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What is with the empty lot at Robson and Broughton, prime real estate sitting undeveloped?

Q. What’s the story behind the vacant lot on Robson at Broughton?

A. A lot of people seem to want to know this. In Vancouver, no vacant lot goes unnoticed. When I googled “empty lot Robson and Broughton,” it brought up about half a dozen references to it on various blogs around town. I guess it is the new mystery lot, now that the old mystery lot on Georgia right across from the entrance to Stanley Park got occupied with condos a few years ago.

So, in the service of all of you wondering, and because I am waiting for phone calls and procrastinating, I went and did the research on the lot, which is 1401 Robson.

By the way, all of you now owe me $17.62 (one property search, one corporate search on BC Online) and $22 HK (one corporate search in Hong Kong). As soon as I get that Kickstarter/Paypal thing going, you can just send in your spare cash. Thank you so much.

Here’s what I could find out.

The property has been owned since, it looks like, 1973 by some consortium of people from Hong Kong. I don’t recognize any of their names, but I have appended the HK corporate search information below. Maybe some of you can do your own searching on the names or perhaps you know them.

The lot, which is 132 by 131, was assessed at $7,349,000 and there is no record of the property changing owners on the file, which means it’s been owned a long time by the same people. It is owned by a company called Melford Estates. When I checked B.C. corporate records, all I could see was that Melford Estates, with an office at 2900-550 Burrard, was registered as an extraprovincial company from Hong Kong.

Thanks to the magic of the Internet and Visa, I could go to the Hong Kong government website and find it. The corporate document I retrieved is below.

I find no record of a development application going in within computer memory to the Vancouver planning department.

In 1947, the city directory (now searchable through the Vancouver Public Library), says that 1401 Robson was the Broughton Grocery. Doesn’t that bring an image and a tear to your eye?

Okay, that’s all I could find out in my allotted fooling-around time. Any more info, anyone?



Basic Company Information
CR No.: 0035313
Company Name:
Company Type: Local Company
Date of Incorporation: 07-SEP-1973
Company Status: Private
Active Status: Live
Winding Up Mode:
Date of Dissolution:
Register of Charges: Unavailable
Important Note:


Name History


Registered Office


Share Capital
Authorized: HKD 1,000
Issued: HKD 1,000
Paid-Up: HKD 1,000


List of Directors
No. 1
Name in English: HUI , CHUN PING CHARLES
Name in Chinese: 許晉平
HKID No. / CR No.: A416913(4)
Overseas Passport No.:
Passport Issuing Country:
Director Type: Individual
No. 2
Name in English: HUI , CHUNG YEE RICHARD
Name in Chinese: 許晉義
HKID No. / CR No.: E218480(3)
Overseas Passport No.:
Passport Issuing Country:
Director Type: Individual
No. 3
Name in English: HUI , JENKIN
Name in Chinese: 許晉乾
HKID No. / CR No.: D262276(A)
Overseas Passport No.:
Passport Issuing Country:
Director Type: Individual
No. 4
Name in English: HUI , SAI FUN
Name in Chinese: 許世勳
HKID No. / CR No.: A333915(A)
Overseas Passport No.:
Passport Issuing Country:
Director Type: Individual


Particulars of Secretary
Particulars of Individual Secretary #1
Surname: HO
Other Names: CHEN LAM
Chinese Name: 何春霖
Previous Name:
Residential Address:
HKID No.: E254698(5)
Overseas Passport No.:
Passport Issuing Country:
Date of Appointment:
Important Note:
Particulars of Individual Secretary #2
Surname: LAM
Other Names: SIU KWONG
Chinese Name: 林少光
Previous Name:
Residential Address:
HKID No.: A945920(3)
Overseas Passport No.:
Passport Issuing Country:
Date of Appointment:
Important Note:
  • Everyman

    Darn. That was my question! The other vacant lot like that is Oak and 16th which used to be an apartment but has been cleared for well over a decade now??

