All Seasons Park springs up by Stanley Park

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

1971 All Seasons Park springs up at the entrance to Stanley Park

John Mackie
The Vancouver Sun

In 1971, the Four Seasons Hotel chain wanted to build a $40-million development on the Coal Harbour waterfront.

The plan would have housed 3,000 people in three 30-storey apartments, and included a 13-storey hotel and townhouses.

The Non-Partisan Association majority on Vancouver city council approved it. But it stirred up a ton of opposition, because the development was at the entrance to Stanley Park.

The 14-acre site had been contentious for years. Originally a small strip of land with small shipyards and repair shops, it was purchased in the early ’60s by a New York developer that wanted to expand it by filling in some federally owned water lots.

In 1964, it was sold to Harbour Park Developments, a politically connected local group that unveiled a $55-million plan with 15 apartment towers, ranging from 15 to 31 storeys high. A photo of the architectural model for the site shows a high-rise forest that ends right at the Stanley Park causeway.

Critics charged that Harbour Park didn’t actually want to develop the land, it just wanted to get civic approval and then flip it. They also pointed out much of the project was on reclaimed land that was still owned by the feds and had been leased to the developers for a song.

The Harbour Park plan went nowhere, and the land languished until the Four Seasons project came along. Mayor Tom Campbell and his NPA colleagues on council liked it, but no one else seemed to.

COPE councillor Harry Rankin called for a plebiscite on the issue. A group of citizens filed a lawsuit. Vancouver Sun columnist Allan Fotheringham savaged the development.

On May 29, 1971, about 70 hippies took matters into their own hands. They ripped down a fence and stormed onto the site to plant some maple trees, then set up camp in tents and ramshackle huts.

They called it All Seasons Park, and their squat lasted for almost a year.

“No rules, no order, no plans,” Christy McCormick reported in the June 7, 1971 Vancouver Sun. “But somehow a park is taking shape on the site set aside for the Four Seasons apartment-hotel complex at the entrance to Stanley Park.”

A sympathetic backhoe owner helped the hippies dig a “rudimentary” canal and excavate an area for a pond. But most of the work was done by hand.

“At the peak of activity Saturday, more than 300 people were involved in the digging, transporting of earth, serving of food or just watching,” wrote McCormick. “The rock group Albatross played in the evening. Some workers stopped to dance.”

About 40 hippies set up tents and ramshackle huts on the site. Dinner was supplied by Cool-Aid, a youth shelter in Kitsilano, and a guy named Shark bought breakfast (porridge) and lunch (fruit) for the squatters with donations he got from sympathizers.

But a problem arose one day when Shark said they would only feed people who worked.

“We don’t want this place to be just a crash pad because it defeats our purpose,” Shark told The Sun’s Fred Cawsey. “We’re trying to build a park.”

It sparked dissention among people like Jim Murray, a 40-something who had been doing a lot of digging but went on a hunger strike to protest the no work-no food edict.

“We don’t think there should be rules like this, because we want this to be a park where people can come and do what they want,” said Murray. “If you make all sorts of rules, then this place will be just like the rest of the city.”

Shark backed down and the people continued to build their park. And the public continued to attack the Four Seasons proposal.

Bowing to public pressure, the combative Tom Campbell announced there would be a plebiscite on the Four Seasons development, but that only property owners could vote.

This was roundly denounced at a public meeting on June 21, when urban planner Setty Pendakur dubbed the project “the biggest abortion in the history of development in Canada.”

Pendakur said the development would create traffic chaos at the entrance to the park, and that council was trying to confuse people with its plebiscite, which stated the cost of buying the site was $9 million.

Ratepayers voted to reject the Four Seasons proposal, but only by 51 per cent. The plebiscite required 60 percent to be enforced, so the Four Seasons announced it was still going ahead.

The federal government effectively killed the proposal on Feb. 10, 1972 by withholding the transfer of a crucial water lot.

The city bought the entire site for $6.4 million in November 1973. It is now known as Devonian Harbour Park, but to people of a certain vintage, it will always be All Seasons Park.

© 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.

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