Once World War II broke out, the Kaiser Shipyards worker recruitment ballooned Vancouver’s population. Abruptly, a town of 18,000 faced an influx of 45,000 more. Stunned by a population spike of two-and-a-half times its own, the city turned to planning.
First, it established the Vancouver Housing Authority to work with the federal government to solve its housing and municipal crises by creating one of the world’s largest housing developments. The VHA purchased land, applied for government funding, and assembled 125 architects, draftsmen and engineers to plan and create new communities. Overnight, 12,343 dwellings and two 5,000-bed dormitories, the Hudson House and Columbia House near the shipyard, cropped up. In 18 months, six new developments embraced Vancouver.
Each new borough needed essential services. The government constructed electric networks and worked with the public utility district to deliver electricity. Residents required police and fire stations, medical offices and churches, schools and sewers, roads widened and extended.
Vancouver’s downtown businesses couldn’t handle the flood of war workers and families needing to shop for groceries and clothes. So authority planners constructed five shopping centers and leased the space to private business owners. The Boulevard Shopping Center at Devine Road and MacArthur Boulevard arose as one of the nation’s first one-stop shopping malls.
Eight schools, seven child care centers and nurseries for working mothers popped up. Five staffed libraries appeared at community centers. The Vancouver Council of Churches found auditoriums, gyms and community rooms for services. Each community held beautification contests, making temporary houses feel permanent. Hundreds of Victory gardens stretched dollars and ration tickets.
Many new families found living around Vancouver an adventure. The VHA designed playgrounds for the thousands of children who came with their parents. Saturdays, two thousand kids saw free movies. Weekly family movie nights brought in 2,700. Frequent dances brought in hundreds.
The VHA never saw a fiscal deficit during the war years. And after the war, returning veterans found housing in these communities. Inevitably, fears of temporary housing slipping into permanent slums saw most of them torn down.
Martin Middlewood is editor of the Clark County Historical Society Annual. Reach him at ClarkCoHist@gmail.com