Hacktreks in Vancouver -
all images © Sam North
1885 Granville was a just a remote sawmill village situated on the
Burrard Inlet famed for its drunkeness and giant cedars it shipped
out around the world. The same year the Canadian Pacific chose it
to be its terminus station on the Pacific Coast and as reward they
were given 6000 acres of prime forest to exploit. They rebranded
the place as Vancouver, divided it up into lots and worked on a
marketing plan. They aimed to attract investors and settlers in
London. They got very lucky.
In 1886 the old town burned down in just twenty minutes. It was
a signal to get organised six months after the great fire
Vancouver boasted 14 office blocks, 23 hotels, 51 stores, nine saloons
and the boom hadnt even got started. First off the Transcontinental
in 1887 were the real estate agents and Vancouver was up and running.
Photo: Vancouver Hotel + Art Gallery + HSBC building-SN
the time writer Ruyard Kipling (Jungle Book) visited to see what
all the fuss was about there were four real estate brokers to every
citizen. He caught the fever and bought a lot for himself. Some
days you could flip a lot for twice what you paid for it the day
before. Vancouver grew at a phenomenal rate briefly fed by the gold
rush in Alaska. It sprouted ambitious new buildings, a stockmarket,
theatres and made many wealthy. Some of that wealth can be seen
in grand homes still standing around the city.
Photo: Stanley Park Cop and friend- SN
has been in various stages of boom and bust ever since then. The
tallest buildings in the British Empire were built here (the Browntone
Dominion Building on Pender and beautiful Sun Tower with it's copper
green dome, still stand).
Tour the mansions in Shaughnessy Heights above South Granville and
be prepared to be impressed. Built in timber and brick in various
grand colonial styles, they were seemingly inspired by close readings
of 'The Great Gatsby'. Even bigger contemporary homes are built
with ocean views on the British Properties above West Vancouver.
But visit Shaughnessy soon, a currently building boom is seeing
many of the beautiful homes torn down to build less interesting
stucco mansions. Heritage is something you bulldoze as fast as you
can here, before someone official notices.
is disappearing so quickly, it is almost too late to trace it's
outline. The Marine Building on Burrard is a brilliant reminder
of art-deco style and Hotel Vancouver still stands proud with its
green copper roof and Scottish Castle roots. But just 200 heritage
has always embraced the new. After all, this is home to architect
Arthur Erickson who essentially defined modern Vancouver. The Lawcourts
in Robson Square are concrete themed with waterfalls and trees which
have matured beautifully. The Museum of Anthropology and Waterfall
building beside Granville Island are impressive. Down the road in
Tacoma (WA) his Museum of Glass is quite stunning.
The 733-room Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre briefly became the tallest
building in Vancouver in 2001 and still dominates the skyline. Take
a room here and there are courtesy Jags and Range Rovers to borrow
should you request it. Right now the Wall organization are building
The Paramount, a new tower on Burrard Street that will include cinemas,
shops and around 800 apartments. Architect Bing Thom (The Chan Centre)
is designing a 580-foot slender crystal tower behind the mid-town
Hotel Georgia. Vancouver is the grip of a building fenzy with around
30,000 new tower apartments having come on stream or currently building
in the last year. Many people are concerned that the new tower dominated
city obscures the very thing that people come here for, the mountains.
