Earliest Public Rooftop Gardens in Greater Vancouver

CVA 1399-390 – Photo of Leonard’s Cafe on West Hastings near Granville St. 192- A1 Commercial photo. Leonard’s Coffee Palace had by this time (the 1920s) become Leonard’s Cafe and the roof garden apparently had been filled in.

Until I began to research this subject, I’d assumed that the first and only public rooftop garden was the one atop the Hotel Vancouver #2 at the SW corner of Georgia and Granville.

But I was quite mistaken.

Leonard’s Cafe

The business which has the distinction of having the first rooftop garden in the city wasn’t a hotel — it was a cafe; or to describe the establishment as the proprietor did in the City Directory, it was Leonard’s Coffee Palace near the SW corner of West Hastings and Granville. They had another outlet at the Hastings Arcade (at the NW corner of Hastings and Cambie; the Dominion building stands there today). The Leonard’s outlet with the rooftop garden was established in 1906.

The Province blew the city’s ‘horn’, along with Leonard’s, with a ‘call and response’ introduction to their article on the opening of the roof garden:

“Come, let’s go to the roof garden.”

“Roof garden? Where? Didn’t know Vancouver had one.”

“Oh, yes, Vancouver is a city of progress; has everything that any of your cities in the East have, and the latest of these is the roof garden.”

Province, 12 May 1906

Indeed, the newspaper made so bold as to borrow from Babylon in describing the cafe as having the “hanging gardens of Vancouver.”

For all of this presumed hyperbole, however, very little was said about the decor on the roof. Nothing was said of the types of plants in the garden. In fact, the only thing that was said of the roof garden pertained to the view. It evidently had a northern outlook, as the “excellent view of the inlet” was extolled (World, 11 May 1906).

Most of the description was given over to detailing the various beverages which were available on the roof: everything, apparently, from punches, frappes, egg drinks, and “fancy beverages” (which included such exotic-sounding delights as “Cupid’s Idea” and a “Maringo Flip”). Most of these were 10-15 cents a serving.

Leonard’s cafe rooftop garden seems not to have lasted long. I suspect this was due to questions of efficiency. Patrons were likely to sit and order drinks from the uncovered roof only on warm, sunny days. The number of such days in Vancouver are relatively few.

David Spencer’s

CVA 7-4 – Mrs. Catherine Quiney, her family and friends on David Spencer’s roof garden. ca 1910 James Luke Quiney photo.

Next to jump on the roof garden band wagon, in 1908, was Spencer’s Vancouver department store, just a couple blocks up Hastings from Leonard’s. From what is visible in the photo of Spencer’s roof above, their garden appears to have been rather underwhelming. All that is visible are a few planters filled with somewhat ragged-looking plants.

The World said of the new roof garden:

There are two passenger elevators and one freight lift. The Elevators will travel to the roof where, according to present arrangements, a roof garden will be installed where ladies can leave the children in safety while shopping.

World, 2 May 1908

Vancouver’s Edwardians had different notion than today’s post-millennial parents as to what was “safe” for kiddies, I think. Sticking your bairn on the roof, with little in the way of fencing to keep them safe from taking a tumble probably wouldn’t be embraced today!

Spencer’s roof garden seems to have been mothballed by sometime in the 1930s. The final ad mentioning the garden was in 1929 (Province, 10 June 1929).

Interestingly, a rooftop garden was never set up at the downtown Vancouver Hudson’s Bay Co. department store. And it seems to have been the 1940s before Woodward’s established a “sun deck” on their Vancouver store’s roof (see below).

CVA 586-4026 – Woodward Stores Limited sun deck on roof of store on the corner of Hastings Street and Abbot Street. 1945. Don Coltman photo.

The Palace Hotel (North Vancouver)

CVA 371-778 – Exterior of the Palace Hotel (2nd Street, 1 block from Lonsdale Ave.), North Vancouver. ca1911. Roof Garden appears to be located on the back side of the Hotel, where the wooden superstructure appears.
Province, 23 May 1910. Grand Opening of the Roof Garden. In this photo, folks appear to be seated on the front edge of the roof. Whether the garden extended this far is unknown.

The Palace Hotel in North Vancouver was the next in line [1]. The North Vancouver structure was under construction by ca1906. But it wasn’t until 1910 that the roof garden was finished and ready for opening (Province, 23 May 1910). The roof feature was described in ads as being a “very special added attraction and “brilliantly lighted” at night.

In June 1909, a reception was held to formally celebrate the opening of the Palace. Most of the celebration seemed to be focussed on the roof garden. There was a live orchestra on the roof: Harpur’s Orhcestra, a band described in an earlier post (Province, 22 June 1909).

The Palace (after 1949, the Olympic) Hotel was demolished in 1989. [2]

Hotel Vancouver #2

PAN N120A – [View of the second Hotel Vancouver’s roof garden] July 1916. W. J. Moore photo.
VPL 21578 – Hotel Vancouver roof garden. 1923. Dominion Photo Co.

The 1916-established Hotel Vancouver roof garden was by no means the first roof garden in Greater Vancouver, but there was no debate that as far as bling per square foot was concerned, it was unrivaled. This was a real garden. There were impressive trellises on which were vines and there were also (in season) roses. In its ads, the hotel wasn’t satisfied describing the roof garden as being the best in B.C. nor even the best in Canada. No, it was touted as nothing less than the “finest Roof Garden on the Continent”. And who could challenge such an undefined claim?

The Hotel Vancouver, briefly evidently, even had rooftop golf links! It was announced in June 1916 that

Outside of New York city, there is probably no other town in America that has a roof-garden golf links. Winnipeg had an indoor golf links and so has Vancouver. The local indoor golf links are located in the basement of the Hotel Vancouver, but the management is now considering installing an apparatus similar to the one used for indoor golf on the roof of the Hotel Vancouver. The added advantage[s] of having the links on the roof are many, but the chief one is that the players will be out in the open air.

Sun, 3 June 1916

I am not aware of any photographs (nor press articles) pertaining to either the HV’s basement nor its rooftop links (if ever management decided in favour of establishing roof-based golf). I have to wonder about insurance issues should players on the roof have balls go over the edge and land on pedestrians and automobiles below!

The rooftop garden of Hotel Vancouver was demolished with the rest of the structure in 1948.


  1. There was a Palace Hotel in Vancouver at one time, too. It was located where the Merchant Bank later was — at the NW corner of Carrall and Hastings. The Vancouver Palace later moved down Hastings a bit, just a couple doors west of the Rex Theatre.
  2. The claim was made in the North Shore News in 2020 that the Palace had B.C.’s “first rooftop garden”. We’ve established above that that claim was mistaken. However, it may have been the province’s first hotel roof garden.

This entry was posted in cafes/restaurants/eateries, hotels/motels/inns and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Earliest Public Rooftop Gardens in Greater Vancouver

  1. Bobby McLeod says:

    Unfortunately, I, who love rooftop anythings, never got to enjoy any rooftop garden in Vcr.!

  2. Huligansblog Luke says:

    That’s a pretty amazing photo of the Hotel Vancouver upper stories and rooftop!

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