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Back to the Future

How Vancouver’s first skyscraper attained movie-star status.

By Sydney Loney

Back to the Future - FeaturedImage_Dominion-Building-at-207-West-Hastings-Street-in-Vancouver

Top: R. Broadbridge / courtesy of Vancouver Public Library 8393.
Bottom: Photo courtesy of Allied REIT.

The 13-storey Dominion Building at 207 West Hastings Street in Vancouver arose from futuristic thinking in the early 1900s when it was commissioned by the Imperial Trust Company to be “a landmark in the city.” It was big (at 45 metres, the tallest building in the British Empire and Vancouver’s first “skyscraper”), it was bold (with a striking flat-iron shape and rose-coloured terracotta facade) and it marked a new approach to architecture in the city’s downtown core.

The man behind its look was John Shaw Helyer, who designed yachts as a member of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects in the U.K. before immigrating to Canada in 1900. Helyer departed from conventional heavy stone construction and paired an innovative steel and concrete interior with classical columns, a curved mansard roof and decorative detailing. Then, he added a few unexpected flourishes to the Dominion, including a 10-storey staircase spiralling up through the heart of the building.

The Dominion made the papers when it was completed in 1910 and has continued to attract attention over the decades, appearing on the big screen, in both fantastical and futuristic settings, in The NeverEnding Story, Battlestar Galactica and Blade: Trinity. It also caught the eye of Allied Properties, which bought the building in 2021, cementing its star status for decades to come.

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