Vancouver Feature: Homeless Vets Invade the Hotel Vancouver

Sears is there now, but in January 1946, the elegant old Hotel Vancouver sat at this site, vacant and waiting for the wrecking ball. A few enterprising veterans, victims of the postwar housing shortage, saw an opportunity.

The old Hotel Vancouver, had served the city well since 1916. It was a city landmark and host to renowned visitors from around the world. Its distinctive stepped design ensured that most guests had a view room, and its appointments were the epitome of world-class elegance.

Tastes change, however, and the Canadian Pacific Railway, owners of the hotel, had long been working on a more modern replacement. With construction delayed by the Depression, the new hotel finally opened its doors in 1939.

And so the old hotel sat vacant, a sad reminder of its storied pass, until January 26, 1946, when thirty-five homeless Second World War veterans strolled past unprotesting Army sentries and into the hotel. They announced that the hotel was now veterans’ housing. Before long about 1,000 veterans — some with spouses — were filling the hotel. They stayed until 1948.

By that time the federal government had begun to take action on the nation-wide housing shortage by creating the CMHC — the Central (now Canadian) Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Inexpensive veterans’ housing became available, the occupying veterans moved out, and the stately old Hotel Vancouver was finally torn down. Today the site is occupied by the Sears building, originally built for Eaton’s in the 1970s. It is one of Vancouver’s most hated constructions, especially despised by old-timers with memories of the grande dame that it replaced.