Why this shift, I wondered? I could find no answers online, nor in paper resources I consulted.
It looks as though the answer has a couple of components: one relates to the biggest landowner in the city at the time, the CPR; the other concerns a ball park.
Until roughly the 1920s, there were no streets where Hamilton and Mainland are today, south of Smithe. However, by about 1912, there were lanes where these streets ultimately would be. These lanes were called “sidings” in the 1912 edition of Goad’s Atlas.
The “CPR sidings” are marked on the map above. The sidings provided rail service to the businesses which had warehouses along those lanes, including King Warehousing, Canadian Westinghouse, Hudson’s Bay, A. R. Coutts & Co., McLary’s, Mainland Transfer, and Woodward’s. The photograph at the top of this posting shows a view of these sidings south of Smithe. The lane shown on the left of the image is what would become known in a few years as Mainland Street (named after the business which had a warehouse on that lane) and the one to the right is what would become Hamilton Street. (1)
The other component in this story seems to involve a recreation park which once was in this neighbourhood. (A photo of a lacrosse game at the park appears below, with the photographer shooting north to the main stands. The tall structure on the right of the image is Vancouver Milling and Grain Co.)
This park existed, certainly, from 1905 to 1913, after which Vancouver’s semi-pro baseball team moved out of the downtown district and into a new recreation park at 5th Ave. and Hemlock. It isn’t clear to me when the park at Homer and Smithe was demolished, but it no longer appears on the local fire insurance map produced in the 1920s. That is the first map on which I could find the two former ‘sidings’ identified with street names.
What follows is speculation. I suspect that the siding which would be called Mainland Street had been known by that name informally for a few years, probably because of the presence on that ‘street’ of the large Mainland Transfer Co. warehouse. People (including, presumably, city planners) are creatures of habit. I’d argue that there was an expectation that the eastward progression of streets to which residents had become accustomed north of Smithe (Granville, Seymour, Richards, Homer, Hamilton) would be the same south of Smithe as well. (2) Thus, it made sense, after the demolition of the ball park, to name the siding (and the street which would lie in the middle of where the park had been)… Hamilton.
(1) These two streets continued to have a ‘siding’ appearance as recently as the 1980s (and possibly later); photographs of Hamilton and Mainland show paved streets with rails embedded in them. The rails have now been removed, presumably to make driving down these streets a little easier for residents of the condos which today dominate Yaletown.
(2) I’m assuming that city planners wouldn’t have been concerned that the naming of Mainland would cause much concern with respect to my street-progression-habit thesis, as Mainland was an additional street that would appear only south of Smithe. In other words, the progression north of Smithe (Granville, Seymour, Richards, Homer, Hamilton, Cambie) would be the same south of Smithe, except for the addition of Mainland between Hamilton and Cambie.