Tales of the Balmoral: Social Housing in Vancouver

Image of the Balmoral Hotel sign


This Visible City activity introduces students to the social housing situation in Vancouver, focusing specifically on the Balmoral and its large neon sign. Through photos and interviews, students will get an idea of the housing provided by the Balmoral, as well as why this building is valuable to people in the Downtown Eastside despite its often dangerous environment. Students will also learn about social assistance in Vancouver as it relates to housing, and as it relates to the average rent prices in the city. To conclude, students will analyze the advantages and disadvantages of housing in the Balmoral, and suggest improvements for the conditions they find problematic.

Learning Objectives

  • Demonstrate effective research skills, including accessing and assessing visual and auditory information and primary documents in order to form a critical opinion
  • Learn about the social housing situation in Vancouver, with emphasis on the Balmoral
  • Learn the basics about social assistance in B.C
  • Analyze key provisions of the Canadian social safety net and their impact on Canadian society, specifically social assistance
  • Learn how to search for rent prices in Vancouver and analyze how they differ based on the area of the city
  • Demonstrate a knowledge of historical and contemporary factors that help define Canadian civic identity, including governance, and rights and responsibilities
  • Collaborate in a group to identify problems with social or subsidized housing sites and suggest alternatives


1. Research:

  • How can you apply for social assistance in B.C? What sorts of information must you provide? Use the Ministry of Social Development website: http://www.eia.gov.bc.ca This lesson plan is supported by audio-visual materials, part of a complementary learning object collection hosted by the Virtual Museum of Canada at http://www.museevirtuel-virtualmuseum.ca/index-eng.jsp. The collection consists of original images and interviews prepared by the Museum of Vancouver for TheVisibleCity.ca
  • What are the social assistance rates for housing and for living costs in B.C for a single person? For a single mother? For a family? Use the Ministry of Social Development website: http://www.eia.gov.bc.ca
  • Based on newspaper ads, Craigslist, or other websites, list the average price of rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the most inexpensive areas of Vancouver.
  • Choose one other social or subsidized housing building in the area and describe what it is like, as does the information provided about the Balmoral.

2. Discussion Questions.

  • Judy Graves suggests that housing at the Balmoral is a last option. Why do you imagine someone might decide to stay at the Balmoral?
  • What other kinds of housing is available to low income people in Vancouver?
  • What does this mean for low-income communities in Vancouver and the support services that they rely on in the area?
  • Based on your above observations, how do you think the large neon sign of the Balmoral relates to the history of the building?

3. Group work and class discussion:

Judy Graves mentions that she is still grateful that the Balmoral exists, despite its sub-par housing and often dangerous environment. Based on the information provided, make a list of advantages and disadvantages of housing of this kind existing in Vancouver. Then, work with your group to come up with a couple suggestions about how to improve the conditions that you find problematic. Present your suggestions to the class, remembering to explain what problem you are addressing and why, as well as why your solution might enhance what already exists.

Learning Objects

Download all Learning Objects:
ZIP 83 MB: 5-les_objets_dapprentissage-learning_objects.zip

Download Lesson Plan (PDF):
PDF 467 KB: 5_plans_de_lecon-lesson_plans-Eng.pdf

Download Adobe Acrobat:

1_Balmoral_Exterior1940s_CVA1184_3337.tif (Photo name included for reference)

2_Balmoral_'W'visible_TomWiebe.tif (Photo name included for reference)

2_Balmoral_Street_AHAMedia.tif (Photo name included for reference)

Balmoral (10 of 11)
Balmoral (10 of 11).tif (Photo name included for reference)

DJ Joe
DJ Joe said…
"The first year when I came down to Vancouver, the Balmoral sign used to light up, but now it doesn’t anymore. The lights would shine in my window…"
Judy Graves
Judy Graves said…
"The stench of the Balmoral Hotel was like nothing else on earth. It was rough in the rooms. People who had other choices wouldn’t live there..."

More Lesson Plans

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