This City is Ours: A Historical Walking Tour of Contentious Space in Vancouver

Before you go on the tour, make sure to visit our “Route” section – you will need the walking directions, podcasts, and map in order to participate in this tour.

This City is Ours is a historical walking tour that takes place in Vancouver, B.C., on the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish First Nations, on unceded Coast Salish lands.

Our tour is designed to guide you through some of the many locations that have been sites of conflict in Vancouver’s relatively short history. It is important to acknowledge that all of Vancouver’s space is inherently ridden with conflict, as the city came to be through the practice of settler colonialism and the stealing of land from First Nations peoples.

The overarching theme and goal of This City is Ours is to examine top-down governance in Vancouver and highlight the means through which people pushed back with grassroots activism, in order to claim ownership over space.

Cities are always places of contested space, but the way these conflicts are presented in our historical memory speaks volumes about the narrative being promoted by urban institutions and the urban growth machine. The urban imaginaries for residents of Vancouver are going to be different depending on their gender, race and class, the communities they are a part of, the neighbourhoods they live in, and a whole host of other variables. What becomes crucial in our understanding of any city is how different communities interact with one another, and how these conflicts and collaborations play out and shape the urban built environment.

Our walking tour seeks to explore these spaces of conflict as they have existed (and continue to exist) in Vancouver. There are countless examples of communities organizing in order to push back against top-down governance, of grassroots activism claiming ownership over space.

Vancouver, as a relatively young city, is often perceived as having very little history. In fact, in its short time a rich historical fabric has formed: comprised of different cultures and communities, conflict and an ever-changing urban landscape. What is integral in understanding our city today is having the historical contextualization that helps us to understand the importance of different urban sites, even if they look completely different than they did even five years ago. In an age of creative destruction, there is no such thing as physical permanence in an urban built environment.

For that reason, we’ve created a walking tour that provides historical context in Vancouver, particularly enforcing narratives that are don’t already dominate. They’re about preventing the erasure of oppressed histories, and providing the opportunity for different voices to be heard. We’ve chosen twelve sites that we feel are a representation on some of the many instances of grassroots movements coming together to reclaim space that top-down urban institutions were threatening to repurpose. The list is by no means inclusive, but these stories are meant to demonstrate that it is possible to create a sense of belonging in the city, even if it’s something you have to fight for.

Learning about a city from the streets is an entirely different experience than from reading articles or listening to lectures. Walking the street is a multisensory experience, and it’s one we encourage you to fully embrace. During the walking tour, it is likely that you will come across present-day examples of contention, where different bodies are claiming ownership over space. The very fact that Vancouver exists on unceded Coast Salish Territories means that conflicted space is ongoing in this city, even if it’s not physically in front of you. In understanding the historical significance of spatial conflicts, we hope you’ll have a firmer grasp on what makes Vancouver such an intriguing, ever-evolving urban space.