Home > About Vancouver > Areas of the city > Strathcona > Downtown Eastside
Downtown Eastside

Downtown Eastside

The Downtown Eastside (DTES) is one of Vancouver's oldest neighbourhoods, and the historic heart of the city. 

The DTES has many assets, especially for its low-income residents, who appreciate feeling accepted and at home, and benefit from living near health and social services. Many volunteers contribute countless hours to help improve the community and work for social justice. 

In recent years, the Downtown Eastside has struggled with many complex challenges including drug use, crime, homelessness, housing issues, unemployment, and loss of businesses in the community.

This area has a community plan that was completed in 2014:

Discover the historic districts of Strathcona and the Downtown Eastside

Neighourhood history and heritage

The Downtown Eastside (DTES) encompassed two distinct areas within its boundaries. The original civic centre, centered around Main and Hastings with City Hall, the City Market, the Carnegie Public Library and numerous theatres, while farther east it was home to much of the original industry of the new city including the Hastings Mill. Along the waterfront of Burrard Inlet was, as today, the port.

With the construction of the new courthouse on Georgia Street in 1906 the focus for the downtown shifted west. The DTES was still the transportation hub for the city with the B.C. Electric interurban station at Hastings and Carrall, the North Shore Ferries at the foot of Columbia and the coastal steamship piers between Carrall and Main Street. All of this activity put thousands of people per day onto the streets of the DTES, they in turn supported a vibrant shopping district along Hastings Street.

The numerous hotels that remain in the area were originally built for commercial travellers and tourists brought in by the coastal steamship fleets. Later they would become the permanent home to the many single men who had worked as loggers and miners. Along Powell Street the Japanese community settled close to the port and fish processing plants. At one time they made up the majority of the school population at the nearby Strathcona Elementary School. In 1942, Vancouver's residents of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed to the interior of B.C. following the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

In 1958 street car service was discontinued and the interurban station was closed, the following year the North Shore ferries ceased operation. These two events took the thousands of people per day away from the streets and the area never fully recovered. The cycle of closures was completed when the Woodward's department store closed its doors in 1992 leading the area into further decline. By the early 1970s the Downtown Eastside was home to a disproportionate number of single, middle-aged men living on fixed incomes. The DTES experienced further change when a lack of public funding led to the de-institutionalization of thousands of psychiatric patients, many of whom found the Downtown Eastside an affordable and welcoming community.

On the positive side, a number of new housing projects funded by the province and the city have substantially improved the rental housing situation, while the various initiatives of the Downtown Eastside Residents Association (DERA) have done much to make life better for low income people.

Did you know?

  • The 1907 Pantages Theatre near Main and Hastings is the oldest remaining Pantages Theatre in North America.
  • The upstairs of the Carnegie Library was the home to the Vancouver Museum until 1968.
  • Gore Street, the only street in the area to run at an angle to the regular grid system, was originally a logging skid road leading to the Hastings Sawmill on the waterfront.

Downtown East parkIndustry has made up a significant portion of the DTES and the eastern portion of the area has small scale industrial uses mixed in with the remaining homes and rooming houses along Alexander, Powell and Cordova Streets. These houses are some of the oldest in the city.
There are some noteworthy industrial buildings such as the 1925 American Can Company building, one of the largest reinforced concrete factories built in the city. In 1988 it was renovated into offices and a large steel and glass elevator tower added to the outside.

The Flying Angel Seaman's Club at the foot of Dunlevy is the former head office of the B.C. Mills Timber and Trading Company, informally known as the Hastings Mill. This large 1905 prefabricated building was built by the mill to promote its prefabricated building system produced by the mill from 1904 until 1911.

On the west side of Oppenheimer Park is the 1913 New World Hotel at 396 Powell Street. Originally named the "Tamura Building" by its owner, a Japanese banker and importer, this brick building features extensive use of sheet metal ornamentation and granite block foundation stones. It was restored in 1991. Across the street and facing the park is the Marr Hotel which opened its doors in 1890 as the Stanley Hotel.

See detailed information on the city's heritage and a complete list of heritage buildings.

Additional information is available through the City of Vancouver Archives.

Initiatives in Downtown Eastside

The Downtown Eastside Street Market at Pigeon Park on Carrall Street

Community Economic Development Strategy

The City is co-creating a Community Economic Development Strategy with Downtown Eastside communities to help meet the goals of the DTES Plan.

Community monitors in the Downtown Eastside

Toilet accessibility in the Downtown Eastside (DTES)

In the Downtown Eastside (DTES), there has been a call for more public toilets. Homelessness, drug addiction and mental illness place even more pressure on the limited resources that are available, and result in laneways being used as alternatives to public toilets. Great Beginnings teamed with community partner the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) to respond to this need.

Pedestrian Safety in the Downtown Eastside

Pedestrian safety in the Downtown Eastside (DTES)

A 2009 study by researchers at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia found that a small strip in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) was the most dangerous place for pedestrians in Vancouver and that 10% of all pedestrian injuries happen in this neighbourhood. Great Beginnings engaged with DTES residents to make the community safer for pedestrians.

Oppenheimer Park, the Downtown Eastside's backyard

Improving public spaces

Improving public spaces in the Downtown Eastside

A design rendering of the Powell Street overpass

Powell Street overpass project

This project will make it safer and easier for people to navigate the area along Powell St just west of Clark Dr. It will also expand and improve the rail network that supports cargo movement to and from Vancouver's port.

Downtown Eastside Community Vision Plan

A Community Vision Plan is the result of a comprehensive, collaborative local planning process.

Read the Downtown Eastside Community Vision Plan  17 MB

We support and fund these community resources

Road closures and construction

Find information about road closures and traffic delays due to road construction projects and special events in Vancouver.

Downtown Bus Service Review

The City of Vancouver is working with Translink to develop a short term vision for the bus network in the downtown core.

Explore public art

Discover our featured public art. Go on self-guided walking tours. Find public art by neighbourhood, artwork, or artist.

Grants and awards

View information on grants and funding for arts and culture, strong communities, and sustainability.

Growing food

Vancouver supports and promotes growing local food, through community gardens and other urban agriculture initiatives, promoting sustainability, and building stronger communities.