Vancouver is Canada’s fastest-growing metropolis, and a city of magical contradictions – from rough-and-tumble Hastings Street, where timeworn brickwork still exudes a wild, beer-for-a-dime, seaport-town atmosphere, to trendy Robson Street, with its futuristic Japanese noodle houses and haute couture. Vancouver has long touted itself as Canada’s gateway to the Pacific Rim, and for decades, waves of immigrants have broken on its shore.
Vancouver, its residents are fond of saying, is one of the few cities in the world where you can go skiing and sailing on the same day. How remarkable, then, that it should also be one of the few where, sitting outside a Neapolitan cafe, you can eavesdrop on an impassioned argument in Hungarian and see graffiti in Khmer. Most major cities have a mixed heritage, yet few can claim to have attracted a more diverse cross section of humanity than Vancouver. The city seems living proof that a benign environment will produce an easygoing disposition.
At the time of Captain George Vancouver’s first visit, First Nations people lived in the Burrard inlet area mainly on a seasonal basis, their permanent villages being elsewhere. Once white settlement began around Burrard Inlet, more First Nations moved here permanently. The main Squamish village sites were around Stanley Park, Capilano River and Belcarra Regional Park. White settlement began in 1862 with discovery of coal in Coal Harbour, and by the time the 1880s came around, major development was underway, such as the Canadian Pacific Railway transcontinental line. However, it was ‘Gassy’ Jack Deighton who established a saloon in 1867, in what is today known as Gastown, who was the real pioneer of Vancouver.
To list all of Vancouver’s attractions here is impossible to do – we can only provide a sampling of what’s in store for the visitor to Vancouver. The unique charm and advantage of this city is the range of things for visitors to do and see from dawn until dusk and through every successive season.
Urbanites can eat at world-class restaurants, attend the symphony, shop at exclusive boutiques along Robsonstrasse and never cast so much as a glance at the surrounding sea and sky scape, and the incredible outdoor recreation available. Those with an appreciation for the outdoors can windsurf at dawn, get in a round of golf after lunch, and take in the city lights at night while skiing atop a North Shore mountain. Vancouver is clean, colourful and friendly, with the open cosmopolitan flair that West Coast cities are known for.
Population: 1,986,965 (Vancouver)
Location: The downtown core is located in the heart of Vancouver.
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Stanley Park: Experience the richness and diversity of Vancouver’s glorious gardens, where rare and wondrous landscapes inspire your every step. The centrepiece and green heart of Vancouver is the 1,000-acre Stanley Park, the city’s most famous landmark, and one of the largest parks in any urban centre in North America. There are wooded trails, open playing fields, secluded lakes, gorgeous gardens, and the Vancouver Aquarium, the largest in Canada. A seawall walkway meanders along the park’s perimeter, with beautiful views of the city skyline, the harbour, beaches, and the spectacular North Shore Mountains. For many residents, the park is the green heart that beats in the core of urbanity, the ecological holdout amid glass and concrete. Vancouver’s fame as one of the most beautiful cities in the world is tied to Stanley Park’s popularity.
Stanley Park Attractions: Typical of urban green spaces, Stanley Park is dotted with man-made attractions, including the Vancouver Aquarium, a pitch-and-putt golf course, tennis courts, aging totem poles at Brockton Point, as well as monuments to England’s Lord Stanley (for whom the park is named), Queen Victoria, and Scottish poet-laureate Robbie Burns, and a cairn that contains the ashes of legend-gatherer Pauline Johnson-Tekahionwake. Natural wonders include towering trees (Canada’s tallest bigleaf maple and red alder both grow within the park) and acres of well-kept gardens, including over 3,000 types of roses.
Marvel at new marine adventures and wonders at the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park, the largest in Canada. Discover the wonders of the West Coast, explore the secrets of the steamy tropical Amazon, and delight in the unexpected richness of the Canadian Arctic. Experience Beluga whale and dolphin shows, shark dives and sea otter feeds – more than 8,000 creatures from the ends of the earth, and the depths of the sea.
