Course:GEOG350/ST1/Kitsilano Beach

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Proposed Seawall extension from the edge of Trafalgar Street to the foot of Alma Street

The issue we will be examining is regarding the expansion of the Vancouver seawall. The proposed action is to stretch the wall along Kitsilano beach from the edge of Trafalgar to the foot of Alma, with the generous help of an anonymous donor. This hidden gem is Vancouver’s last natural beach, meaning there is no commercial access onto the beach. No busy bike lanes, no hustle and bustle of tourists and especially no rambunctious teenagers. There is no restricted access onto the beach; all walks of life are welcomed. From the Downtown local to the “150 different bird species”, whoever it be each shares a common understanding of just how important this place is. Petition Organizer Elvira Lount states, “This is another attempt to homogenize the natural world that we live in. It’s remarkable that we have such a treasure in our midst – a place where one can walk and see the city – but feel like one is not in the city”. We are in the support of the extension of the seawall as it has more benefits than loss in a long term aspect with the evidence of people's reactions and research of the best solutions for the environment and transportation.

A Brief History

As for a little bit of history, when the tide is out and you look to the north, you see a flat area stretching out to the water’s edge. Geologists call it a wave cut platform. The present site of Vancouver was below sea level during glacial periods, being pushed down by an ice sheet several kilometers thick. When the ice retreated, 11,000 years ago the land rebounded, and the cliffs which now lie at the back of the beach were out at the edge of the platform. The action of millennia of storms have cut away at them and left the platform, which is now exposed at low tide. Take a look at the cliffs when you have a chance and you will see that they are composed of two different types of rocks - sandstone and shale. These deposits are remnants of the ancient history of the British Columbia coast. They originated 40 million years ago, during the Eocene Epoch.

The construction of the Seawall began in Stanley Park as far back as 1917. Park Board master stonemason James Cunningham had overseen much of its incremental progress from the late 1920s to his retirement in the year of 1955. There is a plague commemorating his work in the rock face above the Seawall at Siwash Rock. On September 21st of 1980, the entire Seawall loop around the Stanley Park was declared officially completed and since then, the Seawall has been extending outwards from Stanley Park. In 2010 and 2011, Stanley Park and English Bay portion of the Seawall were renewed to address ongoing concerns with erosion. The new Seawall is built to endure the tides for many years to come.

Introducing The Seawall

Take a look at the Vancouver Seawall of today

From The Starting Point

The starting point of the Seawall is marked in front of the Vancouver Convention Center in Coal Habour where you can find the “0km” label. Starting where Barrard Street meets the water then going towards west to Stanley Park which will loop around the park for 9km, following under Lions Gate Bridge, and around western side of the downtown peninsula as it opens up to English Bay beach. There are two clearly marked paths on the Seawall: one for walkers and joggers, the other one for cyclists and rollerbladers. You can go in any direction on the walkers’ path; on the other hand, you can only go from east to west on the bike path as it is a one-way path.

Coal Harbour → Stanley Park

The Coal Harbour side of the Seawall leads from the Vancouver Convention Centre to the entrance to Stanley Park and contains some of the widest paths of the entire route. There are information signs near the convention centre that show tales of Vancouver’s industrial past in the harbour along with Vancouver Biennale public works of art in Harbour Green Park. The route has a full view of Burrard Inlet and is the most popular place for runners, walkers, rollerbladers, and cyclists.


As of 2012 the seawall path between Harbour Green Park and the Vancouver Convention Centre is complete, allowing uninterrupted access to downtown Vancouver’s waterfront trail. The Harbour Air float plane operation has moved to the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre located in the west end of the Convention Centre.

Coal Harbour Seawall

The Seawall loops around the entire periphery of Stanley Park taking you by the Nine O’Clock Gun, Totem Poles, Brockton Point Lighthouse, Lumberman’s Arch, Stanley Park Splash Park, and Girl in the Wetsuit. You will pass under the Lions Gate Bridge at the 5km mark and turn around to Third Beach and Siwash Rock. It’s around this area for harbour seals to bobbing in the water or an eagle diving down to pluck its prey from the water.

English Bay → False Creek

Second Beach Pool and Second Beach are the next attracting points along with more trails that lead into the park at Ceperley Meadow and Lost Lagoon. Between Second Beach and English Bay you’ll find carefully-placed rocks balancing on boulders in the water, and glimpse of Kitsilano, Point Grey, and UBC. Exiting Stanley Park, there is the 10km mark on the Seawall, which will leave park scenery behind for the glass towers of False Creek.

After leaving the Stanley Park peninsula and forest trails given way to busy sidewalks and West End streets, the second half of the Seawall loop is distributed with parks, green spaces, patios, and an abundant view in the water as well as the shore. Keep on going east along the Seawall past English Bay Beach and Sunset Beach (dog off-leash area) as you pass under the Burrard and Granville Street Bridges and come out on the north side of False Creek at Yaletown.

