Photography Mission

A visual exploration of Mission’s historic downtown

by Joe Johnson

with files from Katie Stobbart and Shea Wind

Starting this June, Mission will celebrate its 125th anniversary. Mission is, of course, more than just a few landmarks north of the river: a university campus, a terminus for the West Coast Express, an abbey. It’s all these things, but just strolling through its downtown core tells a fuller story, of a growing community whose unique flavour distinguishes it from its geographical siblings.

Bonus: Check out this collaboration between Mission and UFV’s Graphic Design program, featuring local landmarks through design.

This photo exploration of Downtown Mission, from North Railway Avenue up to Second, and from Grand Street in the west to Murray in the east, was a good taste of the spirit at the core of the district.

The Mission Museum at the top of Welton Street seems like an ideal place to start, as it offers a foray into Mission’s historic character. The building that houses the museum was erected in 1907 on First Avenue, and later moved to its current location. It has also spent time as a bank and a library. Many of its former neighbours no longer stand, but there are still many historically significant buildings in the area. Just west of the museum, on Second Avenue, sits the All Saints Anglican Church; the building was constructed in 1948, but as a congregation, the church has called Mission home since 1901.

 

Even current residents might be surprised to learn that the downtown area once held a popular swimming hole. Back in 1949 people would enjoy summers at this creek-fed spot east of the museum. Today the site is partially paved over by the Mission Library parking lot; the other half is overgrown, with a rezoning proposal on the property. In fact, the area is a candidate for Mission’s plan to make its downtown area a bit greener, as potential park space.

Moving from quiet Second Avenue and down to busy First, Mission’s historical context comes into focus. The street doesn’t have a gentrified feel; instead there’s a liveliness that seems to reverberate from building to building. And from person to person—plenty of friendly people approached asking why a person was wandering the streets taking photos, and stuck around to chat. One woman asked a technical question about photography; later, an older biker originally from Montreal shared some light-hearted humour.

For the most part, the historic buildings downtown have become the homes of modern businesses, restaurants, and shops rather than simply relics of the past. This blend of old and new gives Mission’s downtown an unassuming charm. The old post office building built in 1935 is still a post office after all this time, and the Bellevue Hotel is now home to the Stage, an entertainment venue. The hotel has seen a few cycles of existence, as it burned down in 1922, was rebuilt, torn down in 1949 by new owners, then opened again in July that year.

There are a few buildings along First with boarded-up windows and moving signs, which is an issue addressed in Mission’s 2013 Downtown Action Plan: to replace empty spaces with “community gardens, art displays, and other interim uses.”

Finally, there’s North Railway Avenue, where the feel of the area changes again. Businesses line the road, including a small theatre. The area is home to a considerable amount of public art, and large murals are scattered through the small downtown core.

 

 

 

Where on First Avenue the buildings seem small, their backs sprawl downhill a few storeys — the long stretches of wall, with gates, power lines, and the rail yard across the road gives Mission a harbour town feel reminiscent of New Westminster. Where the former capital built up fairly quickly along the Canadian Pacific Railway, Mission took some time to fully develop.

 

With a connection to its history, and an action plan on the books to revitalize the area it will be interesting to see in the years to come how Mission’s unique flavour distills into a potent Fraser Valley spice.

You can also see the Mission Downtown Public Realm Master Plan (2015) here.