  • Joe Just Joe

    The story I’ve heard on more then one occassion (mind you could be from the same source orginally) is that the owner wanted to build something comparable in height to the Landmark hotel across the street. The city said no, and the owners dug it and refused to sell/develop something else until the city changes it’s mind. No idea if it’s true. They could’ve saved some major money on property taxes though by building a banana plantation of cycle track.

  • Raingurl

    Hello Frances,

    The cheque is in the mail!

    BTW, thank you for this blog. The topics are a great conversation starter around a sometimes quiet dinner table. I even got a “How do you know this stuff” the other night. 🙂 ( I gave you all the credit)

  • Raingurl

    PS….It’s a great place to walk (run) your dog, sit, smoke, drink, chat, cut through………….I’ve met all sorts of people just sitting there and chatting……I hope it doesn’t get developed because we all know it will just be another funny looking building amongst the other funny looking buildings. 🙂 😛

  • Bill Lee

    The Wei (Hui Oi Chow) family?

    See translation of this Wiki page and compare the name characters (though that doesn’t mean anything, lots of ‘John Smiths’ in the “300 surnames” of Greater China)

    Searching in the Chinese character cut-and-paste to English (should also be trying Baidu or Baigoo) gets several Oriental Daily News (Ma family paper, see Wikipedia English on that) stories of mild social scandals and who is seeing whom.
    許晉平 the old man doesn’t have much, but lots of power and the Tate Cairn Cross-Harbour Tunnel.
    Jenkin 許晉乾 has more flashy style. And this lists the family powers

    Again there is the “300 names” confusion but enough of a coincidence to say they own that Central Building on 1-3 Pedder Street, Hong Kong and are worth more than 20 billion HKD.

  • Adele Chow

    41st and Larch has a lot on the NE corner that has been empty for decades. I know it was a Texaco station a long time ago, but surely it could have been developed by now. There’s a lot at Oak and 67th that has also been vacant for years.

  • Tessa

    I think it’s really good news for the city of Vancouver that we can all sit on a blog and talk about a single piece of vacant land downtown and marvel at how it’s managed to remain undeveloped.

    Even better that everyone has jumped in with their own single piece of vacant land somewhere else in the city.

    The fact that it’s such an anomaly, so interesting and blog-worthy to post that there is sometimes vacant land in Vancouver does suggest that we’re doing okay here in the Big Rainy.

    Or, put a little less eloquently: Take that, Baltimore:

  • Sharon

    some of those gas station lots are re-mediating. Until they get an environmental clearance, nobody can touch them. There was one at 13th and Granville that was used as a parking lot for almost 8 years before it was safe to sell and develop.

  • Bill Lee

    New tool for quick views of Robson and Broughton and other location

    Quick (real fast) Google Street View

    Type in 3 Pedder Street, Hong Kong, for example. Or type in Robson and Broughton.


    See the “about” box for other details.

  • Bill Lee

    Professor Bula might like the same QSview Author’s
    etc. etc.

  • David W.

    As Sharon said the old gas stations can take a long time to get an environmental stamp of approval for development. I had a friend in the gas station business back when 41st and Larch was first dug up and he said the mess was much worse than a typical old gas station. I seem to recall they found contaminated soil under many surrounding lots including Elm Park. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s still a vacant lot a decade from now.
    I remember when a building at 4th and Alma burned down. The lot sat vacant for around 25 years.
    As Tessa said, the fact that we have so few vacant lots that we all know them by heart points to just how vibrant the market for Vancouver land generally is.

  • Bill Lee

    Re: David W. // Nov 16, 2012 at 2:58 pm #11

    And there was an ongoing leak at the Rupert and 22nd petrol/gas station that was polluting Still Creek. They fixed it but the soil will take a long time to remediate.

    The former gas station site at Hastings and Commercial drive was vacant and under the pipes-sticking-out remediation for 10 years.

    South east corner of 41st and Granville station has been discovered leading for about 3 blocks down the hill.