From the Concord development on False Creek to loft dominated Yaletown
and the huge Coal Harbour high-rises, as well new residential clusters
in the centre, the entire city is being transformed with so called
'lifestyle' apartment towers. Some realtors are predicting a price
crash around 2006 if Vancouver isn't awarded the Winter Olympics
in 2010. (If it is, then the boom could continue for another seven
years). Vancouver is the most desirable but also the most expensive
place to live in Canada. (If you aren't French)
View from Robson Law Courts to Sheraton Wall Centre SN
Photo: Gastown Cruiseship SN
lot of people come here to start their Alaskan cruise - some 300
cruises commence from Vancouver this 2003 season, but if you fly
or rail in from Seattle for the cruise make sure you see the city
first. There is a lot to see beyond the immediate faux Gastown heritage
In summer the Coastal
Jazz festival starts on June 20th 2003, bringing music to every
public space and Gastown (14 free events) will be jammed. There
is large artistic community in the city. Screenwriter's and actors
can gain exposure at the ColdReading
Series at the Anza Club and The Albi Unplugged where new screenplays
are staged before a paying public. Poets and fiction writers get
their chance at live readings at Bolts of Fiction, Twisted Poets
and Bukowskis all on Commercial Drive on different nights. New emerging
music acts are showcased at The
Ironworks in Gastown and at many places such as Urban Well in
Kits or in Yaletown. There is a huge clublife community and walk
the city at night you'll find line-outs all over the places to get
in lounges and dance clubs. (Loft Six, Sonar, Purple Onion, Balthazars,
Gingersixtytwo). Grab the free Georgia Straight
on Thursdays for listings of everything- film, food, jazz,clubs,
theatre,art, wierd stuff. It's totally essential in Vancouver.
International Film Festivals in September and International Writer's
Festival in October, the city keeps going all year around. The Film
Festival is very intense and a chance to meet with film-makers, actors
and producers. There are lots of workshops where famous directors talk
about their latest works. In 2002 Bryan Singer was very generous with
his time whilst directing the very successful X-2. Right now Ben Affleck
is shooting John Woo's 'Paycheck' with Uma Thurman in the city,
Spiderman 2 is rumoured to be shooting here in September '03 and there
are many new major budget American features sheduled to start shooting.
Some, but not all of this 'glamour' rubs off on the city, but do not
make the mistake many people do in thinking that you're going to end
up as 'Ben and J-Lo's' best buddies.(If they are still together at all).
Stars protect themselves pretty darn well. If you really want to gawk,
then star's eat at Cin-Cin on Robson, Bridges (upstairs) on Granville
Island, Gotham Steak House on Seymour and at the Opus Hotel in trendsetting
Yaletown (a real hot spot).
City Library- SN
This city is ambitious the library inspired by the Coliseum
is probably one of the most arresting designs in the continental
Urban transportation is safe. Ride the Skytrain out to Loughheed
Mall to see just how fast this city is growing. It takes you past
New Westminster, the original capital and there are some spectacular
views of the Fraser river on the way. If you get off the train in
New West there are river walks, great places to stop for coffee
and eat. There'salso a casino if that's your kind of thing. (Foodwise:
The Boathouse,The Keg (in the old railway station) and Food Market
are worth staying for.)
New West Buggy 1890's
Photo: Vanier Park Kitsilano -SN
is place of constant discovery.
Got a week? Then try the schedule below:
Photo: Marine Building Burrard SN
the 1000 acre Stanley Park, walk from the 1930's Marine building
at the very end of Burrard street in the city and follow the new
harbour walk where seaplanes land and take off, walk past the
Marina and then take the 5 mile walk right around the park (under
Lion's Gate bridge). Exhausted? Stop at the Teahouse at Ferguson
Point for an impressive meal (if you ask they'll do brilliant
pastries and coffee instead).
If you recover, take in some jazz at Rossinis in Gastown, or late
night snack at Section 3 in Yaletown or seek out movie stars in
the Blue Water Cafe nearby.
Photo: Coal Harbour Houseboats SN
Take the gondala to the top of Grouse Mountain and take in the view.
If it's winter then spend the day skiing. In summer you can hike.
If you are truly active you can walk up 'The Grind' instead of using
the ski-lift. (It's a sheer vertical climb that local boast of doing
in 30 minutes.) There's a bus from the Seabus station in North Vancouver
that will take you to the ski-lift. Food isn't great up there so
when you come down, head to the Beachhouse Restaurant in Dunderave
and watch the cruise ships sail past.
Alternatively, in summer, watch the annual internationa 'symphony
of fire' from the sky. Or better yet stroll around English Bay and
Denman street. You'll find plenty of places to stop and people watch
or eat a fine meal.
Go further, take a ride out to Horseshoe Bay or just drive along
Marine Drive to see the lavish million dollar plus homes that go
down to the water.
