A May 2007 trip
to Vancouver by moatway
Quote: Our first trip to the West Coast! Are we living on the wrong coast?
Vancouver is a city of neighbourhoods. Plan to visit Gastown on Water Street…one end features a 2 ton steam clock at the corner of Cambie and the other features a statue of Gassy Jack Deighton, a voluble saloon keeper and local legend of the 19th century. Just a few blocks away is Chinatown, concentrated on West Pender. The entrance is marked by the Millenium gate on that street.
Granville Island and its market is probably a "must-see". The former industrial area of steel-corrugated buildings is being taken over by artists and restaurants. It can be accessed by the False Creek ferries (end of Thurlow). No visit to the city would be complete without a tour of Stanley Park; its features include the aquarium, totem poles, the hollow tree, Prospect Point (view toward North Vancouver), and unfortunately, at this point, a lot of downed trees from the storm of 2006.
Other than that, there are the aquarium, and a number of museums and natural sites. For upscale shopping there is busy Robson Street and for an ethnic feel and shopping, there is Davie Street. Another area that is being revived with restaurants and shops is Yaletown, but we didn’t have a chance to experience that for ourselves.
Downtown Vancouver is separated from most of the rest of the city by bridges. If you are booking a hotel, I suggest downtown as opposed to staying in an outlying community or near the airport because once there, many of the things that you want to see are within easy walking distance; it actually surprised me. Staying in the Robson Street area puts one in the midst of the shopping/restaurant theme, but our choice near Canada Place was equally as good.
For information on everything for tourists, go to www.tourismvancouver.com. And for a meal in a pleasant environment with sleek, modern decor, good food and prices that won’t break the bank, try Moxie’s Classic Grill. It’s a chain and there are five in Vancouver; we tried their restaurant in the Sandman Suites on Davie and were quite impressed.
Coming in from the airport you have three options: bus (which does a tour of the downtown hotels and is the cheapest option), taxi or limousine. I conferred briefly with the tourist info representative at the airport and at 5pm, she felt that the limo may be the best bet due to heavy traffic. I was surprised with the speed that our driver manoeuvred the big car downtown (just under an hour in the traffic) and thought that the total fare (including tax) of flat fee plus tip was a good deal.
For touring to Victoria or Whistler, or just going over to North Vancouver to see Grouse Mountain or Capilano, you might try the omnipresent Gray Line. (Gray Line). If you are leaving a cruise ship and want to travel to Seattle or Victoria, the simplest way may be by Pacific Coach Lines. (Pacific Coach). If you are determined to venture to the island on your own, ferries travel from Tsawwassen (to the south of the city) to Victoria and from Horseshoe Bay (to the north of the city) to Nanaimo. For information and ferry rates, go to B.C. Ferries.
Upon arrival, I went through an incredibly painless check-in experience and the service never stopped. Our room overlooked the harbour, although a new condo in front of the hotel is partially blocking the view. The room had floor-to-ceiling doors with a Juliette balcony for those who like the combination of fresh air and noise. The rest of the room was fairly mundane…two comfortable double beds, 20" TV, desk, hair-dryer, iron, and coffee; basically, what one would expect.
We seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time in the Coal Harbour Bar which has windows two stories high overlooking the harbour (and the new condo across the street). It is a pleasant ambience for a snack or a full meal. A second dining area, Patina, was open for breakfast only at the time of our visit. At the top of the hotel is the high-end Vista, one of Vancouver’s three revolving restaurants.
Although we weren’t particularly interested in using them, the hotel seems to offer complete business services and on the 4th floor, there is a fitness centre. The latter includes a fully equipped gym, dry sauna, swimming pool, and whirlpool. It’s clean, friendly, efficient, and provides excellent access to downtown Vancouver. See Renaissance Vancouver.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 31, 2007
Renaissance Vancouver Harbourside Hotel
1133 West Hastings Street
Vancouver, British Columbia V6E3T3
Restaurant | "Al Porto Ristorante Italiano"
Once in the door and down the stairs, you find yourself in an attractive and deceptively large room with a warm, inviting atmosphere. The ceiling is beamed and large oils hang on the walls which are in an eclectic variety of materials: a bit of stone, some brick, and plaster. Large arches painted in earth tones separate areas of the room. The tables are nicely set with white linens and, as darkness approaches, candles are set out. The restaurant has the ability to seat large parties or provide a romantic setting for two, though it is noisy, the site and the good food attract a large, enthusiastic clientele.
The menu is extensive, there are a variety of hors d’oeuvres and soups in the $7 range, pizza, meat, and fish dishes in the $20 to $25 area as well as pasta at about $16. The wine menu is equally extensive and features a large number of Italian wines displayed as varietals, B.C. wines, and many others. A bottle can go from about $30 to well over $100. A dessert menu features a few classics at about $7, and a wide range of dessert wine, scotches, and coffees.
We ordered bruscetta and both went for the spaghetti carbonara. It was all very good. With pre-dinner drinks, wine, and coffee, it came in at just under $100. But I haven’t mentioned the service. The wait staff is well-dressed, polite, and extremely efficient. We couldn’t have wished for more; a good experience.
