Coal Harbour is the closest seaside section to the downtown core, reached down a ramp from the Convention Centre, and is the seaside route to Stanley Park from downtown.
Up until the 1990s, Coal Harbour was heavily industrial with rail yards, wharves, boathouses, warehouses, marine service shacks and ship’s chandlers lining the waterfront. A subsequent building boom replaced it with condominiums and the seawall.
Today, Coal Harbour is an up-scale steel-and-glass residential area with wide and pleasant separate bike and pedestrian pathways that hug the water, passing by a park, a community centre, marinas and restaurants, and all those condominium towers.
From the city (eastern) end of the route is a narrow curved strip of park called Harbour Green Park. It’s an old rail yard. Its back wall hides the continuation of the now entirely hidden natural bluff seen in old pictures. There’s a decent and not-unreasonably-priced-considering-the-location restaurant there called The Mill. To the right of the restaurant are public washrooms.
There are also washrooms in the Coal Harbour Community Centre a little further along.
The bike path is not so well marked in places and it’s full of tourists, so you have to be prepared to share and stay alert. There are a few places with ramps and sharp turns so you have to remain wary lest you tumble down a flight of stairs or miss your turn.
Coal Harbour (1.7 km/1.1 mi):
Riding On: Adjoining Seaside Routes
East: Traveling east from Coal Harbour into the city, you have two choices – one is to follow along the water, up the long ramp around the Convention Centre and into the city. The other is a now-hidden route under the Convention Centre to Waterfront Road.
To get to Waterfront Road or into the city at West Cordova, don’t go up the ramp to the Convention Centre. Instead, head along the level path to the right of it, into the great gaping hole under the concourse platform. Go left to a ramp that brings you into the middle of West Cordova Street, or, instead of going up the ramp, continue east along Waterfront Road to Portside and east Vancouver’s docks.
West: At the western end is Lost Lagoon and the entrance to Stanley Park from which you can ride about a ten-kilometer loop which brings you right back to Coal Harbour – or further on to other places.
Alternate: If you want to skip riding around Stanley Park and cut over to English Bay, you can either go up Denman Street, or go west to the entrance to Stanley Park and Lost Lagoon.
Denman Street is busy with traffic, has a small incline, and there are rush hour crossing restrictions at Georgia Street, so you might prefer going through the underpass to Lost Lagoon at the Stanley Park entrance.
If you do decide to go up Denman Street – regardless of the crossing restrictions at Georgia – avoid the significant danger of cars turning off of Denman and rushing for the Lion’s Gate bridge and walk across West Georgia on the east (left) side, then walk a block along Denman and cross back to the south-bound side. There are a number of bike rental and repair shops in that block.
Take the Lost Lagoon route by heading to Stanley Park (past Devonian Park), but instead of going right along the water into the park at the intersection, turn left and go under the causeway into the West End. Ride alongside Lost Lagoon and follow signs, or take the residential streets to the left at will (there’s a hill to climb).
Coal Harbour represents the western limit of the nineteenth century trans-continental Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) tracks. This is how Vancouver got its other name – Terminal City, which continues today to describe its collective state of mind after a week of winter rain.
While the passenger’s end of the line was at the foot of Granville Street, the line terminated in the rail yards of Coal Harbour, which until the last few decades was a mix of rail yard and maritime industry.
From the bike path’s eastern extent the city is up on a bluff (the nearby streets north of West Cordova Street are on an extended platform) and until recently you could still see the exposed cliff face by the Marine Building. It was along this bluff that coal was first observed by Captain George Vancouver in the eighteenth century.
Yes, there is coal in Coal Harbour – just not enough of sufficient quantity to make mining it worthwhile.
The entire West End from Burrard Street to Stanley Park was bought by three entrepreneurs in the 1860s well before any real settlement in the area. At the time, New Westminster was the place to be, and believing the three had over-paid for remote wilderness, they were dubbed the “three greenhorns” by locals.
Having seen the small coal deposit they hoped to make bricks from an associated clay deposit, but it didn’t work out. As it was, when Vancouver was built, it was built quickly using wood – after all, there was a major forest to clear, and Vancouver wouldn’t be interested in bricks until after being destroyed in the Great Fire of 1886. If they were inclined, the three greenhorns could have made bitter reference to the three little pigs, but by then they were making their money selling allotments, not bricks.
The Bayshore Hotel is a landmark from the ’60s. Howard Hughes holed up here on the top floor during his famous failed flight from mortality. Near the foot of Denman Street, this area and the open park area further along were once home to heavy industry – a Boeing aircraft plant during the second war as well as a very large Denman Arena built in 1911 which burned down in 1936. Before that, at Denman and Georgia there was even a small Hawaiian community.