It doesn’t snow often in Vancouver, but when it does it’s a chaotic event. Schools close, transit breaks down and the city’s worst drivers come out — people just aren’t used to getting around in the snow.

That said, Vancouver has definitely experienced a few good snowfalls over the years. Scroll on to see 17 photos of snow-covered Vancouver dating from about 1900 to 1950.  

Looking north from Robson Street, ca. 1902

robson street

Photo: City of Vancouver Archives

There’s only a light dusting of snow in this early 20th century photo, but it’s enough to make the scene look more than a little festive. Taken from 1287 Robson Street in the West End, Brockton Point and North Vancouver are visible in the background.

Real estate office on Waterloo Street, 1910

waterloo street

Photo: City of Vancouver Archives

James Quiney, pictured above at his real estate office at 1820 Waterloo Street in Kitsilano, was one of the neighbourhood’s earliest residents. Born in England, he came to Canada in 1903 and by 1910 was selling real estate for R.D. Rorison — we can’t help but wonder what he might think of the city’s current housing prices!

West Hastings Street and Richards Street, 1916

west hastings street

Photo: City of Vancouver Archives

Snow hit Vancouver hard in 1916, and this photo of West Hastings Street and Richards Street shows the aftermath. While the intersection is mostly clear, it definitely looks slippery.

Shown in the background is Spencer’s, a department store that was founded in Victoria and expanded to Vancouver in 1907. While it started small, it eventually filled nearly an entire city block — in fact, Harbour Centre, now home to the Vancouver campus of Simon Fraser University, was built in 1928 to house part of the store. Spencer’s was sold to Eaton’s, another department store chain, in 1948.

Looking north at Granville Street from West Georgia Street, 1916

granville street 1

Photo: City of Vancouver Archives

Another shot of snowy Vancouver in 1916, this time showing Granville Street. Today if you walk down the right side of the street and head underground you’ll find the Granville SkyTrain stop. Walk a little further and you’ll hit Vancouver Harbour.

Snow in alley, 1916

vancouver alleyway

Photo: City of Vancouver Archives

Vancouver’s main roads may have been clear during 1916’s snowy weather, but its alleyways definitely were not. It’s unclear where in the city this photo was taken, but it’s possible it’s a backstreet downtown.

Strathcona, ca. 1920

strathcona

Photo: City of Vancouver Archives

Strathcona is Vancouver’s oldest residential neighbourhood, although until the 1960s it was known simply as the East End. Because of its affordability and proximity to labouring jobs, many people who had just come to the city ended up settling in the community in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Today it remains one of the city’s most culturally diverse areas.

Lost Lagoon, ca. 1920

lost lagoon

Photo: Vancouver Public Library Historical Photographs/Flickr

If you’ve ever walked or biked the Seawall around Stanley Park, you’ve probably seen Lost Lagoon. It’s one of the most beautiful and well-known spots in the park, with plenty of trees, lush greenery and wildlife (although as of this past summer, no swans). Only the trees are visible in the wintery photo above, along with a couple dozen skaters.

Frozen Stanley Park fountain, 1929

stanley park fountain

Photo: City of Vancouver Archives

The frozen fountain in this photo is also located in Stanley Park, but if you’re thinking it’s the Jubilee Fountain in Lost Lagoon, guess again. While the Jubilee Fountain has long been a fixture in the park, it wasn’t built until 1936, several years after this photo was taken.

Aerial view looking west over Point Grey, 1927

point grey

Photo: City of Vancouver Archives

Taken in 1927, this aerial view of Point Grey shows the Jericho Beach golf course. The course was one of the first in BC, but about a decade after this photo was taken it was commandeered by the National Department of Defence for use by the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Royal Lifesaving Society members at snowy beach, 1927

royal lifesaving society

Photo: City of Vancouver Archives

Today Vancouverites who want to brave the elements in their bathing suits take part in the annual Polar Bear Swim at English Bay, but back in the 1920s that wasn’t an option. Instead, these Royal Lifesaving Members had what looks like a very chilly snowball fight.  

Granville Street looking south from West Pender Street, 1936

granville street 2

Photo: City of Vancouver Archives

Another photo of snowy Granville Street, this time in 1936. Looking south from West Pender Street, it shows a number of parked cars and pedestrians braving the elements. Apparently in the 30s using an umbrella for protection wasn’t as big of a faux pas as it is today.

Hastings Street, 1937

hastings street

Photo: James Crookall, City of Vancouver Archives

1937 was another snowy year for Vancouver, as this photo of Hastings Street shows. In the background, one of the city’s electric streetcars appears to be running — a feat that today’s SkyTrains and buses sometimes can’t accomplish in inclement weather.

Shetland ponies and wagon outside Vancouver Law Courts building, 1937

vancouver law courts 1

Photo: City of Vancouver Archives

Also taken in 1937, this photo shows the Vancouver Law Courts building, an imposing structure designed by Victoria architect Francis Mawson Rattenbury. It opened in the fall of 1911, and at the time was “praised as the finest building of its kind in Canada.” In the foreground, two Shetland ponies take a break from delivering coal.

Vancouver Law Courts building, 1916

vancouver law courts 2

Photo: City of Vancouver Archives

A close up of the snow-covered Vancouver Law Courts building. If it looks familiar to you, that may be because it’s currently the Vancouver Art Gallery — the law courts outgrew the building back in the 1970s, and famed Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson was commissioned to design the new courthouse and convert the former courthouse into a space that would work for the art gallery. The new courthouse is located just across the street from the old one.

Children playing street hockey, ca. 1940

street hockey

Photo: City of Vancouver Archives

It doesn’t get much more Canadian than this. Pictured above is a group of children playing street hockey in Vancouver’s Dunbar-Southlands neighbourhood. Centered on Dunbar Street, the area is now home to land belonging to the Musqueam First Nation and to Southlands, a community that’s largely made up of acreages with multimillion-dollar mansions.

Stampeders football team players at UBC, 1948

calgary stampeders

Photo: Vancouver Public Library Historical Photos/Flickr

Hockey isn’t the only sport you can play in the snow. This photo shows three members of the Calgary Stampeders football team practicing at the University of British Columbia. The team won the Grey Cup the year the photo was taken.

Sweeper car, 1948

sweeper car

Photo: City of Vancouver Archives

Wondering how Vancouver’s streets were cleared in the days before snow ploughs? This photo, taken on a street in the Dunbar-Southlands neighbourhood, shows that the city’s streetcars did at least some of the work. Based on this description of similar snow-clearing streetcars in Montreal, it seems that keeping the streets free of snow involved near-constant work from dedicated labourers.

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