Denman Street: Bordering the south side of Stanley Park, particularly along Denman Street, is an area rife with coffee shops and bike and in-line-skates rental emporiums, occasionally all rolled into one! Among the major routes in the West End that lead directly to Stanley Park are Georgia, Robson, Nelson, and Davie Streets, and Beach Avenue.
Getting to Stanley Park: By car, Stanley Park is best reached from either Georgia Street or Beach Avenue, though finding parking once you get there is often more challenging than it’s worth. One alternative is to catch the #19 Stanley Park bus that deposits riders at the Georgia Street entrance to the park. The #3 and #8 buses drop passengers near the park at the corner of Robson and Denman Streets. All these routes connect with the Main Street SkyTrain station. On weekends and holidays from April to October the #52 Around the Park bus provides hourly service between 10am and 7pm to points along the scenic road that circles the park. Call TransLink at 604-953-3333 for more information on all bus routes.
Chinatown is rich in culture and history, with the streets bustling with colour and energy all day and night. The sights, sounds, exotic medicines, curious foodstuffs spilling onto the sidewalks, and bright red pagoda-roofed phone booths make Chinatown distinctive. A ‘must-see’ is the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, the only classic Chinese Garden outside of China, and fashioned in Ming Dynasty style.
Shopping: Vancouver has always been bursting with storefronts. In Yaletown, brick warehouses have been transformed into chic shops that are the destination of choice when shopping for exciting and eccentric fashion. Robson Street is the meeting place of cultures and couture, as tout le monde can be found strolling among its many boutiques and restaurants every day. Downtown is full of outstanding shops. In poor weather, head underground for the Pacific Centre and Vancouver Centre malls. Gastown is a restored 1890s precinct, once touristy, now anchored by some really good shops that are of use to locals as well. Book Alley, the 300 and 400 blocks of West Pender, has bookstores specializing in everything from cookbooks to radical politics to science fiction.
Ethnic Vancouver. The oldest and biggest of Vancouver’s ethnic communities is Chinatown. Italian commercial and cultural life thrives in the distinctive neighbourhood around Commercial Drive, east of downtown. A second, less-discovered Italian district is on Little Italy’s northern border – the 2300 to 2500 blocks of E Hastings. Vancouver’s 60,000 East Indian immigrants have established their own shopping area, called the Punjabi Market, in south Vancouver at 49th and Main Streets, where you can bargain for spices, chutney, and sweets. One of Vancouver’s longest-established groups of ethnic inhabitants, the Greeks, live and shop west of the intersection of MacDonald and West Broadway.
Music: Over the last decade, the city has witnessed a renaissance in the proliferation of classical, jazz, and world music. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra has reached new heights of artistic splendor, with the main season starting in October at the Orpheum, an old vaudeville theatre at 884 Granville. The Vancouver Opera puts on five productions a year at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Hamilton at West Georgia; the program is a balance of contemporary and traditional. The sets are spectacular and the artists are of international calibre. The du Maurier International Jazz Festival attracts crowds of more than 250,000 jazz lovers (held in June), and the annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival is extremely popular as well.
Theatre: If you enjoy the performing arts, indulge yourself in the outstanding performances offered at any of Vancouver’s acclaimed entertainment venues, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the Orpheum and the Vogue Theatre. The Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company explores contemporary and classical theatre, offering six plays each season, October to May, in the Vancouver Playhouse. Contemporary theatre in Vancouver is largely centred in the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, known to locals as The Cultch. Vancouver’s home of the megamusical is the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts; its two most striking features are the intimacy of the 1,824-seat auditorium and the visual power of the seven-storey, mirrored-wall grand staircase that unites all levels.
Nightlife: On a warm summer night, the music spilling out from Vancouver’s clubs and bars ranges from down-and-dirty R&B at the suitably raunchy Yale Hotel, and the rollicking Blarney Stone Olde Irish Pub, where you see entire families partying together, through local alternative bands at the Town Pump, and disco thump at Richard’s on Richards. To find out who’s playing where, pick up a copy of the Georgia Straight or Thursday’s Vancouver Sun.
