A Lower Mainland community that feels like a small town with a big heart.

About 150 years ago, the Heights was part of the rolling landscape that would one day be Greater Vancouver. In contrast to South Burnaby, North Burnaby’s early development was in a sense, an extension of Vancouver. The Heights commercial area has been a street-level community shopping area for over 100 years now, and still retains much of its unique flavor.

In the early 1900’s thousands of immigrants came to the west coast of B.C. With the opening of Hastings Street in 1902, and the arrival of the streetcar in North Burnaby in 1908, Burnaby was finally open for larger settlement, and with population growth, the first merchants soon appeared.

The first grocer in the Heights, run by the Goodridge family, was located at Alpha and Hastings, and later, a second opened near Willingdon and Hastings by the Field family. Prior to World War I, most of the stores were located near Boundary and Hastings, and included a butcher shop, a hardware shop, as well as a grocery store, with a druggist, bakery and print shop opening a few years later.

In North Burnaby, the impetus for development was two fold: the extension of Hastings Street, and the trolley line that accompanied this extension, which ran on a single track from Boundary to Ellesmere Avenue. From 1926-1954, a number of factors helped shape North Burnaby. The Depression years from 1930-1939 lead to many bankruptcies and following that, World War II was a period of sacrifice, and growth did not begin again until the Post-war years. The newcomers to North Burnaby in this era were more varied than in previous times.

During this time, the North Burnaby Board of Trade was established and was active in the widening of Hastings Street, provision of ornamental street lighting, garbage disposal, transportation problems, and activities aimed at the betterment of living conditions in the community.

In 1954, the business people of North Burnaby formed a group called the North Burnaby Merchants. Within 10 years, nearly 90% of the businesses on Hastings belonged to the Association and were actively involved. They organized “Old Fashion Days,” a customer appreciation event. And in 1979, a group was organized to fight the Provincial Department of Highways’ plan to remove street level parking, which would have impacted the integrity of the area. They were successful in their initial endeavour.

Encouraged by their success, and in conjunction with the community, the North Burnaby Merchants organized a new event named “Hats Off Day.” It was a way for the merchants to recognize their customers and take their hats off to them. This event has grown immensely over the years, merging with a neighbourhood pride celebration, and has become Burnaby’s biggest parade and street festival.

Through the 1980’s, the Heights commercial district grew, as did the work and efforts of the Merchants Association, which formed as an official BIA in 1994. The Heights Merchants Association was the first and only Business Improvement Area in Burnaby, until it was recently joined by the North Road Business Improvement Association, which formed in 2009.

The diversity, history, and unique partnership between the community at large and the merchants continue to make the Heights one of the few communities in the Lower Mainland that truly feels like a small town with a big heart.

Photo Credits: Adam Blasberg (courtesy of Boffo Developments) + Heritage Burnaby
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