Reasons To Love Vancouver
It was exactly 126 years ago, in 1886, that the little town of Granville was incorporated as the City of Vancouver. Natural beauty, a transportation-hub location, abundant forests, and goldand salmon-laden waterways all ensured a vibrant future. Here, we look beyond the clichés and “most livable” kudos to come up with 10 things that make this city unique
[ 1 ] Good bones
In its first piece of business, Vancouver city council set its sights on 1,001 acres of federal land designated as a military reserve (in case of American invasion). Two years later, Stanley Park was triumphantly dedicated to “the use and enjoyment of peoples of all colours, creeds, and customs, for all time.”
[ 2 ] Waiting to exhale
Just off the coast of Vancouver Island, three tectonic plates are pushing and pulling to an inevitable, earth-shaking conclusion. Yet we haven’t had a really major shaker since a massive quake (perhaps 9.2 on the Richter scale) in January 1700. Not many cities along the Ring of Fire have gone as long without experiencing a big one as we have. Knock wood.
[ 3 ] Happy to inhale
According to one 2007 study, Canadians smoke more marijuana than anyone. Another reveals that B.C. tops the country when it comes to weed. And why not? Like alcohol and cigarettes, marijuana has some harmful effects but also provides health benefits for some — which may explain why our police decline to enforce laws most people view as outdated and costly.
[ 4 ] Survival of the fittest
Some of the continent’s best kayaking and hiking is right at our doorstep, and people come from all over to go mountain biking on the North Shore. The Grouse Grind is thick with climbers all season long, and an astonishing 50,000 people did the 2011 Sun Run. We don’t just look at the mountains and the ocean — that’s why we have the lowest obesity rate and the highest life expectancy in Canada.
[ 5 ] Coach’s corner
Stanley Cup or not, the Canucks are an excellent team and a solid NHL franchise. How did we get there? As an agent, Mike Gillis cut eye-popping deals for his players. As GM of the Canucks, he’s negotiated stellar long-term contracts. Dozens of NHLers out-earn the Sedins ($6.1 million each), hundreds out-earn Alex Burrows ($2 million), and almost all out-earn Yannik Hansen ($825,000). Gillis’s smarts guarantee us a first-class team for years to come.
[ 6 ] Pass the baton
Vancouver got high-fives for the 2010 Olympics — full marks to our police for turning a blind eye to what might have been called disorderly conduct. It wasn’t ever thus. In 1971, a protest against drug raids inspired the cops to try out newly issued batons. A year later, 2,500 Stones fans incited a riot; ditto when Guns ’n Roses cancelled in 2002. When the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup in 1994, it took rubber bullets and tear gas to quiet 70,000 downtown mourners. Who says it’s a good party when the cops show up?
[ 7 ] Don’t stop believing
The Terry Fox Run — held in memory of the onelegged Coquitlam champion who set out to cross the country in 1980 — is a global phenomenon that has raised more than $500 million. Rick Hansen’s round-the-world wheelchair odyssey, Man in Motion, was every bit as inspiring and laudable; the Port Alberni native has raised $250 million for spinal research. And let’s not forget Burnaby actor Michael J. Fox, whose grace, intelligence, and humour in the face of Parkinson’s have brought new attention to finding a cure for that disease.
[ 8 ] Say cheese!
As millions of visitors have shown, our city looks good on postcards and Flickr. Maybe that’s why we’re known internationally for a stellar roster of photographers, from Fred Herzog to such members of the so-called Vancouver School of photoconceptual art as Jeff Wall, Stan Douglas, and Roy Arden. One result: an impression among gallery-goers around the world that we’re a brainy, bohemian kind of place, like Berlin or Brooklyn (but with mountains and totem poles).
[ 9 ] Live and let live
The Woodward’s housing project has no equal. Its 536 kitted-out condos offset the 200 social-housing units in a balancing act that lured the city’s yuppies further east than ever before. The biggest surprise to come out of this social experiment? Nothing went wrong. One block down, 10,000 to go.
[ 10 ] United colours of Van
The city was settled by Natives, named by the British in a region explored by the Spaniards, and built up in its early years by a Jewish mayor, Chinese entrepreneurs, Punjabi millworkers, and Japanese fishermen. It has the least segregated neighbourhoods in Canada and the highest proportion of interracial couples. Sushi, bánh mì, and phô for all!
Did You Know?
Lions Gate Bridge
Arguably the city’s most revered landmark, the Lions Gate Bridge was built by the Guinness Brewing Company in 1937 as a means of encouraging the development of the North Shore (a none too altruistic move, considering they owned a large part of it). Though many had tried to build a suspension bridge across the First Narrows, locals had always put a stop to cutting a road through Stanley Park. Then the Depression hit, and jobs won out over trees.
Green and Greener
The tree-lined beach-loving neighbourhood known as Kits was previously host to the thriving First Nations village of Sun’ahk. Named in 1905 after Squamish “man of the lake” Chief Khatsahlanough, Kitsilano grew into a dense and affordable student neighbourhood by the 1960s — just in time to house the beginnings of Greenpeace.
The two mountain peaks visible from downtown are known locally as the Lions: so named because they resemble a lion’s ears, and in remembrance of statues of two lions in London’s Trafalgar Square. Those so vertically inclined can choose from several hiking routes to get an up-close and personal look.
Among the international superstars who call Vancouver home are singersongwriter Sarah McLachlan, Smallville’s Kristin Kreuk, singer-songwriter Bryan Adams, Generation X’s Douglas Coupland, architect Arthur Erickson, shoe guru John Fluevog and environmentalist David Suzuki.
More than 100 buildings in Vancouver’s downtown core — including the central library, B.C. Place, GM Place and many major hotels — are heated via a 10.5-km network of high-pressure steam pipes flowing away from the Central Heat Distribution Ltd. boiler plant. But the famous steam clock in Gastown is a bit of a misnomer: though it was built in 1977 to 1875 specs, steam and gravity-driven operation proved unreliable. Electricity now controls the timed steam explosions every quarter hour, culminating in a grand musical show of “letting off steam" every hour on the hour.
Why Doesn’t Vancouver Have Any Freeways?
In the late ’60s city planners were pushing for freeways that would loop downtown along the waterfront: what’s now Coal Harbour, Sunset Beach and the False Creek pedestrian promenades. Another was to push through Vancouver’s first settler neighbourhood, Strathcona; the area between Main and Campbell south of Hastings had been labelled a derelict slum by the municipal government, but residents protested its demolition and won. Since then, hundreds of early 1900s multi-level woodframe homes have been restored in bright heritage colours, making this quiet bike-friendly ’hood one of Vancouver’s oldest (and best-kept) secrets.