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History, Photos

Photographer offers glimpse into the gritty underside of Vancouver in the 1970s (PHOTOS)

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Graham Cox Jan 17, 2019 8:00 am 537

A lot can change in 40 odd years.

We know Vancouver as a bustling metropolis that has become a must-visit destination for tourists from all over the world, but this hasn’t always been the case.

Before the urban development, the global interest and the unaffordable housing, Vancouver had a much different vibe to it.

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It was simply a port city that sat at the end of a railway line. At the time, many of Vancouver’s downtown and east side streets ended at the waterfront — an area filled with commercial fishing docks, cargo terminals, and bars and cafes frequented by blue-collar workers and sailors.

Greg Girard was just 16 when he started photographing the city as a hobby, focusing on the ‘underside’ of Vancouver. For a decade, Girard built a photographic record of the city, compiling it into his book Under Vancouver 1972 – 1982 and offering us a glimpse into a city that no longer exists.

Girard, a resident of Burnaby at the time, said he would stay in cheap hotels on weekends for around $3.50 a night while trying to capture the essence of the streetscapes and the people in the city.

Corner of Howe and Davie / Greg Girard

Howe Street (1974) / Greg Girard

Girls in Snackbar (1975) / Greg Girard

Gas Pumps near Sugar Refinery (1981) / Greg Girard

Spending a lot of his time in the Downtown Eastside, Girard felt that the city had a much grittier feel — a sort of down and outness.

“That stretch of Hastings was referred to back then as Skid Row. It was all working class and quite tough, but it didn’t have the same drug issues that it does today,” said Girard. “There were no vacant store fronts along Hastings, everything was an alive, functioning business. It was a working-class area that offered restaurants, cafes, pawn shops, clothing stores, and cinemas.”

East Hastings Street / Greg Girard

The Barn / Greg Girard

Lux Theatre on Hastings / Greg Girard

200 Block E. Hastings / Greg Girard

As for the city, Girard said there was a sort of time lag back then and things didn’t change as fast as they do now.

“People weren’t being chased out of places and things would linger. Although it was the early 70s, it was kind of like going back to the 40s or 50s. There wasn’t that same impetuous to serve a market.”

Man With Bag (1975) / Greg Girard

Chinatown’s Sleeping Barber (1974) / Greg Girard

Man Dining (1974) / Greg Girard

Vancouver Neighbourhood (1981) / Greg Girard

Chinatown (1975) / Greg Girard

Franklin Street (1981) / Greg Girard

Blue Eagle Cafe (1972) / Greg Girard

Chinese Voice Daily News (1982) / Greg Girard

Sailor’s Home (1973) / Greg Girard

Aristocratic Restaurant (1975) / Greg Girard

Convenient Store (1974) / Greg Girard

Lucky Time Cafe (1975) / Greg Girard

We will most likely never see gas for 26.6 cents per litre or soup for 35 cents per can, but Greg Girard’s photos from Under Vancouver 1972-1982 preserve a moment of time in Vancouver when it was a reality.

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Graham Cox
Sport fan, photographer, and travel enthusiast.

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