge of downtown Vancouver.

Aberdeen Centre continued to be the flagship attraction of the Golden Village, but with its limited size it was losing market share and potential businesses to neighbouring developments, especially the newer malls.

aberdeen centre richmond original

The original Aberdeen Centre in the early 1990s. (City of Richmond)

aberdeen centre richmond original

The original Aberdeen Centre in the early 1990s. (City of Richmond)

aberdeen centre richmond original

The original Aberdeen Centre in the early 1990s. (City of Richmond)

In 1996, just six years after Aberdeen Centre’s opening, Fairchild submitted a rezoning application for the mall property and several adjacent residential lots on the east side of the mall, along Hazelbridge Way, for the redevelopment of the property into a larger shopping centre. This necessitated a realignment of Hazelbridge Way near the intersection with Cambie Road.

Fairchild enlisted Bing Thom Architects, now known as Revery Architecture, for the design of the new indoor mall.

The old mall was demolished in 2002, and the new contemporary international-style mall — designed as an “urban lantern” — that exists today opened in 2004 with an aim to broaden and expand the property’s customer base.

aberdeen centre richmond original

The original Aberdeen Centre in the early 1990s. (City of Richmond)

The $100-million, three-storey mall, with its 380,000 sq. ft. of total floor area and about 160 shops and restaurants, is more than three times larger than its predecessor. It has a large dedicated food court area, a large main atrium with a musical jet water fountain doubling as an event and gathering space, and a parkade structure with 1,200 vehicle stalls.

There were large crowds on opening day, but only a handful of stores were ready in time for the grand opening. The main retail draw that day and over the subsequent months was Daiso, the Japanese ultra-low cost anchor retailer, which recently rebranded as Oomomo Japan Living.

aberdeen centre

Aberdeen Centre. (Revery Architecture)

Aberdeen Centre’s complex was expanded two more times over the following decade, with both further phases also designed by Bing Thom’s namesake firm.

The $30-million, nine-storey, 154,000-sq-ft, mixed-use Aberdeen Residences building on the north side of the mall was built in 2008. The 120 condominiums within the upper levels were originally envisioned as a hotel.

aberdeen residences

Aberdeen Residences. (Revery Architecture)

In 2013, the complex expanded again on the west side of the mall, immediately adjacent to the Canada Line’s Aberdeen Station.

The $45-million, 240,000-sq-ft, Aberdeen Square entails three storeys of indoor mall in the lower levels, with a main entrance atrium that leads to an indoor corridor connecting to Aberdeen Centre on the other side of the city block. The upper three levels of this expansion building are used as offices.

aberdeen square canada line aberdeen station skytrain

Aberdeen Square (right) and Canada Line’s Aberdeen Station (left), captured from the station entrance at the mall’s third level. (Revery Architecture)

The original proposal for the Aberdeen Square project called for a taller building with a 150-room hotel over the retail levels, instead of any office uses, but this second attempt for a hotel in the complex was also later cancelled.

Shortly after Aberdeen Square’s opening, Fairchild funded the construction of a pedestrian overpass to establish a new direct, enclosed entrance between the expansion’s third retail level and the Canada Line station’s northbound platform.

canada line aberdeen station aberdeen square entrance

The Canada Line’s Aberdeen Station entrance from the third level of Aberdeen Square. (RMTransit/YouTube)

canada line aberdeen station aberdeen square entrance

The Canada Line’s Aberdeen Station entrance from the third level of Aberdeen Square. (RMTransit/YouTube)

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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