100 Park Royal: “A Poorly Designed Helicopter”

For anyone who grew up on (or frequently visited) Vancouver’s North Shore, the building known as 100 Park Royal was one of the primary gatekeepers to the parochial municipality of West Vancouver (which, though the metrics can be debated, seems to consistently rank as Canada’s richest municipality). 100 PR is located immediately east of the Park Royal South shopping mall, tucked almost under the Lions Gate Bridge on the banks of the Capilano River, and situated upon—as is the entire south mall—the Capilano Reserve of the Squamish Nation, the original indigenous inhabitants of the area. The community that the reserve encompasses, X̱wemelch’stn (Fast Moving Water of Fish) is, for those interested in the history of settlement and stolen land, the location where Chief George Capilano met with Captains Cook and Vancouver in the late 18th century.

The building and its white rooftop “mini propeller”, clearly visible coming north on the bridge, is an icon that—unlike the majority of the shopping mall (not to mention the rest of the North Shore)—has remained virtually unchanged over the past four decades. It is a modernist (and I dare say brutalist) rectilinear blob, clad with what is likely a leaky and poorly insulated glazing system, punctuated only by four slim vertical concrete ribbons on each face, gorgeous in its mid-century ugliness. The rather clunky rental website for the building advertises it as “West Vancouver’s Premier [sic] Office Building”—a bit misleading, since, as far as I know, there aren’t really many other dedicated office buildings in West Van.

Posting a preliminary picture of this building elicited several comments from friends who grew up in West Van, almost all of whom were interested in the mysterious rotating white blades on the building’s rooftop. One asserted it was radar, related to harbour control, and that as a kid (30-odd years ago, ahem) he took a tour of the top floor as part of a birthday party—something I now think I may have also done. The internet, as for many middling things that pre-date Y2K, is not particularly helpful on this point, so this post will require some follow-up. What was and is the function of that rotating (radar) propeller? Your correspondent will find out.

For now, it still looks damn good at magic hour:


Update: A reliable source has confirmed that the white propeller is indeed radar, part of the Marine Communications and Traffic Services monitoring network (the MCTS used to be located in Vancouver, but was closed in 2015 is now on Patricia Bay, near the Victoria airport). My source says 100 Park Royal once housed Transport Canada’s Vessel Traffic Management Centre (which then morphed into the MCTS), and he remembers touring it in Cubs (which rings a bell for me too) and seeing a video of a Soviet freighter crashing into a BC Ferry in Active Pass in 1970. Though a bit of a tangent, here’s that video and a retrospective report about the tragedy:

No word on what’s on the top floors of the building today, nor on who owns it. Updates to come, if and when these things are known.




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