Al Porto Ristorante
321 Water Street
Vancouver, British Columbia
The first floor housed "The Photograph as Theatre". It could as easily have been called the photograph as art, for the photographs were literally moments in dramatic time…some macabre, some vaguely erotic and others disturbing or thought provoking, but rarely mundane. They ranged in age from Henry Peach Robinson’s famous "Little Red Riding Hood" photos (1858), William Notman’s moose hunting series (1866) and the 1902 stereograph, "Mr. and Mrs. Turtledove’s New French Cook" to pieces done in the last few years.
The second floor was devoted to "House of Oracles, a Huang Yong Ping Retrospective." The collection featured many large works, so large that you have to wonder how they were brought to the floor. His "Python" is 131 feet long, and although it had been shortened for this space, it must have been assembled on site. One has to question the longevity of art as you see his sandcastle which will slowly crumble until it’s just a pile of sand.
Ping’s controversial "Theatre of the World", which featured a cast of reptiles and insects had been shut down three weeks before our visit. Unfortunately, the reptiles had insisted on eating the insects as well as the crickets that were being used to feed them and the SPCA thought that it was all too cruel. The cage which had held them was still on site, however, along with newspaper clippings that illustrated the struggle between artist and institution.
The third floor housed a retrospective of the work of Fred Herzog, a Vancouver photographer whose work provides a record of the city’s life over 50 years. While many photographs underline the change in the city, others record the banal details of city life.
As a whole, we found the visit enjoyable and would really have liked to have seen the Emily Carr and Group of Seven exhibit that was being prepared on the third floor. The galleries are well lit and well organized. Admission (2007) was $15. For information: Vancouver Art Gallery.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 31, 2007
Vancouver Art Gallery
750 Hornby St.
Vancouver, British Columbia V6Z 2H7
Attraction | "Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre"
But with that disappointment out of the way, we were able to watch the otters being fed and then go on to the beluga tank. The four snowy-white creatures can be seen from above or from viewing stations in the side of their tank. Their presence, with their benign faces, is what sets this aquarium apart.
Other than those exhibits, the aquarium is divided into several areas. The first is "The Treasures of the B.C. Coast". A number of tanks display marine life in different areas of the coast of the mainland and the island. In the Exploration Gallery, you’ll find jelly fish exhibits and various other interesting forms of sea life. Nearby, just for small children is a play area with a marine theme called Clownfish Cove.
In the Tropic Zone, you’ll pass through the Amazon Gallery. It’s more than just tropical fish as the visitor passes by tanks filled with Amazonian marine life into a rain forest with its colourful birds and tortoises. Your tropical journey continues past displays of reptiles, amphibians, and huge spiders; it’s all very entertaining and enough to make you cancel your plans for that jungle journey.
Other than that, you’ll find the rest of the usual suspects…beautiful tropical fish, some small sharks, giant clams, and tropical reefs. It makes for an interesting visit and it really is perfect for the whole family.
845 Avison Way
Vancouver, British Columbia V6B 3X8
Attraction | "H.R. MacMillan Space Centre"
The Space Center is divided into four areas. Your admission ($15 adult, 2007) gets you a timed entry to the Virtual Voyages Motion Simulator, so you are free to see the rest in the interim. The simulator takes you on a wild ride to the sun to save the colony on Mars. As with all such simulators, it’s well done, great fun, and a highlight of your visit. (A height restriction applies.)
You will probably spend most of your time in the Cosmic Courtyard. It uses computer simulations, displays, and a little humor to educate the public on the concerns of astronomers and astronauts; it’s all quite interesting. Displays dealt with subjects such as light pollution, man in space, and the effects of asteroids and meteorites on the earth. You can touch a moon rock or a 13kg meteorite, dock a space shuttle, explore the features of possible alien life, or design a voyage to Mars. There’s actually quite a bit to hold your attention.
Ground Station Canada is a theater in which presentations take you back to your physics classroom in a series of 20-minute lectures. Well, perhaps lecture was the wrong word, because if my physics class had been that well demonstrated, I may not have fallen asleep as much as I did. We saw the "Rocket Lab", but there were seven other subjects available through the day.
In the Planetarium Star Theater there are 40-minute presentations on a huge domed screen overhead as you sit in your comfortable chair. Some of the presentations feature rock music and lasers and on the weekends and holidays at the time of our visit there were five different offerings. For the full rock experience, consider taking in an evening show featuring lasers and the music of Pink Floyd or the Doors, etc. I regret that we were unable to attend an evening show and perhaps my only regret about this facility was that I couldn’t have stayed longer and seen more. See Space Centre.
HR Macmillan Space Centre
1100 Chestnut St
Vancouver, British Columbia V6J 3J9
+1 604 738 7827
Attraction | "The Museum of Anthropology at U.B.C."
There is a fascinating display on the revival of traditional Northwest indigenous art, particularly the contributions of Mungo Martin who spent his later years restoring totems. The museum occupies a site where the Musqueam tribe practiced their weaving skills; those skills have been revived and examples and stories are on display.
