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Visiting the Customs Examining Warehouse, Vancouver, British Columbia: David Ewart's Classically Inspired 1913 Building

Updated on March 3, 2020
Provincial flag of British Columbia
Provincial flag of British Columbia | Source
The Customs Examining Warehouse Building, Vancouver.
The Customs Examining Warehouse Building, Vancouver. | Source

Massive symbol of an at times controversially perceived (?) Federal role on the Pacific

With the entry of British Columbia into Confederation in 1871 came the beginning of a large role in the new Canadian province for the Dominion (now referred to as Federal) Government. With its Pacific coastline, the clear need for large, permanent facilities for housing Canadian Customs administration close to the Port of Vancouver became increasingly acute from the Dominion Government's perspective. Accordingly, this imposing, solid 4 storey building was commissioned by the Dominion Government's Department of Public Works. Known as the Customs Examining Warehouse (1), it was designed by David Ewart. Architect David Ewart served as Chief Dominion Architect from 1896 until 1914. (He notably worked on Rideau Hall, the Dominion Observatory and the Connaught Building, Ottawa, and various buildings at the Royal Military College, Kingston, Ontario, and many others.)

Executed in a combination of brick, granite and sandstone, the building was commenced in 1911 and completed in 1913. Henriquez Partners accomplished renovations in 1986 (2).

The building currently serves a combination of administrative and retail functions and, close to the Post Office, forms part of the larger Sinclair Centre (3).

Features of this monumental, pre-World War One structure, now a Recognized Federal Heritage building, include variable window patterning and very conspicuous cornice.

Masking some early, deep roots of "Wexit"?

Bearing in mind its original function in relation to British Columbia's external relations, thus it is that the looming solidity of this building in Downtown Vancouver, with its classically inspired stylistic lines, continues to symbolize the sometimes controversially perceived presence of the Federal government in a Province which, unlike the remainder of Canada's Western provinces, existed as a separate entity under the Crown prior to Confederation (4).

The Customs Examining Warehouse Building is situated at 326 Howe Street, Vancouver, British Columbia.

February 25, 2020


(1) See also:

(2) See also:

(3) Named for former Minister the Right Honourable James Sinclair (1908-1984), who represented British Columbian ridings in the Parliament of Canada. Family note: in 1971 James Sinclair's daughter (with wife Kathleen Bernard Sinclair) Margaret Sinclair (1948-) married Prime Minister of Canada the Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1919-2000); his grandson the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau (1972-) become Prime Minister of Canada in 2015.

(4) Underlying the presence of this massive, solid building identified with the Federal Government's Customs role, there have at times been tensions with some British Columbians in relation to external relations perceived from the perspective of this Province. Not least among these tensions have in the past been issues of foreign trade terms and immigration; and in 1914, the chain of command broke down when the British Columbian government on its own initiative purchased submarines (CC-1 and CC-2; see photo, below) for purposes of coastal defence. Against this background, and the United Kingdom's "Brexit" issues with regard to the European Union, more recent movements of so-called "Wexit" opinion among Western Canadians may be said to have deep running, latent, historical antecedents here in British Columbia.

HMCS CC-1 and HMCS CC-2, 1914
HMCS CC-1 and HMCS CC-2, 1914 | 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 1907 Dominion Building; the 1911 Sun Tower; the 1914 Waterfront 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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