Photo: Fireworks on English Bay SN
Whale Watching anyone? Take a seaplane to Tofino from the downtown
harbour, go out to sea. Later take a long walk along windswept Long
Beach where the Pacific Ocean meets Canada and fly back in time
to go to the Stanley Theatre for a play or dinner at Fish House
or somewhere more discrete like The Smoking Dog on Ist and Cypress
Got kids with you, then try Science World with the IMAX screen,
or rent biikes and explore the city that way.
Photo: Seaplane landing in Harbour - SN
Four: Tour the grand Shaughnessy homes, have morning coffee
in Kerrisdale,back in town, visit the Vancouver Art Gallery (stop for
coffee on the mezzanine, easily the best kept secret of Vancouver).Try
Vancouver Museum in Kits point or if it isn't raining walk out to sea
by Jericho Beach when
the tide is out. See just how many
people own dogs in this city.
(It's a huge number.) Visit UBC
(The University and Museum of Anthropology) or just walk in the nearby
forest. Dine at the Sandbar under Granville Bridge or at Granville Island
hotel. Want to be intimate? Try Bin 942 on West Broadway or Ouisi Bistro
on S. Granville (for authentic cajun cooking and jazz). If you are rich,like
whispering and lots of flunkes then Ouest across the road is for you.
Photo: Downtown Vancouver SN
Photo: West Side Notices SN
Photo: DianeFarris Gallery West 7th Street -SN
If it's Thursday. Go shopping on Robson or out at the Mall in Metrotown
(500 stores including the amazing Zucca) then head back in and roam
the many city art galleries that always have their openings on Thursday
evenings. For photographs check out Presentation House in North
Van or for new contemporary art check out Diane
Farris on 7th street (off South Granville) to see what she has
coming up. If you want the heartbeat of this city getting to know
the galleries and the people who go to them is a way to make friends
and meet influential people.
Diane's gallery is in the French district and if you can get a table
try the tiny but authentic 'Salade Des Fruits' across the road 1551
Raining? Need to sit down after all this, then seek out the nearby
Fifth Avenue Cinema on Burrard, best arthouse cinema in the city
and Incendio's Pasta place next door. Can't go wrong.
Six: Rent a car. Take a ferry to Salt Spring Island. It sails
from Tswassen.(Beyond the airport) The ferry stops at five different
islands and when I took the ride last year we went past an entire pod
of killer whales. Drive around the island. There's an live artist tour,
but after dining in the harbour - either find a hotel or drive to the
ferry across the island that takes you to Victoria Island. You can either
catch a ferry back to Vancouver from Swartz bay or go to Victoria for
the night. (You don't have to stay at the impressive Empress Hotel,or
Sooke Harbour House but if you do your credit card will remember the
trip for a long time). Next morning explore downtown Victoria, have
lunch at Canoe, an impressive new timber beam building overlooking the
Photo: Arbutus Cafe West 5th Kits: SN
Photo: Heritage Home on West 10th SN
Seven: Stroll Main
Street in Vancouver and savour cool secondhand dress shops, mini-boutiques
such as Eugene Choo,
buy antiques and see how real Vancouverites live. Maybe go to Commerical
Drive afterwards for an Italian meal. (Don't leave any valuables
in your car though).
Photo: Main Street Mr Pleasant clock -SN
Photo: Main Street -SN
Photo: Opus Hotel Yaletown SN (on the Conde Nast hotlist 2003)
For reservations call 1-866-642-6787 or visit www.opushotel.com.
is a city experiencing huge change. The population mix has been
transformed in the last twenty years from a predominantly white
city to around forty percent Asian. With it has come a financial
dynamism and not a few social strains. In a country still spending
billions on trying to make people speak French, the real need
here is for everyone to learn English (or Cantonese). The urban
regeneration of the city is led by the new immigrant population.
The universities and elementary schools are filled with their
children and they are often the ones with the highest grades and
ambitions. What does this mean for the future of the city? Who
knows. New York had a similar problem a hundred years ago and
at one point, the immigrant population represented 70 percent
of the population. It survived. Vancouver will too,but it will
look and sound a great deal different when this social experiment
is over. Being a Canadian in the west could end up meaning something
quite different to those on the east coast.