    ….”As reported previously, some of the property owners involved were notified of contamination because environmental standards were tightened in early 2011. Prior to Feb. 1, 2011, the requirement was an ability to support aquatic life, which was stiffened to drinking water standards.”

    “Testing has determined a total of 91 West Side properties were affected by a leak at the Shell gas station at Granville and 41st Avenue.
    Contamination, much of which is 60 feet below ground, was discovered when the station was rebuilt in 2006.
    Last September, the Courier reported 78 properties-72 residential and six commercial ones-had been affected. Since then, Shell did more testing and the extent of the plume has been delineated.
    “The key part here is the plume has been established. We have achieved delineation-that’s a really important piece. We know exactly what we’re dealing with here,” explained Shell Canada spokesman Randy Provençal”

  • Don

    The post by Bill Lee above hints at an important change in the environmental legislation – for a property to be considered ¨clean¨ it has to meet drinking water standards. That means that for those old gas station sites, one has to be able to dig a hold in the middle of it, and the water that filters in has to be drinkable = no easy feat!

  • Everyman

    @Don 13
    And that is a stupid rule which is scaring buyers away from a lot of productive industrial land.

  • David

    One vacant lot? How about half a block of vacant lots.. east of Sasamat between 8th and 9th. Finally developed in 2006. Whoever owned the block must have finally sold… or more likely his/her beneficiaries did.

  • David

    @Bill Lee #12. Renfrew, not Rupert fwiw.

    Northwest corner of Rupert & 1st Gulf station sat empty for ~20 years… if memory serves the Gulf closed before the 1985 takeover by Petrocan. (Faint recall of the hoarding plastered with “Jack Volrich” PC election signs)

    A few years ago the vacant lot was once again occupied by… a Petrocan station

  • David W.

    @David 15
    I was told the half block east of Sasamat was owned by a church. If it was zoned for religious use the tax bill was likely quite low.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it was acquired way back when Point Grey was a separate municipality.

    In recent decades a decline in membership and contributions (and sometimes bad management) has forced many churches to sell off property and either move in with another congregation or completely shut down.

  • Bill Lee

    @David W. // Nov 23, 2012 at 5:19 pm #17

    Do you mean the O’Hagan site?
    See map on page 67, where it is described as:

    “Bordered on the west by Sasamat Street, the O’Hagan site takes up the western half of the 4400 block West 8th and 9th. The land parcel is 330 feet x 250 feet and slopes gradually from west to east. Under present RS-1 Zoning regulations the O’Hagan site could be divided into 22 single family 30 foot lots built at an FSR of 0.60. An active neighbourhood residents’ association [was] committeed to retaining RS-1 zoning in this part of West Point Grey, it [had been] very vocal in opposition to the rezoning proprosal for the O’Hagan site.”

    I remember how the champagne socialists, who should be more humane, wouldn’t have “those people in their neighbourhood. (Sniff!!) As though they were immortals and would never let the wrong kind of people move in.
    Now the area is full of garage cottages, basement rentals and other mortgage helpers and even people not from Ontario/England or the right civilized countries.

    “Purchased from the Crown in 1911 by Lawrence O’Hagan durin the time that the first houses were being built in the neighbourhood, the site has remained in his family for three generations. Lawrence initially established a small orchard on the site but when his son, a successful lawyer took control of the land the orchard was left to grow wild. Thus for the last 30 years [ before 2000 ], the O’Hagan property has been unused. The lawyer’s son, Fred, now [had] control and he [was] pushing for CD-1 zoning in order to create a special design for the site that would not be allowed under the existing RS-1 zoning regulations.” [ full page 74 ]

    And here it is too bad it was like the Wild Grassland Park of Winnipeg, an unploughed old grassland as of the days of the settlers left to the city by an old pioneer.
    from “Retrofitting Vancouver’s most sacred use: The intensification of ground-oriented housing in single-family neighbourhoods” by Lyndon Lee Patrick, M.A. Thesis, 1999 UBC SCRAP. Seen 26 November 2012 at (112 sheets, vii, 106 p.)
    Chapter IV (4) is the O’Hagan site history. He also talks about secondary suite conversions, infills,etc.

