With a population of 2.5M, Vancouver is the third largest city in Canada. We haven't been here before, but we have made short visits to Vancouver, Washington (USA), not that far away. We had a good break here between the last Rocky Mountaineer transit and the first Polar Bear photography expedition of the season. We stayed downtown which occupies a pensinsula between the harbour and False Creek.
For our entire stay, it hardly stopped raining. There are 200 days a year of rain in Vancouver, but the city's open areas and sidewalks offer little protection, so we guess the locals are just trained to endure it. There is a small underground shopping precinct in downtown, but nothing like Toronto's maze of underground walkways (PATH), so there is always good business in umbrellas. We wore our raincoats on every outing, every day. The city is a blend of old and new, from the cobbled streets of Gastown to ultramodern towers like the Tellus telecommunications building.
Already shivering from a previous dunking, this young lady about to be plunged into the tub again in a fundraising promotion.
The city (well, both Vancouvers presumably!) is now named after George Vancouver who explored around here in 1792, and his name originates from the Dutch "Van Coevorden", denoting somebody from the city of Coevorden, Netherlands. Canada's Vancouver had the previous name of Gastown, now a district within downtown, named because of the talkative nature of a local publican Englishman John Deighton known as "Gassy Jack".
The steam clock in Gastown has interesting provenance. It's not that old. It's located over a vent in the old city's underground steam heating system, and local businessmen, concerned how homeless would be attracted there to warm up, in about 1970, commissioned horological artisan Raymond Saunders to design and build a clock over the vent. Steam powers the Westminster tuned whistles, and winds the clock.
Short video of the steam clock striking the hour.
Vancouver must be one of the world's most culturally and ethically diverse cities. People-watching reveals this, but the census statistics are that 51% of locals have a first-language other than English, and it's not French either! There's a very significant Asian population here, but everyone we had dealings with spoke excellent English. There's a federal election here in a day or two, so the campaign is at fever pitch. Illustrating this diversity, one of the major opposition party leaders is a very personable turban wearing Canadian born man of Indian descent. His New Democratic Party is not expected to win, however.
We made good use of local public transport, aided by a nicely loaded Compass swipe card given to us by a clogging buddy. The city has a subway system, and on the surface a network of trolley cars and buses which radiate out into the suburbs. The Compass card also covers the Seabus ferry which crosses the harbour (Burrard Inlet) to North Vancouver.
Highly mechanised ferry terminal allows for rapid turnarounds, but do we want to lose those beautiful old clunkers in Sydney?
On one excursion, in persistent rain, we caught a trolley to the Van Dusen Gardens, a botanic garden about 10km south of downtown. This compact garden was densely packed with floral colour and spectacle, and was well worth the visit, despite the weather. It was being set up with electric lights for Glow festival. According to its website "VanDusen Glow in the Garden returns for another season of festive enchantment. Join us this Halloween season for a walk through a new light show with unique features and magical moments. The old barred owl has played a Halloween trick by casting a 'hootenanny' spell and making it glow. Help Anna the hummingbird and her friends lift the spell as you journey through the garden." The Festival has just started, let's hope the weather improves!
On the south side of the Vancouver city peninsula is False Creek, so named because it's just an inlet, not the river it was thought to be. Within False Creek is Granville Island which was a densely packed industrial location in the 1920's but it went the way of much downtown industry, and by the 1970's was an industrial wasteland at which stage a Public Market was established which started a trend for the island to become the visitor and tourist hotspot that it is today. In steady rain, the island was packed with shoppers and sightseers for our visit.
False Creek has a cute little ferry service which zig-zags up and down its limited course in protected waters. You can buy single rides or day tickets, and it's a good way to visit Granville Island from downtown, although in finer weather, it would just be a pleasant walk over the Granville Street bridge.
The Granville Island public market sells many type of berries, but none more delicious than these Colombian golden berries which we sampled for 25c.
Resting eternally under the Granville Bridge, the Relief used to be a rum runner before it turned to legal pursuits.
One of many street art installations, this mesh mosque by a Saudi sculptor evokes imprisonment within religion.
Stanley Park, surrounded by waters of Burrard Inlet and English Bay, lies at the tip of the Vancouver Peninsula. It was named in the 1880's after Lord Stanley, a British politician who had recently been appointed Governor General. It's a large park (400ha), once rated as the "top park in the entire world" by Trip Advisor, which would have made for a fine visit and interesting walking if not for the rain. Much of the park's interior is (more or less) native forest Instead, we just skirted the edge, and stole a few snapshots. Notwithstanding the weather, the park was well patronised with visitors and a sodden-horse drawn carraige was still operating.
One night when we intended to have a ramen near our hotel (to avoid getting wet) we discovered crowds in the street packing all bars and restaurants. There was a Canadian Football League (playing American football) game on at BC Stadium which just happens to be next door to our Hampton Inn & Suites hotel. We did find space at an untrendy "watch us cooking" Chinese cafe which served us bland food on paper plates, so we didn't starve, but it was a near thing. The game, which we then watched in a bar, seemed to be between state teams British Columbia (orange) and Saskatchewan (green), and unfortunately for the home team, the visitors won.
Right next door to our hotel is the BC Place football stadium which served as the main stadium for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
We stumbled across filming of a "Supergirl" episode. Despite her powers, she could not keep the rain away.
When not dining on fast food, we mostly chose restaurants in Yaletown, an old industrial district which fell into ruin after the 1986 World Fair, but since reinvented into a trendy entertainment, dining and shopping precinct, many of these businesses on the ground floor of historical buildings. These restaurants are universally loud and busy, and we generally chose the one that we didn't have to wait to get into. No matter how expensive the restaurant, they all have televisions mounted on the walls showing baseball, football or hockey - every restaurant is a sports bar!
Our only out of town excursion was to Point Roberts, a long time bucket-list item unknown to most people. As Wikipedia says "Point Roberts is a pene-exclave [look it up!] of the United States on the southernmost tip of the Tsawwassen Peninsula, south of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada." It is an absurd artifact of the desk-based Oregon Treaty in 1846, when the US border with British territory was set to the 49th parallel. No-one realised that this excised a tiny patch (10sq.km) of soil in the Strait of Georgia from Canada, and when they did realise it, US authorities inexplicably refused to hand it back. There has been constant talk of Point Roberts (pop 1000) seceding from the U.S. and joining Canada, but it has never happened. In 1973, a drought almost caused hostilities, until a deal was struck to provide water from Canada.
Expecting no less, we had to go through the full immigration process as we crossed the border in both directions. The border officials from both countries probably have lunch together and laugh about the triviality of their work. There is a small shopping centre and a marina at Point Roberts, a haven for US yachtsmen, and a good view of the British Columbia ferry and goods terminals. Apart from that, not much! It was even quieter than we thought it would be. But we did find the Saltwater Cafe open, a quaint establishment with friendly staff, where we had a pleasent lunch and talked to some locals.
All in all, we spent 2 hours in Point Roberts, and we drove virtually every street. Apparently most visitors spend less than 15 minutes, so we feel like long-stayers. It was an enjoyable visit, and sitting in our rental car was a good way to spend time in mediocre weather. And we won't have to go back again!