The Balmoral Hotel in the 1940s

The Balmoral Hotel in the 1940s. The architectural firm Parr & Fee designed the Balmoral along with the Vancouver Block and the Hotel Europe. Jack Lindsay photo, City of Vancouver Archives 1184-3337, 193-D-9

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Wide shot of the Balmoral

Representing the history of Hastings as a prosperous commercial district, the Balmoral is now part of a neighbourhood where many residents face intersecting issues of poverty, marginalization, unstable housing, health concerns, and food insecurity. Tom Wiebe photo

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Street view of the Balmoral

In the '90s, the once-polished Balmoral featured some of the worst living conditions of any single-room-occupancy building in the city. Judy Graves was a City of Vancouver housing inspector during that decade. "Every time that the city inspectors would order them to change the carpets, they’d actually just throw more carpet on top of the old carpet," she recalls. Courtesy of AHA Media

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


The Balmoral Sign

Installed in 1928, the Balmoral sign is an early example of Vancouver neon. The sign uses a mix of neon and light bulbs. The mix reflects sign trends changing from incandescent bulb use to neon tubing.

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


DJ Joe moved to the Downtown Eastside in the year 2000, and she has lived in the Balmoral since 2001.

NARRATOR
Civic historian John Atkin explains what is most unique about the Balmoral sign.

JOHN ATKIN
When you look at some of the earlier signs that have survived, you get some
great ones like The Balmoral, which is really interesting design because it sort
of bends itself in this lovely curve, swoops around to encompass the clock that’s
tucked in there and then it’s got another array of light bulbs, and it’s that nice sort
of transition between purely a light bulb sign and the neon sign.

NARRATOR
The Balmoral changed alongside its home neighbourhood. DJ Joe moved to the
Downtown Eastside in the year 2000, and she has lived in the Balmoral since
2001. She moved in during a time when the Balmoral’s neon sign was in its last days of lighting up.

DJ JOE
The first year when I came down to Vancouver, the Balmoral sign used to light
up, but now it doesn’t anymore.

The lights would shine in my window when they turned on at night.

And I’d wake up in the middle of the night, it’s like, ‘where the hell is that bright
light coming from?’ And I’d look out the window and then there’s the neon sign.
The lights are on.

Now I have a room on the second floor. It’s not the same without having those
lights on.

There’s something about that sign that catches everybody’s eye.

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Judy Graves recalls her days working at the Balmoral as a housing inspector for the City of Vancouver in the 1990s.

NARRATOR
Formerly a hotel for tourists, the Balmoral Hotel changed with the
neighbourhood. City of Vancouver homeless advocate Judy Graves recalls her
days working at the Balmoral as a housing inspector for the City of Vancouver in
the 1990s.

JUDY GRAVES
I started actually getting to work inside the Balmoral Hotel, as part of team
inspections for the city, working with the tenants in the hotel. And at that time,
Balmoral probably scored number 1 or 2 as the worst hotel out of about 170 in
Vancouver.

NARRATOR
Judy remembers the deplorable housing conditions at the Balmoral in the ‘90s.
Since that time, Judy says the living conditions have improved dramatically after
a new manager started working at the hotel.

JUDY GRAVES
While you were working, you just wouldn’t think of learning your arm against the
wall, because the walls looked like they had wallpaper. And then you looked a
little bit more closely and then the wallpaper was moving like this. And all those
tiny dots were baby cockroaches, sort of walking.

And the stench of the Balmoral Hotel was like nothing else on earth.
It was rough at that time in the rooms. People who had other choices wouldn’t
live there.

And then about three years ago, they hired a new manager for the Balmoral, and
he has been very intentionally doing the work it took to turn it around.

NARRATOR
By Judy’s accounts, the Balmoral has improved significantly under the new
management. Despite its hard legacy, she is grateful for the Balmoral.

JUDY GRAVES
Well, I have been grateful for the hotel. And in fact, I have literally had
nightmares, woken up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, thinking there’d
been a fire and we’d have to evacuate the tenants from the Balmoral. Because
there’s 166 rooms. It’s a huge hotel. And if we had to evacuate 166 people,
we have nowhere to put them. And so, certainly grateful for the housing that’s
provided by the Balmoral.

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

This Visible City activity introduces students to the social housing situation in Vancouver, focusing specifically on the Balmoral and its large neon sign. Through photos and interviews, students will get an idea of the housing provided by the Balmoral, as well as why this building is valuable to people in the Downtown Eastside despite its often dangerous environment. Students will also learn about social assistance in Vancouver as it relates to housing, and as it relates to the average rent prices in the city. To conclude, students will analyze the advantages and disadvantages of housing in the Balmoral, and suggest improvements for the conditions they find problematic.

Learning Objectives:

- Demonstrate effective research skills, including accessing and assessing visual and auditory information and primary documents in order to form a critical opinion
- Learn about the social housing situation in Vancouver, with emphasis on the Balmoral
- Learn the basics about social assistance in B.C
- Analyze key provisions of the Canadian social safety net and their impact on Canadian society, specifically social assistance
- Learn how to search for rent prices in Vancouver and analyze how they differ based on the area of the city
- Demonstrate a knowledge of historical and contemporary factors that help define Canadian civic identity, including governance, and rights and responsibilities
- Collaborate in a group to identify problems with social or subsidized housing sites and suggest alternatives

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