Vancouver and Japanese girls will instinctively know where to go. From
Betsey Johnson to Zara and Bruce, many tourists never get further than
Alberni and Robson streets before heading back to the hotel to repair
the credit card. For serious shopping in art, design and antiques, head
to South Granville where the galleries show the best of Canadas' artists.
Granville Bridge lies Granville
Island. It's a vibrant mix of art, food and theatre, wrapped
around a fabulous 'public market' and popular waterfront restaurants
such as Bridges and Sandbar. (The 50 bus will get you there from
Granville Street.) Here too is Emily Carr Art School of Art and
Design. Surely one of the most influential design schools in Canada.
The city galleries are filled with artists and style leaders who
have emerged from this school and they are constantly finding fame
in the wider world. If you are there, visit, student work is often
on show. You'll find the excellent Granville Island Hotel here,
one of the best places to stay in town, houseboats, tons of theatre
(Fringe and Mainstream) and things to do. Browse, stare at the ducks,
have a burger at the Cat's Meow, or just savour the calm.
is an event packed city. Theres Indy street car racing in July,
hockey in the giant domed GM Place, dragon boat festivals in False Creek
in June, yacht races off Point Grey, and in winter night skiing on Cypress
or Grouse. Whistler is just an hour and half away by car.
The City lies between English Bay and the Burrard Inlet. You can eat
in a different sytle every night. Everywhere you look people blade,
cycle, jog or walk around the seawalls that stretch all from Stanley
Park to English Bay and all around False Creek. Be prepared to
be active when you visit here. Renting bikes, blades and just about
anything is easy.
Photo: Three Shriners -SN
in summer is a hedonistic mix of exotic scents. Everywhere you go
fresh coffee percolates through the air at Kits it's barbecues,
sunscreens and volley ball on the beach. (You don't have to have
a great body to go naked at Wreck Beach, but it helps). Go to Bean
Around the World on Walnut and Cornwall for coffee if you don't
want to give Starbucks your support or the Epicurean on Ist
and Cypress (where astute readers will spot movie stars in their
sunglasses). During Jericho Folk Festival therešs a heady aroma
of illegal substances and south of the city along Commercial Drive,
where poets and Italian cafes thrive, people smile and seem relaxed.
There's less stress in Vancouver, less to worry about but there
are hard drugs out there and all the social problems that come with
you need a Matrix reality check, walk just yards from Gastown to Hastings
and Main Street and you'll be shocked. If you notice that Chinatown
is empty, blame it partly on this city council's tolerance of drugs
and prostitution. (The younger second generation Chinese have mostly
migrated to Richmond near the airport and all the best restaurants are
out there now). There is crime problem downtown, so don't wander around
with bulging wallets or jewellry. Mostly though it is much safer than
Seattle or San Francisco and a great deal friendlier. If lost around
Hastings or Cordova ask someone (who isn't actually lying ina pool of
vomit) and they will go out of their way to be helpful. Actually here's
a tip to save cash. If you are there for more than a week and want to
get around. Go to huge pawn shop on Hastings and buy a $500 dollar bike
for around $50. You'll get around the city real fast and when it is
stolen you won't miss it all.
It helps knowing this is the warmest part of Canada, the Fall can be
mild and wonderful. All year around people take time to watch sunsets,
not a few watch sunrises, this is after all a jogging city. In Vancouver
there is an enormous sense of community where music, art, literature
and dance are important, almost everyone seems to be participating in
If you bring the kids, leave them at the PNE
Good old fashioned summer fun for all.
Photo: Blue sky on Kits -SN
1886 the city fathers imagined Vancouver would be a great city. By good
fortune it has become something more, a model 21st century city. Crime
aside, this is the city of the future that was promised us when we were
kids people come here to see if it's really true, then they wonder
how they are going to move their job here. It's that kind of city. Start
training for it now.
200 Burrard St. Waterfront,
Tel: 604 683 2000
- Book hotels, tour info, maps, excellent info source.
WALK DOWN MAIN STREET- Vancouver
IN GLASS HOUSES
new Museum of Glass in Tacoma
© Sam North June 2003
all rights reserved