Development of First Shaughnessy
Officially known as Shaughnessy Park, the circular park in the middle of The Crescent was laid out in 1909 as part of the Shaughnessy Heights subdivision by the Canadian Pacific Railway.
The first decade of the 20th century saw rapid population growth and development, and the CPR, still Vancouver’s largest landowner, was worried that the city’s original upper class neighbourhood in the West End was losing its exclusive character. Plans for Shaughnessy Heights (named after CPR president Thomas Shaughnessy), a new and ritzy development on the outskirts of the city, was in the works by 1907. The CPR commissioned L. E. Davick to design the neighbourhood, alongside Montreal landscape architect Frederick Gage Todd, who were inspired by Frederick Olmsted, the designer of Central Park, and the idea of a peaceful retreat within a city. Lots were ⅕ to 1 ½ acres in size, and although prices were comparable to other parts of the city, CPR required that houses cost at least $6000 to build (six times the cost of a regular house in Vancouver at the time), and had the right to reject a house design.
From 1909-1913, Vancouver’s high society moved to the new Shaughnessy Heights en masse, leaving behind houses in the West End, Kitsilano and Fairview. At the top of the hill, the neighbourhood overlooked the city, and was ideal for the upper class, as it was removed from the hustle and bustle of downtown, but could easily be reached by horse and carriage or car, luxuries these residents could afford. The CPR also built tennis, lawn bowling, and golf clubs nearby for their new elite neighbourhood.
Shaughnessy’s exclusive nature was cemented by restrictive covenants and later by provincial legislature. The 1914 Shaughnessy Settlement Act restricted lots to single family homes, and the 1922 Building Restriction Act ensured that no subdivision of lots could take place. Once the CPR began developing other sections of Shaughnessy in the late 1920s, Shaughnessy Heights became known as First Shaughnessy.
A Park on The Crescent
Todd, who was the principal of the first landscape design firm in Canada, is responsible for the park and landscapes of First Shaughnessy, and worked with Davick on the overall design. Shaughnessy Park, covering over 3.5 acres in the middle of The Crescent was the centrepiece of the neighbourhood plan, and is a superb small arboretum containing 47 species of rare and unusual trees, a few of which appear nowhere else in the city.
The curving streets of First Shaughnessy were laid out to follow the natural slope of the land, giving lots ideal views, in contrast to most of Vancouver’s simple grid plan. The neighbourhood is an excellent example of the urban design concept of Garden City, with its abundant natural and private spaces, landscaping, and grassy tree-lined boulevards.
Todd chose mature and rare trees for Shaughnessy Park, particularly ones that were found nowhere else in the city. An order for 544 trees for the neighbourhood was discussed during development, many of which could only be found at specific nurseries. There are many rare evergreens from England, and ornamental trees from Asia, and some of the species include Japanese snowbell, flowering ash, red horse-chestnut, fringe tree, English hawthorne, large leaved linden, copper beech, sourwood, Eddie’s white wonder dogwood, tree of heaven, tulip tree, English beech and Oriental plane.
Architecture on The Crescent
Today, there are 14 exclusive addresses on The Crescent, across from Shaughnessy Park, 12 of which are registered heritage sites. Leading Vancouver architecture firms Maclure and Fox, Parr and Fee, Sharp and Thompson and Thomas Hooper are responsible for designing many of the houses in First Shaugnessy, and house styles on The Crescent include Arts and Crafts, Georgian Revival, Tudor Revival, Craftsman, Mission Revival, Neoclassical Revival and Dutch Colonial Revival. These houses were designed with up to twenty rooms including ballrooms, reception rooms and rooms for the domestic staff, as well as lavish furniture and porte-cocheres over the entrances. Each lot was developed with ample private outdoor space and landscaping.
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