Granville Island → Kitsilano

As the Seawall will lead you back under the Cambie Bridge and along the foot of Fairview, you will be heading toward Granville Island. There is another set of delightful location like the dog off-leash area at Charleson Park, a fascinating city views of Choklit Park, and Leg in Boot Square.

“Leg-in-Boot Square is the centrepiece of Phase One of what was the most extensive and visionary urban redevelopment scheme in Canada up to its time (mid-1970′s). It is a vehicle-free cobblestone and brick plaza. In its centre is a set of lines, the primary one which extends from a fountain to the water, and which points via a permanent sightline to the Lions (or Two Sisters) Mountains (and intersecting the old Vancouver Stock Exchange). The remaining twelve lines which emanate from a circle in the middle of the square are aligned to the orientation of Vancouver’s street grid.” (Wikimapia, 2009)

This is the end of the Seawall as it decomposes into beach-side paths and bike routes all the way out to Point Grey. You can see the underbelly of Granville Bridge and Burrard Bridge after leaving the Granville Island, and run along with the north side of the Seawall at Sunset Beach and English Bay — with False Creek amidst.

The Underlying Issue

The two-predominately differing views stem from the wealthy residents whose backyard happens to be amongst the proposed Point Grey Foreshore Seawall, and are striving to preserve the land fore their own desires. Versus the thoughts of someone like Jonny from the comment section here; “A few greedy people want to keep their private beaches, at the expense of millions of residents and visitors. Hardly anyone wants to use that spot as a "natural beach". Millions would use it as a seawall. They could have a raise sea wall that would not interfere with the beach and any "nature" that lives on there. They should start a petition to CREATE the expansion. It would get hundreds of thousands of signatures, not just a couple hundred.”(2012) Of course as well there are just regular folk like myself who don’t see this as who does the beach “belong to” or a battle between the wealthy and the pro active. All in all the decision should reflect the treatment of the beach, and not about what we can get out of it.

Residents' Reactions

In Support Against

There are mixed reactions from the owners of multi-million-dollar waterfront properties along Point Grey Road to the news of possible seawall passing by their yards to bridge the 2.5km stretch between the two beaches. Varieties of concerns were raised about any public pathways between Kitsilano and Jericho beaches, in an expanse from environmental degradation to money issues, but any plans to lessen congestion on the seaside road is more recognized. Many people had their attention turned to issues concerning the Fraser River, such as "rising sea levels and ways to protect our beaches". An executive director at Brock House seniors’ activity center Sophie Djordjebich is “dead against” the action of extending seawall for a simple reason that “all members of the society enjoy the view” (2012). She is afraid that such action would put off people from renting the space for weddings and would be taking away profits from the non-profit society which manages the property. To the east of Brock House, as John Auersperg watches people walking their dogs along the wet beach at low tide, he stated that “The idea of a continous walk is a nice one, but there goes another piece of nature.” ( Auersperg, 2012). He is also concerned that the seawall would ruin the natural setting below the large concrete walls under the mansions. Donna Heaslip, who lived by the shore overlooking the water since 1985, stated that there are “far better ways” to use civic funds.

In Support Of

On the other hand, other residents advocate a link that would create a continuous seawall stretching from Point Grey around False Creek to Stanley Park and Coal Habour. “As long as it’s done right” said Laurence Estrin, a 40-year resident of the area who approves of the project. “They’ve been talking about a seaside path on and off for years. It’s got to be 10 feet high above high tide because when you get a northeast storm coming in it can really help.” (Estrin, 2012) He said that the priority would be to reduce the pollution from the cars which prevent him and his wife from opening their windows during. The founder of Lululemon Chip Wilson also supports the seawall extension plan as a long-term fix to traffic jams and safety issues. “…connecting the two beaches is going to [give] people access to way, way more of the city and it’s probably going to take a lot of traffic off the roads…I don’t care which way it happens, but it needs to happen.” (Wilson, 2012) as Chip shows his strong opinion to support the project. An avid seawall user, Wilson stated that the sharing lanes with bike and cars along the Point Grey Road proposed by council would only be a good short-term solution to the unsafe way cyclists, drivers and pedestrians sharing the space.