Skytrain: You can ride the Skytrain, Vancouver’s light rapid transit system, and travel from place to place with ease, enjoying a great view of the city while you go.
Visit the Vancouver Lookout Tower, an observation deck 33 floors high atop Harbour Centre – a 360-degree view sweeps across the Lower Mainland, from the mountains in the north to the valleys in the south. Located only two blocks from the cruiseship terminal, at the entrance to historic Gastown.
Gastown was founded in 1867 and named after ‘Gassy’ Jack Deighton, a colourful character who operated a saloon here in the late 1800s. Gastown is a charming mix of old and new, with cobbled streets, quaint heritage buildings, and the unique Gastown Steam Clock that sounds the Westminster chimes every fifteen minutes. Victorian architecture and a unique tangle of mews, courtyards and passages houses boutiques, collectibles, antiques, fashions and several prominent galleries representing a fine selection of Native art and sculpture.
The Lions Gate Bridge, built by the Guiness Family, opened Vancouver’s North Shore to vehicle traffic in 1938. Its lights were turned on in 1986, celebrating 50 years from the start of its construction, and the 100th birthday of Vancouver. Watch for Cruise Ships entering Burrard Inlet as the you cross the bridge, named after the two mountain peaks that look like sleeping lions.
The magnificent white sails of Canada Place are one of Vancouver’s most prominent landmarks, housing the IMAX Theatre, the Vancouver Trade & Convention Centre, the World Trade Centre, the Vancouver Board of Trade, cruise ship facilities, a five-star hotel, and restaurants offices and shops. Begin your visit with a scenic stroll and self-guided Promenade into History tour of landmarks rimming the inner harbour.
Cruise Ship Terminal: The Port of Vancouver is the home port for cruise ships operating cruises from Vancouver to Alaska, one of the world’s most popular vacation cruises. Every year, more than one million passengers pass through the Port of Vancouver’s Canada Place, and Ballantyne cruise ship facilities.
Francis Rattenbury’s elegant old courthouse is now the Vancouver Art Gallery, which holds more than twenty major exhibitions a year, and whose permanent collection includes works by Goya, Emily Carr, Gainsborough, and Picasso. The gallery gift shop is a neat place for gifts, and the upstairs cafe with its breezy outdoor terrace is a popular lunchtime spot. Located at 750 Hornby Street.
H.R. MacMillan Space Centre: Discover a world of fun like nothing on earth, at the HR MacMillan Space Centre. Explore the universe, travel the solar system, touch a real moon rock, morph into an alien and much more, at the Cosmic Courtyard hands-on gallery. Fly through space and time in the Virtual Voyages full-motion simulator, see multimedia shows and laser shows, or join Overnight Adventures and Space Camps.
Science World provides family adventure and fun for the whole family. Lose your shadow on the wall, blow gigantic bubbles, and crawl inside a beaver lodge. Blow your mind in the amazing 3D Laser Theatre, experience a breathtaking film in the OMNIMAX Theatre, participate in dazzling demonstrations, and explore Science World’s latest feature exhibition.
Harbour Tour: Embark on a fully narrated paddlewheeler Harbour Tour of the working port of Vancouver, past the bustling cargo and cruise ship terminals, the city’s spectacular skyline, and the magnificent North Shore Mountains. Or wait till sunset, and set off on a Sunset Dinner Cruise for a one-of-a-kind dining experience. Take in the sights and sounds of the magnificent Vancouver Harbour while enjoying a deluxe buffet dinner.
Granville Island, once an industrial wasteland, is a thriving hub for Vancouverites and visitors alike. You’ll find artists’ studios, galleries, theatres, nightclubs, restaurants, and Granville Island Brewing. In summer, wandering buskers and street performers delight the crowds. Stop by the Granville Island Public Market for freshly picked produce, seafood straight off the boats, gourmet foods, and tasty delights from the bakeries. The best way to get to Granville Island is aboard the Aquabus, from the ferry dock on the seawall at the south end of Hornby Street, or the south foot of Drake Street in Downtown Vancouver.
