Cleveland Dam, a Vancouver secret spot

I grew up in West Vancouver, in the most middle-class corner of the British Properties. We had a schnauzer name General (for his bearing, not his commonness). We would often take General on walks into some woods near our house, and over to the Cleveland Dam. It’s the dam that holds back Cleveland Lake, a drinking water reservoir for the Lower Mainland, and divides West and North Vancouver.

I was always struck by the duality of my experience on the dam. If the water level is high, one side of the dam is this roaring tumult of noise, whitewater and mist. Yet if you walk across the dam and look north through the fence, there’s this still lake surrounded by woods.

The dam features in the climax of Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma, when the book’s ghostly narrator meets his friends there:

On Cleveland Dam, the park at the west end and walk to its centre, as promised, I hover invisibly above the silent spillway. The reservoir behind the dam is slightly below the runoff level and algae within the water has loaned it an otherworldly shamrock sheen. The dam’s road is smooth and glistening from a freak rainstorm and is seemingly paved with diamonds.

Lately I’ve been asking Vancouverites–new arrivals and lifers both–whether they know about or have visited the dam. Hardly anybody has. It’s not going to blow your mind, but it’s a lovely spot and will probably awe kids who haven’t seen a lot of dams before. There are walking trails on the West Vancouver side, and a park on the North Vancouver side. On a nice day, it’s an excellent spot for a picnic. Combine it with a trip to the salmon hatchery, and you’ve got yourself a rewarding Sunday afternoon out in the suburbs.

Here’s a short video I spotted which shows both sides of the dam.

Photos by mac steve and Grant Harder.


  1. Growing up in North Van, I never considered the Dam to be hidden spot, but I guess it’s not so well known to people who don’t live in the area. Also worth checking out is the pipe bridge over the canyon!

  2. Cleveland “Reservoir”, not Cleveland Lake, which would be a natural occurring body of water. Just sayin’ ….

    But haven’t been, thanks.

  3. I’ve always wanted to go there but always forget! Thanks for the write up!

    *It’s Capilano Lake. As well, a lake doesn’t have to be “natural occurring” to be called a lake, such as Lake Mead (Hoover Dam), Lake Revelstoke (Revelstoke Dam), etc.

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