First United Church, Indigenous legacies to be honoured in replacement for Vancouver Downtown Eastside landmark

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      With its unique roof design, the First United Church building is considered as an iconic structure in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

      A new 11-storey building has been proposed at the site, which will include social housing and services.

      The development is seen to present an opportunity to celebrate the histories of the First United Church and Indigenous people.

      The proposed redevelopment at 320 East Hastings is included in the agenda Monday (January 11) of the Vancouver Heritage Commission.

      “Although recognized for its landmark qualities, the building is not listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register,” according to the agenda.

      It recalls that First United formed in 1925 when most Presbyterian, and all Methodist and Congregationalist churches across the country established The United Church of Canada as a new denomination.

      “The existing building was designed by James Earl Dudley and built in 1965 when it replaced the original church constructed in 1892,” the agenda notes.

      First United eventually “evolved from a worshiping congregation to operating community ministry programs and social services, offering a range of services for the Downtown Eastside community”.

      As part of the development plan, a Vancouver Heritage Foundation memorial plaque on the building will be preserved.

      Also, “some of the existing unique stone tile cladding in the interior of the building may also be reused”.

      “This project presents an opportunity for Non-Indigenous Peoples to move forward with reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples,” according to the agenda.

      It notes that the site is “part of an area known by local Indigenous Peoples as K’emk’emelay/q̓ əmq̓ə́mələɬp, meaning place of broadleaf maple trees”.

      “It was once a rich and vibrant trading area which sustained Indigenous Peoples with an abundance of wildlife, marine life, forests and marshlands,” the agenda states.

      Moreover, the new building will “honour the Indigenous and spiritual roots of the land it occupies, and will celebrate the culture and history of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh and Urban Indigenous Peoples”.

      Also, a totem pole that was previously carved by First United participants will be “reintroduced in the interior of the building”.

      Although the 1965-era structure will be lost and replaced, the agenda notes that the development will contribute to the City of Vancouver’s heritage program, which emphasizes the “importance of Reconciliation, Indigenous Cultural Heritage and cultural redress”.

      In a design rationale document for the project, NSDA Architects writes that the “sloping wall of the First United component on Gore has been developed as ‘copper’ wall laid up in horizontal pattern to allude to the traditional plank houses of the West Coast”.

      “Copper is an important material to the north west indigenous culture,” the architectural firm explains.

      Also, “cultural references around the entrance to the indigenous housing” have been proposed.

      Likewise, there will be two “Welcome Figures” at the main entrance to the new building proposed by the First United Church Community Ministry Society.