The Solution

Our proposed solution is in support of the seawall extension project from Kitsilano Beach to Jericho Beach. This battle over the use of Point Grey Road could be settled with long-term vision rather than the short-sighted vision from Vision Vancouver. “The seawall is not just a tourist attraction, it’s also a major transportation route,” (Affleck, 2012). This is an option that would take into account the interest of almost everybody: cyclists, residents, transit drivers and passengers, pedestrians and tourists. As connecting Jericho and Kitsilano waterfronts with approx. 2.5km walkway would create a continuous pathway that stretches from Point Grey all the way to Stanley Park which will be spectacular. The already overcrowded traffic routes on the west are facing increased overcrowding in the future due to residential development at UBC and densification in west side neighborhoods. The seawall would also not significantly impact the residents on the north side of Point Grey Road as their homes are well above it. Rather than making the existing problem worse, seawall would be the best solution. The cost of the seawall extension project would cost more than $10-million according to The Globe and Mail (2012) and there is a generous donour who is willing to donate $10-million as a contribution to the extension project so this is the moment to “accelerate something that’s been on the wish list for decades and we have that opportunity now.”(Deal, 2012) The financing for the seawall would be shared between the anonymous private donour and Vancouver tax payers, and public consultation would be subjected with any construction in Vancouver and federal approval, since the foreshore is technically Ottawa’s jurisdiction.

Environmental Impact

How about environmental impact? Councilor Adriane Carr said that the seawall extension done with “really good engineering” would avoid environmental impacts on sensitive shoreline areas. (Carr, 2012) According to UBC marine ecologist Jamie Slogan, a proper foresight by city council could help mitigate the negative impact on the intertidal marine habitats in the city. “It depends on what they plan to do with the seawall, whether they’re planning a flat seawall or sloped riprap,” he said. (Slogan, 2012) Riprap is a type of foreshore construction with concrete rubble or man-made rock which could help replicate the existing habitat. As there will only be rock and concrete being used to build the seawall, there is nothing about “toxic substances” while the area is popular for mollusks, sea stars, crabs and alga. (Carr, 2012) Christiane Wilhelmson of the Georgia Strait Alliance also favours creating more recreational space on the shore, but deems that a full environmental assessment is necessary to avoid inflicting further damage on the coastal area. “There are always ways to build thing that can help rejuvenate (the ecosystem), but I would hope that the city’s first step will be to assess any impact from construction and use on the shorelines.” (Wilhelmson, 2012)

Point Grey Road - Cornwall Avenue

As with the expansion of the seawall, this will encourage all types of people to get up and get active. By taking advantage of designated areas for walkers and cyclists, more people will be able to enjoy what Vancouver has to offer. Not only would the new seawall help with safe transportation but it allows us to take more cars of the road which inevitably reduces CO2 emissions. Plus traffic flow will be greatly improved, as daily commuters will have the option to avoid the 3pm rush by going green. Support the Seawall!

The Point Grey Road - Cornwall Avenue Corridor Active Transportation Project proposes creating a safe, convenient and comfortable connection for pedestrians and cyclists between Burrard Bridge and Jericho Beach.

Council approves the completion of the Seaside Greenway July 29, 2013 - Vancouver City Council approved the completion of the 28 km Seaside Greenway between Jericho Beach Park and Trafalgar Street, including making Point Grey Road west of Macdonald Street a local street. Council also approved the new York Bikeway from Stephens Street to Seaforth Park. This initiative contributes to the Greenest City Action Plan and Transportation 2040 Plan supporting walking and cycling in Vancouver.


“The park board in 1994 voted to abandon plans to extend the seawall and preserve the shoreline as much as possible”.

The issue of a seawall is not new. In the early 1990s, the park board and city council recognized the value of this natural area and declared it should be preserved without a seawall. If the current board and council are determined to proceed with this idea, a transparent and impartial environmental assessment of the impact of a seawall on the foreshore's natural ecology is a minimum first step before any construction takes place. This is what money does to a lot of people unfortunately.

It is also important to look at the connection between the popularity of the location and its relation to the proposed expansion. For instance the public renewal of Kitsilano beach, with implementation of new sidewalks, upscale eateries and not to mention snazzy new tennis courts; “At this time, the Park Board has sufficient budget to renovate the north courts. This project began in September 2012. The reconstruction of the southern courts will depend on available funding. The Park Board is working with the residents and local tennis community to raise money to resurface the five southern courts.” Without such heavy public interest in the area, perhaps the development of the Seawall would not even be looked into. So hopefully the proposed seawall is for the beneficial growth of the downtown shoreline rather than a popularity stunt. Either way the environmental aspects must remain at the forefront.

I always say if you want privacy, go buy a 20-acre ranch up near Cache Creek. You want to live a stones throw away from 1 of the most dense downtowns in North America, expect there to be a few people around your home. I don't understand why some of these people are using the environment as an argument. If they really cared about the environment and keeping the area pristine, they shouldn't have built their mansions there in the first place. It would be much more environmental to tear down their buildings and replant the forest that was there before. People just need to be honest. They feel they have paid a lot of money to have a semi-private beach in a major Canadian city famed around the world for its amazing views. They feel entitled and that's it. When in reality the expansion of the seawall may actually raise their property values, with a caption attached to their homes like “steps away from the Vancouver Seawall”. With the added benefit of “walkability” the dense Downtown core won’t seem so far away. All in all the proposed action of expanding the Seawall is a great move, however careful planning and high regards towards the publics environmental concerns should not be overlooked.


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