Looking at Vancouver's luxury waterfront neighbourhood of Kitsilano, you would be hard pressed to believe that only 150 years ago this prestigious area was a wild rainforest with coastal waters that ran dark with salmon.

Kitsilano takes its name from the Squamish First Nation Chief August Jack Khatsahlano whose people were displaced by the local government in 1901. Kits was originally home to the Squamish Indians in the 1800s, they moved there to work in the sawmills

According to the history books, Kitsilano grew some of the biggest trees in the world and in honour of its arboreal history, many of the local streets are named after trees. During the logging era, cut trees would be rolled down from Arbutus street to the waterfront.

The logs were then transported to Hastings Mill on the corner of Alma and Point Grey Road. The sawmill has long since gone quiet but you can visit the Hastings Mill Museum and take a trip back in time. 

Local characters

Kitsilano beach, sunset, facing North Vancouver, Canada Kitsilano Beach was recently voted one of the 10 sexiest beaches in the world but in the late 1800s it was called Greer Beach, after the rogue Irishman Sam Greer who was one of the first non-native settlers (Greer Avenue on Kits Point bears his name) and laid claim to the Canadian Pacific Railway lands around Kits Beach and was thrown in jail when he refused to move.

He later moved to the Cariboo in the Gold Rush and his daughter was the first white baby to be born in the Cariboo. She married the first Notary Public of B.C. and they built Killarney Manor on Point Grey Road which was replaced by a condo building that still bears the name.

Kits connections

Modern-day Kits began to emerge when it was finally connected to Downtown Vancouver by two electric street car lines in 1890. With easy access to downtown, wealthy families moved in and built homes on Arbutus and 4th to enjoy the great views. When Burrard Street Bridge was built in 1932, the area experienced its second housing boom.
During WWII many of the old estates and grand single family homes were converted into rooming houses and remained that way until the late 1970s. Many Sikhs lived around Cypress and Burrard Street because they worked in the lumber mills in False Creek. 

These cheap, old rooming houses also attracted hippies to the neighbourhood and 4th Avenue became a pot smoking haven for the flower-power generation who sold marijuana on the streets. At the time 4th Avenue featured many vegetarian restaurants and natural food stores, as well as second hand furniture stores, alternative music, psychedelic head shops... and all those hippies in their headbands and bright coloured clothing. Kitsilano in the 1960s was a little shabby but it had character and became Vancouver's Haight-Ashbury.

Hippies district of Kitsilano in Vancouver BCIn the 1970s these old properties were knocked down to be replaced by the first condos built in the city (along with the West End).  
Kitsilano's current hip but laid back personality which identifies itself with healthy eating and living has its roots in the '60s and it celebrates its hippie era with the Summer of Love be-in every August.
While the Hippies grew up and moved on, the yuppies moved in and began buying their first condos in Kitsilano in the 1980s. Despite the changes to the neighbourhood, it remains very popular with the students attending UBC.
While there's no shortage of modern houses, townhomes and half duplexes and condos in Kits, there are still many turn of the century houses (1910 to 1912) that have been restored to their original glory. However, these Craftsman-style homes are well out of the price-range of any modern-day hippies.

Story by Maggie Chandler, providing trustworthy real estate services in Vancouver for 30 years.

Photographs by Vancouver Archives, Nanpalmero & Foxtongue.