A Van­cou­ver Point of View – Win­ning the bat­tle of ur­ban liv­abil­ity, this west coast Cana­dian city is the gem of Bri­tish Columbia

Win­ning the bat­tle of ur­ban liv­abil­ity, this west coast Cana­dian city is the gem of Bri­tish Columbia

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE -

Shel­tered by its name­sake Van­cou­ver Is­land to the west, and ringed by the rugged peaks of the Coast Moun­tains, Van­cou­ver feels like a city with a pur­pose: namely, main­tain­ing its rep­u­ta­tion as one of the most liv­able places on Earth. Canada’s largest west coast me­trop­o­lis has made an un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to ward off the com­mon plight of other large ur­ban cen­ters – over­crowd­ing, de­te­ri­o­rat­ing en­vi­ron­ment, sprawl – and with great ef­fect.

Of course, Van­cou­ver started with con­sid­er­able nat­u­ral as­sets. Es­tab­lished on a penin­sula of land sur­rounded by sparkling in­land wa­ter­ways and nes­tled among tow­er­ing forests against a dra­matic back­drop of moun­tains, it doesn’t get any more pic­ture­post­card per­fect than this.

To re­tain this con­nec­tion with the nat­u­ral sur­round­ings, the city has set aside huge swaths of prime real es­tate de­voted to parks and public use. The ur­ban land­scape is laced with path­ways for walk­ing or bi­cy­cling that link restau­rants and ho­tels with sandy beaches, wel­com­ing parks and char­ac­ter-filled neigh­bor­hoods.

Van­cou­ver has been de­scribed as a city of neigh­bor­hoods; small, easily ex­plored, each burst­ing with its own dis­tinc­tive vibe. How­ever there are three that have earned a well-de­served rep­u­ta­tion as must-see des­ti­na­tions in this most neigh­borly of cities.

GAS­TOWN

Start where it all started back in 1867, in the his­toric dis­trict known as Gas­town. This cob­ble­stoned quar­ter was el­e­vated to Na­tional His­toric Site sta­tus in 2009.

Pause here at the in­ter­sec­tion of Car­rall and Pow­ell Streets un­der the statue of “Gassy Jack” to pay trib­ute to one John Deighton. Deighton’s drink­ing es­tab­lish­ment opened in 1867, spark­ing the de­vel­op­ment of a ram­shackle set­tle­ment that soon be­came known as Gas­town, af­ter the pro­pri­etor’s “gassy” propen­sity for chat­ting too much.

Another gaseous Gas­town fix­ture is the Steam Clock on Wa­ter Street. Sur­rounded by tourists wait­ing for the whis­tles and steam that erupt ev­ery 15 min­utes, this seem­ingly an­tique time­piece is not quite what it ap­pears.

Ac­tu­ally in­stalled in 1977, the clock is loosely based on Lon­don’s Big Ben bell tower.

It may look im­pres­sive with its whoosh­ing va­pors, but it’s largely driven by elec­tric­ity. The steam that pow­ers the whis­tles comes from an un­der­ground heat­ing sys­tem that also warms lo­cal build­ings.

As you me­an­der through the streets of Gas­town, you can read about the history of the area on plaques mounted on its build­ings. But to get the real low-down on the old town’s

low-life, visit the Van­cou­ver

Po­lice Mu­seum. Once a coro­ner’s court, this ex­cel­lent small mu­seum fea­tures an eye­pop­ping ar­ray of con­fis­cated weapons and coun­ter­feit cur­rency.

The mu­seum also runs a pop­u­lar Sins of the City neigh­bor­hood walk­ing tour (C$20/$15), where squeaky-clean Van­cou­ver’s ne­far­i­ous back story is re­vealed. Mu­seum en­trance C$12 ($9); 240 East Cor­dova Street; tel +604 665 3346; van­cou­ver­po­lice­mu­seum.ca.

