If you’re coming over the Granville Bridge into downtown, you’ll be struck with the view of life-sized orcas on the side of the Continental Hotel. This is one of 100 famous murals or “Whaling Walls” created by US environmental artist, Wyland. The Wyland project of creating 100 whale murals began in the early 1980’s and completed in 2008 at the Bejiing Olympics with “Hands Across the Ocean,” a nearly mile-long series of giant canvasses painted with kids from over 100 Olympic countries. The Wyland project spans five continents, 17 countries and 79 cities around the world. Wyland’s goal is to inspire young people to be ambassadors of ocean conservation since he understands our oceans and waterways are in jeopardy. He has painted for more than 20 years with over one million children. His inspirational hero is B.C. artist Robert Bateman who also connects children with their natural environment.
The mural on the Continental is one of three in Vancouver. There is one at 1170 Melville Street, with the whales no longer visible due to new construction, and one at the Vancouver Aquarium, partially destroyed and no longer accessible to the public.
The Continental Hotel is currently undergoing demolition, which means the last of Wyland’s intact whale murals in Vancouver will disappear. No one really seems to be mourning the loss of the Continental Hotel itself. It was built in 1911 and designed by Parr & Fee, prolific architects and developers who worked together from 1899–1912. They designed seven more hotels on Granville St. within blocks of the Continental. Other notable buildings are Vancouver Block, Hotel Europe, Manhattan Apartments, Dunsmuir Hotel, Dufferin Hotel (now Moda) Glen Brae House, and the list goes on.
At the time the hotel was built False Creek was booming with industry. The CPR rail yards had been relocated there with repair facilities, and lumber was loaded on to railway cars. There was a shingle mill, cooperage, cement works and sawmills. The Continental, like many of the hotels in the area such as the Cecil (now demolished) and the Yale, served to house the False Creek area workers. At one time it did have a saloon and it would be hard to imagine it did not operate as a prolific watering hole like its more infamous neighbours: the pubs at the Cecil and Yale hotels.
The Continental was acquired by the city of Vancouver around 1954 at the time of the construction of the third and current Granville St. Bridge. It became literally surrounded by the bridge and its ramps. Subsequently it was operated as a social housing facility till 1992 when funding diminished. Finally, it was taken over by Property Endowment Fund and operated as single room rentals until the present time. Many of the 86 occupants have been moved to a hotel the city purchased in southeast Vancouver.
The Continental will likely be replaced by another high-rise as those being built around it, so there is a new boom of a sort in the area. It’s a neighbourhood in flux especially Granville St. which has tried to enliven itself as an entertainment area. We can see many of the old hotels on Granville in varying stages of renewal or decay. As our old buildings are destroyed, so is some of our history. We can’t remake the past but let’s hope we can save our future by not destroying what the whale mural represents even though it is crumbling along with the Continental.