AROUND THE WORLD IN VANCOUVER
Exploring Vancouver’s Neighbourhoods
Vancouver is a vibrant city that has long been celebrated for its cultural diversity. Since the city was founded in 1888, it has become home to myriad immigrant groups that have gone on to shape the unique character of the city. While people of every ethnicity and religion will greet you on a walk down any urban street, over time different immigrant communities have settled into Vancouver’s neighbourhoods and truly made themselves at home.
A visit to Vancouver’s ethnic neighbourhoods will make you feel like you have travelled to the far corners of the globe – Chinatown, Little Italy, Little Saigon, the Punjabi Market and Greektown are all uniquely Vancouver locales. They are at once exotic and completely Canadian, and all part of a dynamic cultural mosaic that is sure to intrigue any visitor and local alike.
Vancouver’s Chinatown, the second largest in North America (after San Francisco’s), is legendary. Originally founded by a marginalized community of Chinese railway workers in the 1880s, the area is steeped in a complex history that is sure to fascinate any visitor. This area can be difficult to navigate on one’s own, so hiring the services of a guide or joining a walking tour are great ways to ensure that you see the sights without missing hidden treasures.
A great place to start your visit to Chinatown is the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Gardens, the only authentic Ming Dynasty-era walled garden outside of China. Relax by the calming reflection pool, the sculpted gardens and enjoy the carefully plotted yin and yang, or partake in a tea ceremony in the pagoda. Near the gardens, do not miss a photo opportunity at the world’s skinniest place of business, the Sam Kee Building, near the Chinatown Gates. Built in 1913 to take advantage of a small slice of land left behind by city planners when they widened the road, the building is not much wider than a man’s outstretched arms, yet it still houses a thriving insurance business. Stroll down East Pender Street and stop by the New Sun Bakery, lauded by the New York Times for having the best Hong Kong-style apple tarts in the world.
The area known as “Little Italy” is a large one, stretching from the edge of Chinatown all the way to Hastings Park in Burnaby with its centre on Commercial Drive and Victoria Drive in East Vancouver. A wander through the area is like taking a step straight onto the streets of Calabria, the region of origin for the vast majority of Vancouver’s early Italian settlers. Enjoy authentic regional cuisine at one of the many Italian delis and restaurants along the way, experience some of the best independent Italian espresso bars in the city and sample traditional pastries at the Fratelli Bakery. The Italian Cultural Centre is a destination in itself for lively community and cultural events.
To experience South Asian culture, do not miss a visit to the Punjabi Market (“Little India”). A neighbourhood filled with a riot of vibrant colours, the exotic scent of traditional curries and the pumping beats of the latest Bollywood hits transport you to the streets of Amritsar, India. Located along Main and Fraser streets, the core between East 48th and East 54th avenues, this is as close as one can get to the Indian subcontinent in North America, the result of many generations of proud Indo-Canadians celebrating their culture. Savoury samosas, sweet barfi, gulab jamun and smooth lassis – the food here is divine, as is the shopping! Gorgeous silks, intricate saris and sparkly bangles make this a shopper’s heaven.
If you are in search of a bowl of phở ( Vietnamese noodle soup) or want to listen to some Southeast Asian pop music, then head to the area affectionately known as “Little Saigon,” or the “Phở Trail.” The result of a massive wave of immigration in the 1980s and 1990s, the area around Kingsway between Fraser and Knight streets is packed with video shops, karaoke bars, authentic bánh mì (baguette sandwiches on crispy bread made of wheat and rice flour) and phở noodle soup cafes. Known for some of the best Vietnamese food in Greater Vancouver, it is one of the city’s best kept secrets.
Greektown, the area around 4th Avenue, West Broadway and Balaclava Street in the heart of Kitsilano, historically has been home to a large Greek community and has a high number of delicatessens, tavernas and Greek supermarkets that sell mouthwatering spanakopita, souvlaki, gyros and baklava. Visit the unassuming, family-run Serano Greek Pastry for traditional Greek treats and desserts. A neighbourhood favourite, they are well known for their flavoured, rainbow-coloured meringues. For more information, visit tourismvancouver.com or insidevancouver.ca.