Views of CPR Right of Way: Before and After 1932

Re-Posted February 2018
(First Posted Jan. 2016)

I was recently struck (again) by what excellent images these two are of 1930s Vancouver. How exemplary of how I often have thought of the ’30s in this city, and how great an exposure in nearly every respect, technically, as well. This was W. E. Frost at his best!

So I decided that I would take the unusual step for VAIW and re-post this two years after it was originally posted. I hope you appreciate and enjoy these Frost photos as much as I do!


CVA 447-285 – Canadian Pacific Railway tracks and Carrall Street. ca 1930 W. E. Frost photo.


CVA GF N3 – C.P.R. right of way between Cordova and Carrall Streets] 1935. No photo credit attributed by CVA. (VAIW Note: This image is so similar to the photo above – in composition, exposure and sharpness – that I’d speculate that it’s also a W.E. Frost photo.)

These two images of the CPR right of way in Vancouver’s downtown east side have features in common. Both photos were made in the midst of the Great Depression, all of the people in the photo are men, all wearing dark suits. (I get the sense from these images of both an economic and an emotional depression). I’d speculate that the photos were made by the same photographer.

But there are differences in these photos: they were made from locations about 1.5 blocks and – more importantly, about five years – apart.

In the first photo, the photographer seems to have stood near the intersection of Carrall and East Hastings and faced north. I reached this conclusion because Lind’s Cafe (330 Carrall, a couple of lots north of the corner of Hastings at Carrall) is to the right in foreground and the Gordon & Belyea building (101 Powell, near the northeast corner of Powell and Columbia) is to the right in background.

Goad's Fire Insurance Map, 1912 superimposed over City of Vancouver's VanMap. Showing the CPR right of way slicing through blocks of downtown eastside.

Goad’s Fire Insurance Map, 1912 superimposed over City of Vancouver’s VanMap. Showing the CPR right of way slicing through blocks of downtown east side.

Both of the photos were taken in a northeasterly direction, but the second one was taken about 1.5 blocks northeast of the first one – from a spot near East Cordova St, between Carrall and Columbia Streets. The Gordon & Belyea building is in the background of this image, too, just visible behind another building near the right frame.

There are rail tracks visible in the first image, but not in the second. Indeed, in the first image, there is even a sign nagging pedestrians “not to walk and trespass on the railway”. (Notwithstanding the caution, a couple of gents are walking along and across the tracks). There isn’t a similar warning visible in the second image; nor are there level crossing signs in the lower one. But, then, neither are there tracks visible in the second image.

The reason there is no track in the second photo is that it was made later (ca1935) than the first one (ca1930); the CPR removed some of the track from the right of way once the Dunsmuir Tunnel was installed in 1932.

Trains henceforth travelling from the main line to English Bay entered the tunnel at a portal drilled in the bluff below Hastings near Thurlow. The track then looped around and travelled directly east along Dunsmuir, veered southeast under the Beatty Street Drill Hall and emerged onto the False Creek flats. For forty years the tracks connected with the railway’s marshalling yards and Roundhouse. (Vancouver The Way it Was. Michael Kluckner, 87).

Part of the Dunsmuir Tunnel was repurposed in 1983 as a component of the Skytrain system. The photo below has not yet been fully catalogued by CVA, but it appears to me to be a scene of the Dunsmuir Tunnel, ca 1983, as it was being modified for the Expo Line of Skytrain; the photo would have been taken somewhere between Waterfront station and Stadium/Chinatown station.

CVA 800-2575 - [Description in Progress] n.d. Alan J. Ingram photo. (DUns tunn?)

CVA 800-2575 – [Description in Progress] n.d. Alan J. Ingram photo. (VAIW Notes: The image appears to me to be the old Dunsmuir Tunnel being repurposed for Skytrain’s Expo Line downtown, ca1983. I have digitally modified the photo to improve the exposure.)

This entry was posted in Al Ingram, Photographers, public transit, street scenes, W. E. Frost and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Views of CPR Right of Way: Before and After 1932

  1. Hugh says:

    Those are great photos. I walked through that tunnel around 1981 with some friends. We emerged near BC Place Stadium which was under construction at the time.


  2. lhhouben says:

    Well, I think Vancouver is vastly improved since 1935. That 2nd photo is astounding. It’s so grim and bleak. My Dad’s family moved from SK in 1941; he was 12. He spent a few years in this area, and he and his friends ventured into the train tunnel one time, to see how far they could get before the train came. Fortunately they weren’t killed.

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