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Visiting Downtown Vancouver, British Columbia: The Dominion Building, Completed 1910, Now Overlooked by The Lookout

Updated on February 3, 2020
Provincial flag of British Columbia
Provincial flag of British Columbia | Source
Dominion building, Vancouver, Canada
Dominion building, Vancouver, Canada | Source

Historical window on "foreign investment review" and British Columbian fears of the Kaiser?

Technically the Dominion Building, Vancouver, British Columbia, completed in 1910 and the subject of an award-winning renovation in 1998, is reckoned to be situated on the edge of the City's Gastown; while the Lookout (1) dating from 1977, is usually described as being in the Downtown area. The Lookout thus gives bird's eye views of the structure that were formerly unfamiliar angles to this well known, major contributor to the Vancouver skyline.

In fact, for a short while, at 57.15 metres, the Dominion Building was the tallest commercial structure in the British Empire.

Architects for the Dominion Building were J. S. Helyer and Son. Features of this steel-framed tower include a terra cotta frontage and granite pillars, with conspicuous mansard roofing.

Interestingly, this early skyscraper aroused some controversy at its inception, because it was financed by the German von Alvensleben, it being also widely believed that the von Alvenslebens' investment was a mere front for Kaiser Wilhelm II. The rising power of Imperial Germany was at the time being watched closely by British Columbians; indeed, the Imperial German Navy was active in the Pacific, where Germany at the time had various colonial possessions. Interestingly, Wilhelm II's grandfather Kaiser Wilhelm I was actually tasked with adjudicating part of the border between British Columbia and what became the State of Washington; the Kaiser's decision to run the border through the Haro Strait, awarding all the San Juan Islands to the United States, was implemented in 1872. Such were the fears of the British Columbian Provincial government of increasing Imperial German influence in the region that in 1914 — in a startling breakdown of the military chain of command in Canada — the Province commissioned its own submarines for the protection of British Columbia's coastline, when the Dominion government in Ottawa at first declined to do so.

But less than ten years after the completion of the Dominion Building, the once feared Kaiser Wilhelm II was in exile in The Netherlands.

It is interesting also that the former fears of the Kaiser — and by extension, of the financiers of the Dominion Building — seemed to have a corollary fifty years later when in the 1960s, amidst race riots in the United States and the Vietnam War, the Government of Canada tried to distance itself from the United States, choosing to moralize with the phrase 'foreign investment review' (this being a particular enthusiasm of minister Walter Gordon).

The Dominion Building is situated at 207 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, British Columbia.

November 29, 2019


(1) The Lookout sits atop the Harbour Centre, at 555 West Hastings Street, Vancouver. Its designers were WZMH Architects; and its familiar, circular observation deck is 168 metres above street level.

(2) See also:

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

 Dominion Building Vancouver as seen from the Vancouver Lookout Tower
Dominion Building Vancouver as seen from the Vancouver Lookout Tower | Source
Kaiser Wilhelm II, by Max Koner
Kaiser Wilhelm II, by Max Koner | Source

Also worth seeing

Among the numerous, outstanding visitor attractions in Vancouver, a very few of these include: The Lookout, with excellent views of the city, the surrounding Rockies and Burrard Inlet, Stanley Park and Lions Gate Bridge, Gastown; False Creek and Science World; the Vancouver Art Gallery; the 1914 Heritage Hall; the 1907 Dominion Building; the 1911 Sun Tower; the 1914 Waterfront Station; the 1919 Pacific Central Station; Granville Island; and many others.

Vancouver is also ideally situated for day trips to British Columbian mountain destinations such as Whistler (distance: 123.8 kilometres / 76.9 miles) and Peace Arch Park (Peace Arch Provincial Park in Canada and Peace Arch Historical State Park in the United States), shared between the Province of British Columbia at Surrey and the US State of Washington, at Blaine (distance: 48.9 kilometers / 30.4 miles).


How to get there

WestJet and Air Canada fly to Vancouver International Airport, Richmond (distance from Downtown Vancouver: 10.8 kilometres / 6.7 miles), with wide North American and other connections, from where car rental is available. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada

Map location of Vancouver, British Columbia
Map location of Vancouver, British Columbia | Source

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