History of Queen Elizabeth Park

Photo of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Vancouver (1939) From the City of Vancouver Archives (AM54-S4-2-: CVA 371-100)

This 52 hectare (130 acre) park is one of the most beautifully maintained public parks in the world. Second only to Stanley Park in annual visits, it receives nearly six-million people a year.

Quarry

In the beginning, Queen Elizabeth Park was a city landmark known affectionately as Little Mountain as its summit was just over 152 m (500 ft) above sea level. Its surface had been scarred at the turn of the century when it was quarried for its rock, used to build Vancouver's first roadways.

In 1919, the Canadian Pacific Railway first offered this real estate to the Vancouver Park Board but no action was taken at that time. By 1929, the Park Board had reconsidered and proceeded to acquire the property, which had become an abandoned eyesore but still contained two reservoirs for the city's drinking water.

In 1930, the park's floral future was foretold when the BC Tulip Association suggested transforming the quarries into sunken gardens. By the end of that decade it had been turned over to the Vancouver Park Board for park and recreation purposes, and was dedicated as such by King George VI and his consort, Queen Elizabeth (the current Queen's mother) on their much-lauded visit to Vancouver in 1939. 

View a film of Queen Elizabeth's 1959 visit to the park 

 

View of Vancouver from Queen Elizabeth Park ca. 1938; City of Vancouver Archives (AM54-S4-: Van Sc P125)

Arboretum

The arboretum was started with a grant from the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association (CPPA) in 1949. The first plantings were done on the north slopes of the park by a group of Junior Forest Wardens. They began by planting blocks of timber species such as ponderosa pine, subalpine spruce, and Douglas fir. Annual donations of $5,000 (the equivalent of $50,000 today) were made by the CPPA until the mid-1950s to continue the development and planting of the arboretum. Most of the larger trees in the park are now about 60 years old. 

The objective of the arboretum was to grow examples of every Canadian tree species, with emphasis on those of commercial importance. However, this narrow focus on Canadian species was soon expanded to include exotic trees from around the world because it was found that many boreal forest species did not grow well in Vancouver’s mild climate.

Planting continues to this day to further the legacy of what has been called  “Canada’s first Civic Arboretum". There are now about 1,500 trees.

Quarry Gardens

The popular quarry gardens were designed by Park Board Deputy Superintendent Bill Livingstone and were unveiled in the early 1960s.

The smaller North Quarry or dry garden was undertaken to commemorate the city's 75th anniversary in 1962.

Bloedel Floral Conservatory

But the most philanthropic donation was yet to come from lumber industrialist Prentice Bloedel, whose $1.25 million went towards adding a roof to the reservoirs and building the country's first geodesic conservatory surrounded by covered walkways, lighted fountains and a magnificent sculpture "Knife Edge - Two Piece" by modern artist Henry Moore. 

The Bloedel Floral Conservatory opened on December 6, 1969, amidst much jubilation with its many climactic zones displaying a huge variety of plants and a superb selection of free-flying tropical birds. In 1972 the Conservatory received the Vincent Massey Award for excellence in the urban environment.

Restaurant

In 1974, the park's last major development in the original plan was undertaken in the form of a new restaurant, perched over the north quarry garden. This was called the Quarry House (now called Seasons in the Park) and, though owned by the Park Board, is leased to an independent operator.

Sculptures, Pitch & Putt, Celebration Pavilion

Over the years other features have been added to this most popular park including the Pitch & Putt (1963), the popular Photo Session sculpture by J. Seward Johnson, Jr., and the Lions Clock (1995) on the entry plaza in front of the Bloedel Conservatory. 

More recently, the Queen Elizabeth Park Plaza adjacent to the Conservatory was redeveloped at a cost of $6 million, and officially opened in 2007. The 1.2 hectare area includes seven covered tai-chi arbours, ornamental gardens, the Celebration Pavilion, and the dramatic “Dancing Waters” fountain.

Fountain

The fountain has one central ‘signature’ jet (made from five high-pressure nozzles fused together), surrounded by a field of 65 shorter jets, and operates on a program to vary the heights of the jets. It is an integral part of the new (2007) Queen Elizabeth Plaza.

Henry Moore’s bronze cast sculpture “Knife Edge - Two Piece” was reinstalled adjacent to the new fountain.

Reservoir

The Queen Elizabeth Plaza is built atop the Little Mountain Reservoir, which is Vancouver’s principal drinking water reservoir. The reservoir is operated by Metro Vancouver. It is located at Queen Elizabeth Park because this is the highest point within the city. An open-air reservoir was built at this location in the 1920’s. In 1965 a concrete roof was added to better protect the water supply. 

From 2001 to 2005, the reservoir was completely rebuilt to increase its capacity to 45-million gallons of water in two separate earthquake-proof cells.

From 2005 to 2007, the Park Board rebuilt the reservoir rooftop garden and parking lot.