YALE­TOWN

The hottest down­town neigh­bor­hood is Yale­town, a wa­ter­front area that cap­tures the essence of Van­cou­ver. In its long-ago past, this was Van­cou­ver’s ware­house dis­trict. The low-rise brick build­ings have kept their spa­cious load­ing docks, the per­fect venues for din­ing al fresco. Wan­der among the cob­ble­stones of Hamil­ton and Main­land streets and you’ll find hip bou­tiques and house­ware stores, as well as cof­fee shops, bars and restau­rants – it’s a buzzy area at night.

When the first transcon­ti­nen­tal pas­sen­ger train trun­dled into Van­cou­ver on May 23, 1887, Canada was linked for the first time – and BC’s pi­o­neer city sud­denly burst into rapid de­vel­op­ment. The steam en­gine that made it all hap­pen, En­gine 374, was res­cued from rust and re­stored in the 1980s. To­day it’s on dis­play in its own pav­il­ion next to Yale­town’s Round­house Com­mu­nity Cen­ter.

The Round­house it­self is a preser­va­tion story in its own right. It was built in 1888 to ser­vice the great steam lo­co­mo­tives of the Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­road. As steam power on the rails faded, the his­toric build­ing faced de­mo­li­tion but got a re­prieve from the wreck­ing ball to be used in Van­cou­ver’s Expo 86 world’s fair. To­day the re­fur­bished build­ing fea­tures a black box theatre, an ex­hi­bi­tion hall, wood­work­ing, pot­tery and dance stu­dios and more.

The whole 20-block Yale­town area is loaded with en­ter­tain­ment and eats. A stone’s throw in any di­rec­tion from the Round­house you’ll find a brew­pubs, seafood restau­rants, night­clubs and cof­fee shops.

The spir­i­tual heart of Yale­town is David Lam Park, a huge patch of green space that fronts the wa­ter and is filled with play­grounds and public art. Lit­tle boats pull up to David Lam Park from time to time; these are the sea buses, which for $2 ferry folks around False Creek, con­nect­ing Yale­town to, among other places, Sunset Beach, Vanier Park and Granville Is­land.

GRANVILLE IS­LAND

One of the city’s prime at­trac­tions, Granville Is­land is Van­cou­ver at its most arty and laid-back. It’s home to a wide range of craft and gift stores, bou­tiques, art shops, artists’ stu­dios and – its real jewel – a thriv­ing in­door food mar­ket.

Van­cou­ver’s fa­vorite gath­er­ing spot is a kaleidoscope of col­ors, from glis­ten­ing fresh-caught fish and metic­u­lously stacked pyra­mids of fruit to a be­wil­der­ing ar­ray of lo­cally made arts and crafts. Open daily from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM, you’ll find a mouth­wa­ter­ing ar­ray of stalls selling in­cred­i­ble-smelling breads, cheeses, meats and treats.

But some ven­dors stand out at this cel­e­brated cov­ered mar­ket, in­clud­ing the ever-busy Oyama Sausage, chatty Granville Is­land Tea Com­pany and Siegel’s Bagels. Check out Ed­i­ble Bri­tish Columbia (ed­i­blebri­tish­columbia.com) – its lo­cally pro­duced sauces, oils, pre­serves and maple syrups make good gifts, and it of­fers chef-guided tours of the mar­ket. There will prob­a­bly be a busker or two pro­vid­ing ac­com­pa­ni­ment. Visit granvilleis­land.com

Granville Is­land is stuffed with ar­ti­san stu­dios and quirky gal­leries, which means you don’t have to set­tle for maple sugar cook­ies when it comes to find­ing the per­fect Van­cou­ver sou­venir. Among the best spots to shop – es­pe­cially if you’re good at pack­ing frag­ile items – is the Gallery of BC Ce­ram­ics.

This gallery cel­e­brates ce­ram­ics made by artists from across the province. Prices are good and you can care­fully run your fin­gers over ev­ery­thing from cool, glossy-glazed mugs to hand-thrown teapots shaped like cars, arm­chairs and even puffer­fish. 1359 Cartwright Street; tel +604 669 3606; bcpot­ters.com

Visit british­columbia.travel, touris­m­van­cou­ver.com. BT

Clock­wise: Gas­town Steam Clock, shops in Yale­town, Grandville Is­land Public Mar­ket

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