Cornelia Oberlander

Cornelia Oberlander sitting on a chair

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, a pioneer in landscape architecture and a beloved member of Vancouver’s Jewish community, was awarded the Freedom of the City on May 18, 2021, just days before she passed away on May 22, at the age of 99.

Oberlander escaped Nazi persecution in Germany at the age of 18.  She immigrated to the United States via England, and graduated among the first class of women from Harvard University with a degree in landscape architecture. She later settled in Vancouver and founded her own landscape architecture firm, bringing with her a vision of urban environments with pockets of nature that continues to shape our cityscape.

Bringing together rural and urban harmony

Vancouver residents and visitors continue to benefit from Oberlander's dream of 'green cities' that infuse rural and urban harmony.  Her contributions to Vancouver's public spaces include iconic logs as seating on our public beaches (1963), Robson Square (1983), the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch rooftop garden (1995), and the VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre (2011). She also designed landscapes for the Vancouver General Hospital burn unit garden, and UBC's Museum of Anthropology and the C K Choi Building.

Oberlander also made her mark nationally and internationally. She designed landscapes for non-market housing and playgrounds across the country, helped draft national guidelines for the creation of play spaces in Canada, and worked on major projects like the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Chancery in Washington, DC. 

About the Freedom of the City award

The Freedom of the City is the highest award given by the City of Vancouver. The City grants the award only in exceptional cases to individuals of the highest merit. The recipient is usually someone who has gained national and international acclaim in the arts, business, or philanthropy, and who has brought recognition to Vancouver through his or her achievements.

The City began honouring individuals with the Freedom of the City Award in 1936.

Recipients of the award are recognized during a special ceremony at Council, which consists of the reading and presentation of a framed scroll, the Freedom Medal, and a decal that permits free parking at City parking meters. Recipients have their names inscribed in the Book of Freedoms and are entitled to be called Freeman of the City of Vancouver.

Members of City Council nominate individuals for the award. According to the Vancouver Charter (Section 205), these nominations must be approved by unanimous vote of Council.