    And if you are interested in Church lands, St. Helens (West Point Grey) is having, (as with many city houses and schools, their centennial from the 1912 boom times) its centennial this year.
    You missed the Holly Bazaar last week for a tour of the church but their illustrated book (3 books in one as they include in pockets, reproductions of the 25 year and 75 year booklets) is on sale for only 20 dollars
    Or walk by one Sunday and sit in. Do they still have their Wednesday musical vespers to have a look in?

    There is quick history of land growth, fires etc. at the central Anglican church (Power!) out west
    Now the rebuilt, in April, 1973, St. Helen’s Church, was designed by architects Rhone and Iredale

    Vancouver area schools have 100 year books and most churches can scrounge up something, though like much of boom-condo Vancouver, no one looks back.

  • Shangey G.

    Shouldn’t there be a law, that if a property remains undeveloped for a certain amount of time, it must be sold back to the city for below market rates?

  • Bill Lee

    Re: Bill Lee // Nov 16, 2012 at 3:38 pm #12

    Did someone say ‘Property boom’?

    And you should wander around the north-south
    Churchill Street a block to west of Granville
    south of 41st to see the number of instant
    Brit-nostalgia immense bungalows being built
    for astronaughts

    Certificates confirm no risk to human health from Shell gas station leak
    By Naoibh O’Connor, Staff writer May 22, 2013
    Story Photos ( 1 )

    [ PHOTO Contamination was discovered when the Shell gas station was rebuilt in 2006. The station dates back to the 1930s. Photograph by: Dan Toulgoet , Vancouver Courier ]

    The Ministry of Environment has issued certificates of compliance for all residential properties affected by underground contamination from a leak at a Shell site at Granville and West 41st Avenue.

    The certificates confirm each site is in compliance with the applicable soil, groundwater and/or vapour standards as defined in provincial contaminated site regulations, according to Shell Canada Ltd.

    Contamination was at a depth of about 17 metres (60 feet) under the ground of residential homes and was discovered when the gas station was rebuilt in 2006. The station dates back to the 1930s.

    “The [certificate of compliance] application process confirmed that the contamination at this depth is not harmful to human health and safety,” explained Verity Conrad, a communications adviser for Shell.

    An email to the Courier attributed to Peggy Evans, manager of risk assessment and remediation for the Ministry of Environment, confirmed the certificates were issued and stated: “The certificates confirm there is no risk to human health or the environment and the ministry has no further concerns.”

    Overall, the leak affected 88 West Side properties — 84 residential and four commercial. (The number is down slightly from initial reports)

    The four commercial properties are in the final stages before the Ministry of Environment issues certificates of compliance, Conrad said.

    Shell has spent $4 million dealing with the problem, drilling more than 200 wells in the area to investigate the extent of the leak and determine the degree of contamination.

    “The underground plume extended south and west of the service station but did not impact every property within the area. Unfortunately, we can’t be more specific because of the property rights of individual homeowners,” Conrad said.

    “Certainly issues of this magnitude don’t happen very often so [$4 million is] a lot of money. It’s significant but it was necessary to make sure that were managing the issue appropriately.”

    Shell plans to decommission its wells on private properties, but will leave the wells on the road intact, likely for another one-and-a-half years for monitoring.

    “The majority of wells were on the roadway, so the majority will not be decommissioned at this time,” Conrad said.

    Conrad described the wells as flush with the ground and similar to a circular sewer drain, but they’re smaller than a pie plate. “It’s pretty obvious when they’re doing testing because they do have to bring in a truck,” she explained, pointing out equipment on the truck brought up water, vapour and soil samples for testing.

    “Our goal when it comes to these situations is to make sure that we’ve done our due diligence and we’ve been working closely with the ministry and the city to make sure that we’ve managed the situation appropriately,” she added.

    Read more:

    (By the way, copying from Vancouver Courier paste into your clip, the wrong links. Be warned.)