The North Shore (of Burrard Inlet) is a local regional grouping of northern suburban areas of Vancouver where dense urban meets dramatic tall mountains. The mountains provide attractions like the Grouse Mountain ski resort. At the west end of the North Shore is Horseshoe Bay, ferry terminal to the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island.
The first European settlers started to arrive in the North Shore in the 1860s, attracted by the logging potential of its old growth forests. The lumber, in turn, was attractive to ship builders and a ship building industry was born that would be important to the region for decades. The settlement grew and by 1891 the residents had organized and incorporated the District of North Vancouver, which covered the entire region from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove. “North Vancouver” was chosen as the name so potential real estate investors would better know where their land was.
Most of the early settlement and industry focused on what is now considered Lower and Central Lonsdale. Property owners in this area felt they could do better if they separated from the District, so the City of North Vancouver was incorporated in 1907, taking with it the municipal hall, the ferry connections to Vancouver and most of the business and industry in the North Shore. Meanwhile, people living west of the Capilano River were becoming anxious that the increasing industry in the North Shore would affect them. This led to the incorporation of the District of West Vancouver in 1912 to preserve the residential nature of the area.
Although all of this happened more than 100 years ago and the borders of the three municipalities are invisible to anyone except local politicians and municipal government employees, the structure of government and the interests that were important in their creation continue to shape the community.
West Vancouver has the wealthiest people and the most expensive real estate in the country, a dwindling stock old rental high rise buildings along the waterfront and Park Royal, a successful and growing shopping center featuring many of the world’s luxury brands, on land that it leases from the Squamish First Nation. Its separation from the other two municipalities is more obvious due to the coincidence of the Capilano River with most of the boundary between it and the District of North Vancouver. There is also the fact that, as with most wealthy enclaves, the residential property tax rate is 40% lower than other municipalities in the region.
The boundary between the City and District of North Vancouver has no correlation to any feature of the local geography. It exists only because it demarcated the extent of the lands owned in 1907 by the developers that got the provincial government to create a municipality dedicated to getting their properties developed for sale while avoiding the burden of maintaining roads and bridges to homesteaders in the district.
True to its roots, the city has always been more development-friendly. Its 12-km² footprint is the urban core of North Vancouver and the hub for many of the commercial and non-profit activities that serve all of North Vancouver and is connected by a 12-minute Seabus ride to downtown Vancouver. Over 80% of the population lives in high rise or multi-family developments and approximately half of the 50,000 residents are renters.
The 160 km² of the district entirely surrounds the city and much higher proportion of its 90,000 residents live in single family homes. This is changing as the District Council has been pursuing a policy of densification around ‘town centers’ in addition to an urban core, which is for practical purposes the city. Its commercial base is of a similar size to the city but spread out more across the community. Industrial activity is also split relatively evenly with the district likely to grow as a major federal government funded ship building program gets underway on the grounds of Seaspan, one its its major waterfront employers.
The North Shore is distinguished by its world class recreation and tourist attractions made possible by mountains that are the iconic background to most pictures of the City of Vancouver. Early recreational enthusiasts from Vancouver and elsewhere would brave ferry rides and long treks up the local mountains to go skiing or hiking. Over the years, parks were set aside, trails cut and ski areas built to make it more accessible.
The ski areas became Olympic venues for freestyle skiing and snowboarding. The mountain trails are cherished and convenient escape routes for city dwellers into nature in addition to being home to world-class mountain biking and trail running events. The year round gondola service at Grouse Mountain provides thousands of fitness devotees a ride back down after exhausting themselves running or walking up the 2.9 km length and 800 meter elevation of the ‘Grouse Grind’.
Every North Shore mountain has a peak that invites hiking and climbing. Each valley in-between has a recreational opportunity in the lake or river that will be protected by a park created to make it available for the enjoyment of residents and tourists alike.
The most accessible and visitor friendly of these is the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Much of the terrain across the North Shore is challenging and can be dangerous, which has resulted in a very active local Search & Rescue organization. The owners of the Capilano Suspension Bridge have taken the historical necessity of spanning the deepest and most dangerous of the North Shore river canyons with a long suspension bridge and turned it into a world class tourism destination and a safe way for the first time visitor to view the spectacular scenery while at the same time getting an introduction to the region and its history.
While it is an increasingly attractive destination for tourists it remains a very attractive place to live for people that value the natural recreation and lifestyle options it offers.