Four years ago Jonathan Bird and I posted a series on the neighbourhoods of Vancouver. We are offering them again, with demographics from the latest national census and some other updates. We begin with a particularly historic area.
Sunset is one of Vancouver’s most ethnically mixed and family-oriented neighbourhoods. Germans moved into the area as it built out following the Second World War. Then it became a Sikh (Punjabi) enclave, and now Chinese and Filipino immigrants predominate. Many of these newcomer families struggle economically and socially.
The Sunset neighbourhood covers everything south of 41st Avenue to the Fraser River, between Ontario Street (west of Main) and Knight Street.
From the 2016 Census, custom order for City of Vancouver Local Areas (comparative data for the Census Metro Area in parentheses).
population: 36,500 19 & under: 22% (21%) aged 65+: 15% (16%)
married/common-law: 54% (57%) people living alone: 6% (11%) widows: 1,345 households with kids at home: 47% (39%) lone parents: 1,745
moved in the past year: 16% (16%) moved in the past 5 years: 40% (44%) renters: 47% (36%)
median household income: $68,855 ($72,662) all persons in low-income: 15% (14%) 17 & under in low-income: 15% (15%) 65+ in low-income: 11% (10%)
ESL: 65% (43%) mother tongues: Punjabi 19%, Cantonese 14%, Mandarin 4%, Tagalog 9%, Vietnamese 2%
Sunset has the city’s lowest percentage of people living alone and the highest percentage of residents aged 19 and under. Not surprisingly, then, it has the third highest percentage of households with kids living at home (just behind Killarney and Victoria-Fraserview to the east).
Immigrants comprise a large majority in Sunset, yielding the third highest rate of ESL speakers in the city. The city’s street signs along south Main St proclaim the area as ‘Little India,’ but Punjabi speakers are moving to Surrey and Abbotsford, being replaced with Anglos and immigrants from China, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Although poverty rates and household incomes are not far off the city’s median, Sunset consistently has some of the highest incidences of child vulnerability as measured by UBC’s Human Early Learning Project. More than half of the homes in this moderately dense area are duplexes or small apartment buildings.
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.
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, professor emeritus at UBC’s Department of Geography, 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.
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. One branch of Punjabi Masihi Church meets at Sherbrooke Mennonite, Asian Church of Christ meets at Peace Church on 52nd and Acts 29 meets at Pilgrim Baptist.
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).
However, 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 19 percent between 2006 and 2016.
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.
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.
Sunset is one of most heavily-churched areas in the city:
- Acts 29
- Asian Church of Christ
- Christ City Church
- Culloden Mennonite Brethren Church
- Ebenezer Baptist Church
- Every Nation Vancouver
- Faith Chinese Baptist Church
- First United Spanish Mennonite Church
- Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church
- Jesus Christ the Great I Am Fellowship
- Lord’s Love Church
- Martin Luther Evangelical Lutheran Church
- New Life Chinese Lutheran
- Newbern Memorial Chinese Alliance
- Peace Church on 52nd
- Pilgrim Church
- Punjabi Masihi Church
- Sherbrooke Korean Mennonite Church
- Sherbrooke Mennonite Church
- South Main Street Gospel Hall
- South Vancouver Pacific Grace MB
- St. Andrew’s Catholic Church
- St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church
- St. Raphael’s Old Catholic Church
- St. Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Church
- Vancouver Canaan Church
- Vancouver Chinese Baptist Church
- Vancouver Christian Assembly
- Vancouver Christian Logos Church
- Vietnamese Mennonite Church
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:
* Peace Church on 52nd works closely with the Mennonite Central Committee, offering office space in their Activity House for its Refugee Office, Immigrant Resource Centre and New Beginnings Program, which helps newcomers learn budgeting and financial planning. Many members volunteer at the nearby MCC Thrift Store on Fraser Street.
* Pilgrim Church hosts a monthly community kitchen, and an annual neighbourhood clean-up and barbecue.
* Vancouver Chinese Baptist Church, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, offers free weekly English classes which are open to the community, and members of their prison ministry have visited two correctional institutions for more than 20 years.
The City of Vancouver has a Sunset page.