Britannia Community Services Center is located west of Commercial Drive at Napier Street. It is a collection of various social, educational and recreational facilities, which includes a secondary school that was built in 1911, additions of a gym and cafeteria in 1955, a science wing that houses wood/metal shops, as well as a library, a pool, and an ice rink, among many other amenities.
Serving as a cultural hub, Britannia has become vital, not only to the immediate surroundings of Grandview-Woodland but also, to the adjoining neighborhoods of Downtown Eastside, Strathcona, and Hastings-Sunrise. It offers a wide range of programming from intergenerational spaces, income tax and student lawyer classes, affordable childcare, and food security initiatives to a place that represents one of the densest urban indigenous communities in Vancouver.
Conversations to renovate and update Britannia began in the late 1990s. A needs assessment conducted in 2005 corroborated that there was not enough adequate space for the various programs engaged by the ever-growing number and range of users. Britannia was added to the City of Vancouver Capital Plan and funds were set aside in 2014.
The first phase of work was set to begin in 2015 and according to the Planning & Development Committee for Britannia Renewal, “following a thorough consultation process, it was to be completed during the first half of the 2019–2022 Capital Plan. Investments in this phase of work were estimated to be $75 to $100 million over two capital plans, of which $25 million was included in the 2015–2018 Capital Plan.”
According to community organizers, a large constituent of Britannia’s stakeholders responded by investing their time and volunteering considerable hours in public engagement. However, the Britannia renewal project was canceled by the City in August of 2023. The City of Vancouver’s Britannia Renewal webpage states that there has been a shift in focus to prioritize maintenance:
The project had dedicated funding for some building design and early rezoning planning for the renewal. The necessary funding for future phases, including construction, is currently unavailable. It has become apparent that maintenance and repairs for existing facilities at Britannia have become even more urgent.
In November 2023, Councillors Adriane Carr and Pete Fry put forward a motion to “Advance Britannia Renewal”. At the meeting, City Council reaffirmed its commitment to advancing Britannia Renewal planning. What this means more concretely for Britannia remains to be seen.
Why on Top10
Britannia is a critical community hub for the neighbouhood, providing programs that support and better the lives of the people who use and depend on it. The community food security work being done out of the ice rink at Britannia is one of the examples of the ways this community space is important in ways that many people may not know about just by looking at the building. Sustaining and growing these relationships between people and place are an important part of the heritage of Grandview Woodland and the adjacent areas.
The Centre serves some of the City’s most at-risk communities in
Grandview Woodland and Strathcona/Kiwassa. These neighbourhoods
relative to the rest of the City have higher rates of low incomes, the lowest
median incomes, high rates of early childhood vulnerability, and a
significant number of low income seniors including those with limited
English language skills. The neighbourhoods are also noted for cultural
diversity with significant numbers of refugees and new Canadians, and
both the city’s largest urban indigenous population and arts and culture
By supporting the motion, City Council also recognizes that “the vision for Britannia Renewal is inclusive, community-driven, and strengthened by innovative partnerships to create an integrated hub of education, arts, culture, recreation, wellness, and sustainability.” This is a good example of the type of process and intent that the current City of Vancouver heritage program makes as one of its drivers (#4) of change- the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) Planning model.
We acknowledge the financial assistance of the Province of British Columbia