The Charm of The Sylvia

Helen, a friend from Ontario, had booked a night at the Sylvia Hotel last weekend and suggested I do the same. As I talked about my plan, it seemed as if everyone with history in Vancouver has a fond relationship with the place.

“My father lived at The Sylvia with some buddies when he was a bachelor,” said one, chuckling. “He told me all about the boat they played around with.”

“My grandmother lived in an apartment on the eighth floor—the top floor—of The Sylvia,” said another. “I remember visiting her with my father and having lunch in the dining room.”

“My former husband and I got engaged in the cocktail bar at The Sylvia,” laughed a third, and described the spontaneous and pragmatic proposal.

The building is a plain brick box, softened by ivy and dwarfed by newer high-rises. One could easily miss it. I was puzzled by its mystique and did a Google search.

The Sylvia Hotel: Vancouver’s Best Location, Vancouver’s Best Stories. A rather intriguing tagline, I thought.

The location is marvellous. The windows along the front provide an expansive view of English Bay. The hotel is in the West End, between two prominent tourist destinations, downtown Vancouver and Stanley Park.

It was the tallest building in that part of town from the time it was erected as an apartment building in 1912 until 1958. No wonder it became a landmark early on. Over the years, The Sylvia was converted from apartments into single rooms, opened the first cocktail bar in Vancouver in 1954, and became a full-service hotel at some point in the sixties.

This history and information about the general area shed light on the claim about the best stories. No wonder parents and grandparents of some of my peers lived there, creating grist for tales and memories.

The West End is a magnet for young people, including my age cohort several decades ago. A cocktail bar along the beach in this densely populated part of town would naturally have been a “go to” spot. An excellent backdrop for “coming of age” stories like my friend’s engagement.

Helen and I enjoyed a lively conversation over dinner and watched the sunset over English Bay. It appears my fond relationship with the place is taking root.

I feel more like a Vancouverite now.


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