Heritage buildings of Gastown: The Dominion Building

This time, the focus of this column is on a building situated in the heart of the city’s financial district, across from Victory Square: The Dominion Building, previously named the Imperial Trust Building.

The Dominion can be easily spotted from anywhere in Gastown or the area around it due to its unique architecture and style. It is triangular shaped and is also one of the few steel-top buildings of Vancouver.

Background and architectural style

At 53 metres and only 13 floors tall, the Dominion stood proudly as the tallest building in the city of Vancouver, as well as in the British Empire, until it was surpassed by athe erection of a neighbouring structure, the Sun Tower. It was designed and built by architect John Shaw Helyer between 1908–1910.

The Dominion Building.| Photo by Xicotencatl, Wikimedia Commons

The Dominion has always stood out because of its height and its unusual architecture.

The beauty of this landmark is that it doesn’t commit to one single style that people are generally used to seeing. Instead it uses different styles in a complementary manner, unusual for the city of Vancouver. Some of the architectural styles the building combines are Beaux-Arts, the Chicago-style steel frames and the columns that are rarely seen paired together.

The Beaux Arts style of architecture has its roots in France from before the French Revolution and was governed by the Académie royale d’architecture under Louis XV. Some very typical characteristics of this style are a flat roof, arched windows and doors and a raised first floor, most of which can be seen in this building. However, it’s the roof of the Dominion that stands out.

The Dominion has a steel mansard roof that was the first of its kind for Vancouver. A mansard roof, put into layman’s terms, is a roof that is more curved with a flat top instead of a dome, which is just as beautiful, uncommon and confusing as it sounds. The inside is also something that stands out to someone who has ventured in. Helyer wanted to build the entire building around a ten-storey spiral staircase which stayed as the core design idea, and still exists. Take a look by stepping in. Thankfully, this building is still open to the public, unlike the previously discussed Hotel Europe.

The city’s own building

Another interesting fact about the Dominion is that it is not just a building in Vancouver, but Vancouver’s own building.

Vancouver experienced an economic boom around 1905 and in the heat of this boom, the Dominion’s original owners, Imperial Trust Company, set out to construct it with the hefty budget of $600,000. Unfortunately, they could only reach half the amount. And due to this, citizens were contacted via ads to help contribute! While many citizens did invest and contributed towards completing this half-built structure in their city’s centre, they could not raise enough. And so, the Imperial Trust Company merged with the Dominion Trust Company, who completed the building and gave it its current name.

Unfortunately, the city’s economic boom came to an end in the 1940s and the failing Dominion Trust Company had to sell its only asset – the Dominion Building – to the Dominion Bank. To clarify any confusion, the two companies were not related in any way. On a slightly unrelated note, the Dominion Bank merged with the Bank of Toronto in 1995 to become the TD Bank as we know it today.

Many facts about the past of a city remain interconnected, and digging up older newspaper articles or an enthusiasts’ blog will keep some of us history connoisseurs forever satisfied.