Canada’s most beautiful city welcomes the world’s finest winter athletes. Vancouver’s location on Burrard Inlet, set against a magnificent backdrop of coastal mountains, make it exceedingly pleasing on the eye. It’s Canada’s third largest city yet its economical scale and sensible layout make it easy for visitors to navigate.
Vancouver enjoys a benign climate compared with the rest of Canada. Locals say their hometown is the warmest place in the country both in temperature and conviviality, an assessment that gels with a recent Economist poll rating Vancouver as the world’s most livable city.
All these elements will prove fundamental to the successful hosting of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, which are a golden opportunity for Vancouver to dazzle the world with its natural visual charm, its warm hospitality and appropriate urban élan.
The Games, from 12th to 28th February, are followed by the Winter Paralympics from 12th to 21st March. These are both tremendous sporting occasions yet nowhere near the size and scale of the Summer Olympics extravaganza. That’s just as well, for Vancouver eschews urban crunch and overblown grandeur. This is a city blessed with a finely honed sense of proportion and style.
The most obvious expression of refined public taste is the magnificent Vancouver Public Library, a graceful, curvilinear building by Moshe Safdie and a design chosen by popular vote. It was by far the most radical proposal put forward. As we rode past on the Vancouver Tourist Trolley our driver proudly announced, “you can thank me for that beautiful building … along with several thousand other local residents.”
Significantly, the inner city refuses to surrender its soul to the urban mall, far preferring to spin its tale of local creativity and savoir-faire in a more intimate manner. The finest examples of local fashion and design ingenuity are to be found in tiny shops and idiosyncratic galleries on the streets and lanes of Yaletown, Gastown, SoMa and South Granville. (See Visitor Style Notes)
The four compass points of prime interest to most visitors are Stanley Park, Chinatown, Gastown and Granville Island, with each within easy walking distance of the heart of Downtown, the corner of Robson and Burrard.
Stanley Park’s 1000 green acres contain magnificent forest with walking trails threaded between the stately cedar, fir and hemlock trees. The park also has manicured gardens, beaches and a rocky shoreline, cafes and restaurants. It’s both wildlife haven and a favourite of cyclists, joggers, walkers and anyone else seeking exercise in the fresh air. The birthplace of lululemon athletica is an actively health-conscious city.
Vancouver’s Chinatown is one of the largest in North America and testament to a history of immigration that’s made Vancouver one of the world’s most culturally diverse cities. The delightful Dr Sun Yat Sen Classical Garden provides a tranquil focus amid these lively streets.
Gastown was named after garrulous 19th Century saloon owner “Gassy” Jack. This popular precinct has Victorian architecture, cobbled streets and a landmark steam-operated clock. The cavernous Steamworks Brewing Company on Water Street is a top spot for feeling the city’s pulse, particularly after work on a Friday.
Granville Island’s wonderful fresh produce market is flanked with bakeries, cafes and waterside restaurants. This revamped industrial zone also has artist studios, a design institute, boutique brewery and hotel. Fresh salmon and spot prawns can be bought off fishing boats at the public dock near where the popular Go Fish seafood shack sells scallop sandwiches, halibut burgers and oyster or tuna tacones (wraps).
The Winter Olympic venues are liberally spread between Vancouver City and Richmond, 14 kilometres to the south, Cypress Mountain to the west of the city and the Whistler-Blackcomb area, about 120 kilometres to the northeast. Ticket holders for events in Whistler or on Cypress Mountain will likely have to use the Olympic bus network. Permits will be needed for private cars wanting to use the Sea to Sky Highway 99 north of Squamish to Whistler during daylight hours.
There’s no question which sport will grab the most attention. Ice hockey is the national obsession and the crowning glory of these Games would be Canada winning hockey gold. GM Place stadium in the city centre, home to the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, has patriotically been renamed Canada Hockey Place for the men and women’s tournaments. Matches will also be played at the University of British Columbia’s Thunderbird Arena.
The opening and closing ceremonies and many medal presentations will take place beneath the billowing air-supported white Teflon dome of the adjacent BC Place, home of the BC Lions football team and regularly used for major events.
The new Richmond Olympic Oval will host the speed skating and curling will be contested at the Olympic Centre in the Riley-Hillcrest neighbourhood, also south of the city. Figure skating and short-track speed skating be at the Pacific Coliseum at Hastings Park in the city’s east. It’s home to the Vancouver Giants junior ice hockey team.
The recently opened Canada Line linking Vancouver’s airport to the city waterfront has cut arrival and departure transfers to an easy 30-minute ride while also effectively linking these sports venues.
