The Reifel family built some of Vancouver’s most enduring landmarks, including the Commodore Ballroom, the Vogue Theatre and two opulent mansions on southwest Marine Drive: Casa Mia and Rio Vista. The family donated land to the City of Vancouver for the original Vancouver Art Gallery at 1145 West Georgia Street and established the Reifel Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island in 1972. The Reifel fortune came from the liquor trade; they owned four breweries and two distilleries in Vancouver’s early days, and profited enormously from rum running during the U.S. prohibition, setting up a network of cargo ships that supplied liquor to the Western United States.
In 1941, the Reifels participated in a three-way property swap that enabled the creation of the Sunset Beach portion of the seawall. The Reifels gave the City three lots on the southwest corner of Beach and Bute (assessed at $15,035) in exchange for a business property on Granville Street near Davie, assessed at $23,700, and paid $8,665 into the City’s sinking fund. The City then turned over the strip of beach to the Park board in exchange for Abray Park – undeveloped land on the edge of Mountain View Cemetery. The sinking fund would receive half the receipts from the sale of grave plots in the former park. This deal was an important step toward the Park Board’s ambition of completing the Seawall between Stanley Park and the Burrard Bridge.
Protest and Gathering Site
Today, Sunset Beach is a popular spot for beach volleyball, rollerbladers and dogwalkers and of course, sunset watching. The large grassy expanse above the beach has become a choice spot for large gatherings, protests and parades like the Pride Parade (see Davie Street Village) and anti-war rallies. In recent years, the site has played host to 4/20 rallies; an estimated 40,000 people attended the 4/20 rally in 2017.
- Robert Mangelsdorf. “George C. Reifel: Beer Baron, rumrunner, and conservationist.” South Delta Leader. Feb 15, 2013.
Nearby Places That Matter