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Vancouver's history of speculation comes full circle in the new book, Land of Destiny

Last Updated Jan 31, 2020 at 11:23 am PDT

Author and historian Jesse Donaldson holds his latest book, Land of Destiny: A History of Vancouver Real Estate. (John Ackermann, NEWS 1130 Photo)
Summary

This week, NEWS 1130's John Ackermann speaks with author and historian Jesse Donaldson about his new book

Jesse Donaldson is the author of Land of Destiny:  A History of Vancouver Real Estate

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – You know the old saying:  the more things change the more they stay the same.  That can also be said about housing (or the lack thereof) in our region.  Author and historian Jesse Donaldson found that out while researching his latest book, Land of Destiny:  A History of Vancouver Real Estate.

He discovered the history of the city and the history of real estate have been intertwined since the beginning — even before the beginning, really — so he decided to investigate further.

“You know, there’s people complaining about housing prices or the state of the market or things like that, going back to the `20s, going back to the early 1900s, going back to the 1880s,” he explains.  “And I went, ‘Hmmm, maybe there is something to this’ and it just sort of turned out that we’ve just been having the same conversation for 120, 130 years and maybe even more than that.”

LISTEN: Land of Destiny

Donaldson lays out how developers and speculation have guided Vancouver’s history all along, even with simple things like the naming of streets.  For instance, in 1909, the city courted American investors by renaming Westminster Avenue and 9th Avenue to Main Street and Broadway, respectively.

While other cities are known for resources or industries, Vancouver has always been in the business of selling itself.  Donaldson points out events like Expo 86 and the 2010 Olympics were really exercises in what is called “place marketing” pushed by the development community hoping to market the city to overseas investors.

For instance, most Vancouverites may remember Jack Poole as the man for whom the plaza by the former Olympic cauldron was named.  Why Poole did lead the bid to bring the Games to Vancouver, before that he co-founded Daon Development, at one the second largest developer in North America.

“We’re a company town and what they say goes,” he insists.  “Major events, the names of neighbourhoods, the placement of neighbourhoods, the names of streets, Stanley Park, it’s all been developer initiatives and the deeper I started to look into that, the more and more I realized how much that was the common thread.”

Land of Destiny doesn’t just look back.  It looks forward too.  As Donaldson concludes in the book, “Before Vancouver became a city, it was, first and foremost, a real estate investment.  Whether it remain so, is up to us.”

He stands by those words, saying only “unsexy solutions” like direct action will lead to meaningful change.

“The only way that we’re going to get affordability is by making it happen,” Donaldson explains.  “And the only way that it’s going to be made to happen is through who we elect and how angry and vocal we all get about this.  The time for sitting back and saying, ‘Oh, maybe it will get better’ is probably well past now.”

Land of Destiny:  A History of Vancouver Real Estate is the first in a series of local history books dubbed Tales From The Off-Beat.  It’s available from Anvil Press.