Anyone in Vancouver without Olympic tickets can catch the action for free on massive outdoor screens at two live sites, one in David Lam Park on False Creek opposite the Olympic Village and the other in Beatty Street on the site of a former bus depot. The proximity of these two free sites will ensure a party atmosphere along the streets linking Yaletown with Gastown. Live-screen sites are also planned for Richmond and Whistler.
Cypress Mountain, a popular ski area only 30 kilometres from the city, is the venue for Olympic freestyle skiing (aerials, moguls, ski-cross) and snowboarding events.
Both Blackcomb and Whistler will be wide open for public skiing during the Games, with some amazing vantage points awaiting those prepared to tackle the slopes. Only a fraction of the two mountains are devoted to the Olympics with alpine skiing events focused on Whistler Creekside. Blackcomb’s new luge, bobsleigh and skeleton track promises to provide some of the most furious and thrilling Olympic action yet curiously has the vapid name Whistler Sliding Centre. Nightly medal presentations will occur at a special outdoor celebration plaza in Whistler Village.
The spectacular ski jumping competitions will be held at Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley, some 16 kilometres from the Village. This snow park will also host the cross-country skiing, Nordic combined and biathlon as well as Paralympics cross-country skiing and biathlon. Athletes will use a shuttle service between these venues and the Olympic Village in the Cheakamus Valley about a 20 minutes drive from Whistler.
Visitor style guide
The best designer clothing being made in Vancouver is found in a liberal sprinkling of individually owned clothing and accessory outlets. Tracking them down is an adventure in itself. Yaletown and Gastown are good places to start your search. There are also independent clothing and jewellery boutiques in SoMa (South Main) between 20 and 25th Avenues while South Granville has a growing reputation for small art galleries and clothing outlets.
Brooklyn Clothing Co, 418 Davie St, Yaletown (phone 604-683-2929) has Hardi Hood (Vancouver) hoodies and t-shirts, Matt and Nat (Vancouver) faux leather bags and murses (man-purses) , and Mackage (Montreal) leather double jackets and fronted half coats.
Locally fashioned accessories much in demand include recycled bicycle chain belt buckles and silver jewellery by Pyrrha. Half and full length parkas and bomber jackets with coyote fur hood trim by Canada Goose are likely to be a hit with visiting Olympic athletes. Brooklyn also carries an expansive range of denim from Europe and US including Nudie, True Religion and G-Star.
Roden Gray, 231 Cambie Street, Gastown (phone 604 689 7302) has Wings + Horn shirts, pre-shrunk tiger fleece hoodies and sweatshirts as well as Sans Vanite T-shirts (both Vancouver designers) along with 18 Waits jewellery, T-shirts and accessories from Ontario. You’ll also find Nom de Guerre clothing from the US (www.nomdeguerre.net) and US label Band of Outsiders. See Roden Gray blog
Vancouver’s celebrated cobbler John Fluevog has been creating “unique soles for unique souls” for 40 years. His design studio and retail outlet is a converted warehouse at 65 Water Street, Gastown. Vogs are made in Poland and Portugal with limited editions made in Vancouver. Phone (604) 688 6228
Two of a Few, 356 Water Street Gastown, phone (604) 605 0685, has select shoes and apparel for women and men including Ashley Watson (Vancouver) recycled leather bags and wallets.
Dream: Apparel and Articles for People, 311 West Cordova, Gastown (phone 604 683 7326) was voted best local designer store 2009 in a Georgia Straight poll. It’s around the corner from Two of a Few.
One of Vancouver’s best-known clothing exports is lululemon athletica, which started 11 years ago in the Kitsilano neighbourhood near Granville Island. It now has stores all over Canada, the US and Australia.
Joe Fortes Seafood and Chop House, 777 Thurlow Street, (phone 604 669 1940) is a city icon that’s been wowing diners for 25 years with its sheer panache. A grand, theatrical room with central brass bar and curving brass staircase sets the tone for a feast served by savvy waiters in classic white jackets.
The Greedy Pig, 307 Cordova Street, Gastown, (phone 604 669 4991) highlights local artisan products such as pulled pork, truffle roast beef, pig pot pie with whisky and bourbon cocktails and precise wine list.
Cioppino’s, 1133 Hamilton Street, Yaletown (phone 604 688 7466 is rated for both its Italian fare and extensive wine list, winning gold as Vancouver Magazine’s best restaurant 2009.
C restaurant, 1600 Howe Street (phone 604 681 1164) represents the acme of power dining Vancouver style. It’s top dog in a triumvirate run by restaurateur Harry Kambiolis, his other outlets being Nu and Raincity Grill.
Olympic travel tips
Air Canada is the only airline offering daily non-stop flights between Sydney and Vancouver. Phone 1300 655 767 or visit Air Canada
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Tourism: Visitors Info
Twitter: My Vancouver