Seaplane Tours out of Vancouver harbour are a wonderful way to see Vancouver and the surrounding area. Ride along on a mail run to the tiny villages and anchorages of the Gulf Islands, explore the rugged fjordland and picturesque villages of the Sunshine Coast north of Vancouver, marvel at hanging glaciers and knife-edge mountain ridges, or splash down on secret alpine lakes, where the air is fresh and the water is crystal clear. Many other aerial tours are available – ask the Visitor Centre for more information.
Stanley Park Seawall: The character of a city is often defined by the vision of exceptional individuals. One of Vancouver’s first park commissioners, Matthew Logan, championed the idea of a pedestrian seawall that would eventually ring the entire harbour, from Stanley Park to False Creek. It took 55 years to complete, and today there is an almost seamless route that covers much of the distance (about 12 miles/20 km), certainly more than most of us can traverse in the course of a morning or afternoon’s outing. Each year the Stanley Park Seawall and the Seaside Bikeway are thronged with an ever-larger number of walkers, joggers, in-line skaters, and cyclists. Bikes and blades can be rented from a number of shops that border the park.
Canoeing & Kayaking: The sheltered backwater of False Creek is the playground of kayakers and canoeists, and provides moorage for fishing boats at the federal dock and a protected anchorage for sailboats. Most evenings, primarily from April to October, this sheltered finger of Burrard Inlet teems with a mix of canoes, dragon boats, kayaks, sculls, sailboats, tugboats, and stinkpots. You can launch your own hand-carried boat from the wharf in front of the False Creek Community Centre, in Cartwright Street on Granville Island.
Fishing: You’ll need a saltwater fishing licence before you toss a line into the waters around Greater Vancouver, which are available at most sport-fishing stores. Smelt fishers cast their filigree nets from the waters of Jericho and Kitsilano Beaches. The seawall at Stanley Park is a popular angling location, particularly around the kilometre 6 marker at Siwash Rock. The water is sufficiently deep here to allow the possibility of landing a salmon, especially when a run of pinks returns to Burrard Inlet at the end of summer.
Spectator Sports: The Canucks, Vancouver’s hockey team (NHL), haven’t managed to win the Stanley Cup yet, but they’ve come close a few times. The Vancouver Whitecaps, (MLS) the local soccer team, has a devoted following. Visiting baseball enthusiasts should try to catch the minor-league Vancouver triple-A Canadians game at the Nat Bailey Stadium, a venue New York Yankee stalwart Roger Maris once called “the prettiest ballpark I’ve ever played in.”
A point of interest along the seawall is Siwash Rock. A Squamish legend, told to Mohawk poet Pauline Johnson-Tekahionwake by Chief Joe Capilano in the early years of the 20th century, has it that a young chief and his wife came to Prospect Point for the birth of their child. In order to be clean and vicariously impart purity to their baby, the couple went swimming in the ocean. Custom deemed that only when they were so clean that wild animals could not detect their scent were they fit to be parents. When the mother went ashore to give birth, her husband remained in the water. As the chief continued to swim, a canoe with four supernatural giants (the Transformers, emissaries of Tyee, the Creator) came upon him. When asked to move out of their way, the chief refused for the sake of his unborn child. The four, who were impressed by the chief’s fearless commitment, transformed him into Siwash Rock to stand as a permanent example of “clean fatherhood.” So that he not be separated from his wife and child, the Transformers changed them into two rocks, a larger one side-by-side with a smaller, which is in the forested hillside above Siwash Rock.
Beaches: If you’d like to clean up your act, the west side of the peninsula, from Siwash Rock to the southwest corner of the park at Denman Street, features three popular ocean beaches, with delightfully warm water by midsummer. The sand at Stanley Park’s Third Beach is noticeably coarser and brighter in texture and colour than at either First Beach or Second Beach. A large, freshwater swimming pool is located next to Second Beach. All three beaches are located on the west side of Stanley Park, just off Stanley Park Drive.