Adaptive Quarry Reuse To the North

As I noted in September, the afterlife of quarries can be varied. Recently I came across one of the more beautiful second lives of a former stone excavation site. This one is on a knoll known historically as Little Mountain and in modern times as Queen Elizabeth Park, in Vancouver, B.C. The quarries were not large and didn’t provide building stone. Instead the rock, a middle Tertiary age basalt, went into some of the earliest roads in Vancouver.

The larger of the two quarries.

Originally owned by Canada Pacific Railway, the site had been logged around 1890. The quarry, actually two small quarries, was abandoned by 1911, leaving behind a nasty gash on Vancouver’s highest spot. As so often happens in the wet PNW, plants took over the holes and few visited, but in 1928 the city of Vancouver acquired the hilltop and surrounding lands. A visit by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth prompted the area to be renamed in her honor.

Good detail of steps in quarry showing the plug and feather method of stone quarrying.

Little happened in the subsequent decade or during World War II but in 1948 park deputy superintendent William Livingstone began to clear and clean the quarries. Here is the description of what he did from the Vancouver Parks web site.


It is nearly legend at the Park Board how this self-taught individual, the son of one of Vancouver’s first nurserymen, designed the new park landscape plan. Retired employees tell how the lanky figure of the Deputy Park Superintendent could be seen on-site, from dawn to dusk, directing numerous bulldozers to reshape the scarred earth, not working from drawings, but from a clear vision in his mind. Rather than reclaim the gullies left by the quarry operation, he used them as backdrop for choice plants, trees and shrubs, and for the placement of his best designs-water features.

The smaller of the two arboreta.

The first, and larger quarry opened as an arboretum in 1953 and the second one in 1961. To build the arboreta, Livingstone blasted out pools, dynamited old walls, and brought in gravel and soil. As you see from the photos they are quite beautiful with a waterfall, lush foliage, and quiet greens. They must be even more spectacular when the flowers are in bloom. The park is also well worth visiting for the panoramas of Vancouver and the distant mountains. And finally, for an historic perspective on Little Mountain, read these reminiscences published in 1952.

A waterfall in the larger site.

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