When Debra Douglass was living in Toronto, she had the kind of commute that could trigger a headache well before the clock even struck 9 a.m. The communications specialist moved to Lower Lonsdale a few years ago, and her trek to her job downtown via the SeaBus is a dream by comparison.
“In Toronto you’re crammed into subway cars, it’s standing-room-only every day, and there are huge delays most days,” Douglass says in a phone interview. “It took forever because I had to make so many connections. I wasn’t even that far from work. It just got to be too stressful.
“Here, I can walk to the SeaBus, there’s always a seat, and delays are minimal,” adds the mom of a toddler. “I always make a point of looking out the window, because it’s a beautiful commute. I’m still in awe. Whenever I talk to anyone who’s not from Vancouver, they’re always amazed I can commute by boat.”
It’s a short journey, too: just 12 minutes. Add in the time it takes for her to drop off her son at daycare beforehand and walk to her office on the other side, and she’s still firing up her computer in about half an hour.
Being so close to downtown Vancouver is part of what draws many people to Lower Lonsdale. But with easy access to the North Shore’s rugged outdoors, scores of indie shops and restaurants within walking distance, including those at Lonsdale Quay, a bustling outdoor Friday-night market, yoga and Pilates studios, a newer community centre, a movie theatre, and plans for an enormous public plaza that could include a skating rink that would make Robson Square look like a postage stamp, life in “LoLo” seems to be appealing to more and more.
And while there are the new condos going in, the area is steeped in history. The Squamish Nation lived in villages along the community’s shoreline before Capt. George Vancouver began exploring those same shores in 1792. The Wallace Shipyard opened at the foot of Lonsdale in 1906 and reached its peak during World War II, when it was one of the country’s main warship producers. Lower Lonsdale—which is defined geographically as the area bounded by Burrard Inlet to the south, 8th Street to the north, Forbes Avenue to the west, and St. David’s Avenue to the east—went on to experience industrial decline, but new businesses, mixed housing, and the introduction of the SeaBus in 1977 brought renewed interest. In recent years it’s been earmarked for further development centred on improved waterfront access and an enormous public plaza overlooking the harbour.
“The thing with LoLo is that for years people have always talked about the potential; it has so much potential,” says City of North Vancouver mayor Darrell Mussatto by phone. “It’s time to realize that potential and take that next step. There’s a lot of excitement about what’s happening.”
Mussatto says a couple of projects stand out. One is the recent approval to expand the North Shore Spirit Trail west through the Squamish Nation’s Mosquito Creek Marina. Ultimately, the multi-use path will stretch from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove. Then there’s the vision inspired by Seattle-based destination marketing expert Roger Brooks, who worked with the City of North Vancouver last year to come up with rebranding ideas. For LoLo, that vision centres on the future ShipBuilders’ Square, where the hope is to have galleries, indie shops and restaurants, green space, the new home of the Presentation House Gallery, and that aforementioned skating rink.
“In the wintertime it would house an ice sheet like Robson Square but way bigger,” Mussatto says. “In the summer it would turn into a water park for kids to play. You could turn off the water and use the space to have the symphony or movie nights or auto shows. It would be a European-type plaza. Right now at 6:30 at night in Lower Lonsdale everything is shut right down. We’d keep things going into the evenings until 9 or 10, things like jazz bars, but not nightclubs.
“We want a gathering place for everyone,” he adds. “When you bring families you have old and young. It would be a third space. Your first space is your home, the second is your workspace, and the third space is a public place where you want to spend social time, your leisure time.”
Yavanna Arnold grew up in Central Lonsdale and now lives and works in the lower stretch of the corridor. The owner of the Skoah LoLo spa and skincare store, who rents a nearby apartment and is a mom, says that the neighbourhood reminds her in some ways of Yaletown.
“Skoah always opens up in up-and-coming and exciting neighbourhoods, and right next door to us are Noir Lash Lounge and Stripped Wax Bar, which are also in Yaletown and Kitsilano too,” Arnold says by phone from her skin-care salon. “There’s a real vibrancy about it. There are cool hidden shops and restaurants. There seems to be a real energy happening. The Friday-night markets are insanely busy; there’s a parade of people walking down Lonsdale to get there. It’s amazing. People are buying new places that aren’t even built yet.”
One of those condominium projects is Staburn’s Wallace & McDowell, located at 2nd and Lonsdale. Named after Alfred Wallace, who started that shipbuilding company, and Marcus McDowell, a pharmacist who ran McDowell’s Drugstore at 1st and Lonsdale for decades, it’s a 64-unit low-rise. According to Nick Askew, president of Pacesetter Marketing, about 80 percent of the project sold out within three weeks of opening.
“LoLo has rich history as one of the original communities in Metro Vancouver,” Askew says in a phone call. “It’s also one of the nicest waterfront communities in Vancouver. There’s a variety of different types of housing, including multifamily; it’s not all high-rises. The vision for the neighbourhood is there, and it’s very exciting what’s happening there.”
Units at Wallace & McDowell have exposed brick or concrete, and window arches give the building a heritage feel, while modern design means features like six inches of concrete between homes and between floors for sound insulation. Units range from the low $300,000s to more than $2 million.
The breakdown of occupancy in the area is almost evenly split, according to B.C. Stats, with owners making up 49 percent, renters 50 percent, and band housing the remaining one percent. Some new projects include rentals, like the Anchor at 3rd and Lonsdale by Kamcon Construction, which will have 18 market rental housing units and 43 condos.
According to Re/Max Crest Realty, the average price of condos in Lower Lonsdale is $482,376.
“Some of these places have spectacular views; people fall in love with them,” says Brody Lloyd, a realtor with Prudential Sussex Realty who grew up on the North Shore, in an interview at his office. “You have water views, you can see the Lions Gate and Second Narrows [bridges]. There are completely unobstructed views of the mountains and the Lions. Even to the east the view is nice; there’s nothing in the way, it’s very airy.
“LoLo is a great alternative to downtown because the price is a little bit less but it’s still just 15 minutes away,” he adds. “For a lot of my clients, the first priority is being close to work; the less time they can spend commuting the better. The second is nature. It’s not far to go mountain biking or you can hop on your road bike and go on the Spirit Trail. Clients mention work and play, and Lower Lonsdale offers both.”
Skiers, snowboarders, hikers, and those who like doing the Grind have Grouse Mountain just 10 minutes away. Re/Max Crest Realty’s Jonathan Shandler notes that the area also attracts those who are downsizing.
“We’re seeing a lot of baby boomers who are selling their house up the hill and are wanting to get out of having to get in their car wherever they go. They want that simplified lifestyle of being able to walk to the coffee shop, the grocery store.”
There’s also plenty to offer those who like supporting local businesses rather than the megachains that dominate so many suburban shopping centres.
Krista Shirreff, sales and marketing consultant with Fairborne Homes Limited—which is building the six-storey Capstone at 2nd and Lonsdale, where units range from $391,900 to $924,900—says that the area’s walkability is indeed a big selling feature, and so is its diversity.
“The historical significance of the community adds a unique character to the neighbourhood,” Shirreff says. “It’s not cookie-cutter. Many buyers have roots and connections to the North Shore and either want to stay here or return there.”
For residents like Debra Douglass, leaving LoLo doesn’t seem to be an option anytime soon.
“We’ve set up our entire life in Lower Lonsdale: our doctor and dentists and hairdressers are there; you really don’t need to go any farther,” Douglass says. “That makes life easier.”