Vancouver neighbourhoods: Sunset

Vancouver_SunsetinsideSunset is one of the most ethnically mixed of Vancouver neighbourhoods. Many Germans lived in the area following the Second World War and it has been a Sikh (Punjabi) enclave more recently.

The Sunset neighbourhood covers everything south of 41st Avenue to the Fraser River, between Ontario Street (west of Main) and Knight Street.

Demographics

From the 2011 Census and 2011 National Household Survey (comparative data for Census Metro Area in parentheses).

population: 36,285     under 18: 21% (19%)      aged 65+: 13% (13%)

married/common-law: 47% (48%)    living alone: 6% (11%)  

have kids at home: 49% (40%)     lone parents: 1,710     widows: 1,380

ESL: 73% (44%)    mother tongues:  Punjabi 23%, Hindi 2%, Cantonese 10%, unspecified Chinese 6%, Tagalog 8%

Sunset has the second highest rate of ESL speakers in the city, just behind Victoria-Fraserview to the east. More than half of the homes in this moderately dense area are duplexes or small apartment buildings.

History

W. J. Brewer (left) was elected the first reeve of South Vancouver in 1892. Here he is see with Mr. Cornett on the Georgia Viaduct in 1927, less than two years before the municipality merged with Vancouver. Photo by Major J.S. Matthews, City of Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Port N90.

The first and last reeves of South Vancouver, on the Georgia Viaduct in 1927. W.J. Brewer was elected in 1892, while J.W. Cornett (later mayor of Vancouver) was reeve when the municipality merged with Vancouver in 1929. Photo by Major J.S. Matthews, City of Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Port N90.

Sunset was one of the first communities to be settled in the Vancouver area. The District of South Vancouver was incorporated in 1892, stretching from Boundary Road westward to Point Grey, and northward from the river to 16th Avenue. The Village of South Vancouver grew around the southern ends of Main and Fraser Streets. (Brewers Park, between Commercial Street and Victoria Drive north of Kingsway, is named after South Vancouver’s first reeve, W.J. Brewer.)

South Vancouver was amalgamated with the City of Vancouver on the first day of 1929; most of the area remained rural until it was used to house returning veterans after World War Two.

Unique features

Changing community: Sunset has a very mixed population, but since the Second World War, two groups have dominated.

German immigrants: The aftermath of the war brought an influx of German immigrants to Sunset, who founded quite a number of churches – Mennonite, Mennonite Brethren, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Baptist. David Ley, head of the Geography Department at UBC, co-authored a study detailing the under-appreciated role these (and other immigrant) churches had in providing vital settlement services. Recently, those same churches have grappled with Vancouver’s new multicultural reality.

The Ross Street Gurdwara, with the Knight Street Bridge in the background.

The Ross Street Gurdwara, with the Knight Street Bridge in the background.

South Asians: Probably the most obvious characteristic of the area over the past 40 years has been the high concentration of Punjabi-speakers (mostly Sikh). The Khalsa Diwan Society moved into its gurdwara on Ross Street in 1970. Its original home had been built in Kitsilano in 1908 and is believed to have been the first Sikh place of worship in North America.

The former St. Luke’s Anglican Church (on 61st, east of Fraser Street) is now Gurdwara Sahib Khalsa Darbar. On the other hand, the church has not grown very much among Indian immigrants, even though Punjabi speakers are the largest foreign-language group in the metro region. 

punjabimarket1One branch of Punjabi Masihi Church meets at Sherbrooke Mennonite; Hosannah Tabernacle, a small Pentecostal church, meets at Pilgrim Baptist; and Acts 29 has opened a storefront right in the midst of the Punjabi Market.

The Punjabi Market (designated by the City as “Little India”) runs along Main Street south of 49th Avenue (there are also a good number of South Asian stores on Fraser).

motherindia1However, the market is now a shadow of its former self as many stores have moved to the Newton area of Surrey, which has become the centre of the Sikh community. The percentage of Punjabi speakers dropped from 26 to 23 percent between 2006 and 2011.

Vulnerable children: Sunset has the city’s second highest concentration of children and youth, but many live in overcrowded and modest- to low-income conditions. Students here are consistently rated among the most vulnerable in a variety of ways, and Sunset has one of the lowest rates of educational attainment in the city.

The Fraser is still very much a working river in the Sunset area.

The Fraser is still very much a working river in the Sunset area.

Industrial zone: Vancouver’s economy still rests on heavy industry, especially natural resource products from the Interior – although that is not nearly so evident now as when sawmills, shipyards, docks and train yards dominated False Creek. Recognizing the value of industry to the city’s overall economy as well as the progressive loss of ‘blue collar’ jobs in the city, city council voted in 2009 to protect the industrial zone along the Fraser River in Marpole and Sunset.

Churches

Sunset is one of most heavily-churched areas in the city:

Ebenezer Baptist is one of the German-background churches in Sunset. It now shares the building with Faith Chinese Baptist Church.

Ebenezer Baptist at Fraser and 52nd is one of the German-background churches in Sunset. It now shares the building with Faith Chinese Baptist Church.

Acts 29; Christ City; Culloden Mennonite Brethren; Ebenezer Baptist; Every Nation Vancouver; Faith Chinese Baptist; First United Mennonite; First United Spanish Mennonite; Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox; Hosanna Tabernacle; Jesus Christ the Great I Am Fellowship; Lord’s Love; Martin Luther Evangelical Lutheran; Mission Baptist; New Life Chinese Lutheran; Newbern Memorial Chinese Alliance; Pilgrim Baptist; Punjabi Masihi Church; Sherbrooke Korean Mennonite; Sherbrooke Mennonite; South Main Street Gospel Hall; South Vancouver Pacific Grace MB; St. Andrew’s Catholic; St. Mary the Virgin Anglican; St. Raphael’s Old Catholic; St. Sava’s Serbian Orthodox; Vancouver Canaan; Vancouver Chinese Baptist; Vancouver Christian Assembly; Vancouver Christian Logos; Vietnamese Mennonite. See map.

Here are a few ways in which Sunset churches are linked to their neighbourhood. The list is far from complete and we would love to hear about other examples:

First United Mennonite Church was founded by German-speaking Mennonites, but now holds services in English and Spanish.

First United Mennonite Church was founded by German-speaking Mennonites, but now holds services in English and Spanish.

* First United Mennonite Church has recently started a fund to sponsor refugees from Syria and Ethiopia and has already raised $10,000. As an extension of their drop-in centre programming, the church will be offering hot drinks and treats on their front lawn Halloween evening.

* Pilgrim Baptist Church hosts weekly Vancouver Oratorio Choir practices, as well as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Two other churches use their space: Hosanna Tabernacle (Hindi and English) and Montagnard Alliance (Jarai).

* Vancouver Chinese Baptist Church offers a peer tutoring program which is open to the community, and members of their prison ministry have visited two correctional institutions for more than 20 years.

Further Information

* The Courier did several articles on Sunset as part of a year-long series of articles on Vancouver neighbourhoods in 2013/2014.

* The City has a Sunset page.

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