In the 1940s, the West End was becoming increasingly populated. In response, many West End homeowners built additions to allow for tenanting, or renovated their homes to allow for rental suites. Apartment buildings were taking the place of single family homes. As the population density of the area increased, it became clear to the Parks board that the West End needed more green space.
To that end, the City of Vancouver started buying properties in the 1950s, around what has now come to be called Mole Hill – then bureaucratically known as “Block 23, District lot 185”. The green space development started in earnest one block north, and over the next 2 decades the houses were razed in groups to create present day Nelson Park. The houses of “Block 23” were the next to go, in the second stage of the park’s creation.
The West End community began to regret the loss of neighborhood diversity to continual densification projects. At what point would the forest of apartment buildings obscure the character that once made the West End a diverse and interesting community?
The old homes of Block 23 also provided much needed affordable housing. The West End was becoming increasingly expensive. Vancouver has a shortfall of affordable housing generally; and the Parks Board proposal suggested tearing down affordable rental spaces in a city in need of such resources.
In the late 80s and early 90s, it became clear that the City and the Parks board were planning to go forward with the removal of the Mole Hill homes, scattered public outcry notwithstanding. City owned rental units sat vacant. Records of in camera meetings of the time show that the City had mandated the removal of many of the homes on the block.
In response to the approaching threat of destruction, a group of committed activist tenants and other concerned members of the greater Vancouver community formed the Mole Hill Living Heritage Society. Mole Hill sits on the highest point of the West End, truly being a community on a Hill: the original settlers to the area were then thought to be Henry and Elizabeth Mole. Hence the name “Mole Hill” – both historically and geographically descriptive.
Public education regarding the history of the hill was facilitated by informational boards in front of the homes, and handouts available to passers-by. There were protests at City Hall, and long afternoons on Davie St. where activists would engage other West End residents, soliciting signatures and providing history. Networking with other community groups was a key action; the “Friends of Mole Hill” was formed as an umbrella organization for the 30+ community focused organizations and individuals who cared about the future of Mole Hill. This group’s interest in preserving the hill was rooted in a mandate of community vision, with commitment to affordable housing, green-space and gardens, preservation of social history, preservation of heritage architecture, and commitment to use that supports the greater West End community.
“Never give up!!” Jane Jacobs to the Mole Hill Living Heritage Society in 1998.
The advocates for Mole Hill never did give up; and through their commitment, belief, and vision, the homes of Mole Hill were preserved and restored, in a responsible and socially mindful way.