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Hacktreks in Vancouver - Canada
all images © Sam North

In 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 hadn’t 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
By 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
Vancouver 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.
Old Vancouver 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 buildings remain.
Vancouver 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
A 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 charm.

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.

With 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).

Photo: City Library- SN

This city is ambitious – the library inspired by the Coliseum is probably one of the most arresting designs in the continental North America.

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
Vancouver is place of constant discovery.
Got a week? Then try the schedule below:

Day One:

Photo: Marine Building Burrard SN
Explore 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

Day Two:

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

Day Three:

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 in Kits.

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

Day 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

Day Five:

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 West 7th.
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.

Day 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 water.

Photo: Arbutus Cafe West 5th Kits: SN

Photo: Heritage Home on West 10th SN

Day 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
Vancouver 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.

Mention 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.

Beneath 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.

Vancouver is an event packed city. There’s 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
Vancouver 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 it.

If 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 creating something.

If you bring the kids, leave them at the PNE and Playland
Good old fashioned summer fun for all.

Photo: Blue sky on Kits -SN

In 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.

Tourism Vancouver
200 Burrard St. Waterfront,
Tel: 604 683 2000 - Book hotels, tour info, maps, excellent info source.


FALSE CREEK- Vancouver

The new Museum of Glass in Tacoma

More World Destinations

© Sam North June 2003


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