Many of the artifacts are housed in drawers and represent far more than the Northwest, although the research collection of native art, masks, and weaving from the area is remarkable. There are also extensive collections of Chinese, Japanese, and African pieces. The catalogue system looks a bit daunting, but once you try it, it is remarkably simple to find the provenance of any article that takes your fancy; it is also efficient if you are interested in a certain culture or art form. It may be possible to see a special exhibit; at the time of our visit, there was an exhibit called "The Village is Tilting", which featured masks and costumes from Malawi.
The pride of place in the museum is the Bill Reid Rotunda. It contains a number of works in different media by the Haida artist, but they pale in comparison to the beautifully set "The Raven and the First Men". (Raven found the first man in a clamshell after the flood. He cajoled them into coming out to enjoy the world.)
Walter Koerner enjoyed a long association with the museum and was pleased to be able to place his extensive collection of 600 ceramic pieces dating between 1500 and 1900 in it. The Koerner gallery is, essentially, the additional bonus to your visit. It is completely different from the other collections, but the late renaissance work is extremely interesting. The museum makes for a great visit.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 31, 2007
Museum of Anthropology at UBC
6393 North West Marine Drive
Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z2
Amid all this is a place of quiet serenity, the first classical Chinese garden constructed outside China and modeled on private gardens developed in the city of Suzhou during the Ming dynasty. The materials for the garden were imported from China and were assembled using traditional methods at a cost of $5.3 million (1986); the garden facilities were expanded in 2004 at a further cost of $1.9 million. The garden reflects the philosophy of yin and yang, life in balance; soft is juxtaposed with hard, darkness with light.
Your journey through this small, delightful space takes you past the China Maple Hall to the Hall of One Hundred Rivers. Always on your left are the elements of the garden itself, Tai Hu limestone rocks from China are next to flowering plum, stands of bamboo, and pine. The garden’s focal point is a ting, a graceful pavilion. It will strike you eventually that all this hardscape, as well as the soil and the plants around it, was brought here, that it is not natural to the site. A remarkable enterprise.
The visit is self-guiding with a brochure that explains the complexity of the garden’s symbolism as well as the nature and texture of the materials that were used in its construction. Next to the garden is a public park, accessible at no cost, which provides a continuation of the water features, flowers, and bamboo stands that make the garden so delightful. For information: Sun Yat Sen
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
578 Carrall St.
Vancouver, British Columbia V6B 5K2
(604) 662 3207
There has been a bridge on the site since 1889. Not the same bridge, of course. The current bridge is suspended by steel cables with some elasticity and the bridge’s anchors are designed to shift if they receive a heavy impact as they did during a powerful windstorm in November, 2006. At that time, a 46-ton Douglas fir fell across the bridge and failed to damage it. So when you’re crossing its 450 foot span across a deep gorge and the bridge is bouncing and swaying, worry not; it’s quite safe.
The site is more than just the bridge; there are interpreters, exhibits, and trails to follow. Before the bridge, we saw native artists, a turn of the century band, people in costume, a large gift shop, a restaurant and an outdoor grill. There are interesting historical accounts of how the bridge came to be there and the effort involved in getting the initial version across. Apparently, people from Vancouver were visiting around 1900, making the ferry ride to North Vancouver and then coming up to Capilano by horse-drawn wagon. Referred to as the "Capilano Tramps" for the 6-hour "tramp" to the site, they drew my admiration.
After crossing the bridge, you will find the Treetops adventure, a series of suspension bridges high in the trees. I wasn’t really aware of how high we had come—they go out over sloping land—until I looked down, but I felt totally secure. And if I can feel secure with a height it’s OK for elderly ladies and small children. There is also the Cliff Hanger Walk, a boardwalk that takes you around the edge of the gorge and under the suspension bridge.
Even with my initial caveat, it was really good fun, even with the rain. It would be absolutely glorious on a sunny day with time to sit under the trees and enjoy the site.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
3735 Capilano Road
Vancouver, British Columbia V7R 4J1
Attraction | "Granville Island Museums"
Entry is upstairs through a long room of static displays of Wilesco and Filgurez live steam models and Lionel trains from the 1920’s. The collections of trains include everything imaginable: there are huge collections of later Lionel trains, Marx, Hornby, and American Flyer rolling stock and engines. (A flashback: I saw a copy of my childhood American Flyer 4-6-2 L, as I recollect, it couldn’t hold the curves at high speed.) There are also collections of commercial HO locomotives and rolling stock as well as some scratch-built stock; it goes on and on.
The main attraction is a huge "O" gauge layout that uses both two and three rail tracks, over 6000 hand-made trees and 1000 feet of track. It has trestles, rock faces and wilderness, fly fishermen, fishing boats, and animals—all extremely well done. Maureen was so enraptured by the sight that she had to sit down and close her eyes.
And that’s just the trains. The collection of model boats is also extremely extensive. There are numerous fishing boats, working boats, a room of submarines, and another of battleships. It’s almost too much, but for the modeling enthusiast or for the little boy that lives inside every man, it’s brilliant. A perfect attraction for males of all ages and the women who put up with them. You can share the rapture at Model Ships or Model Trains.
Granville Island Model Trains Museum
1502 Duranleau St.
Vancouver, British Columbia V6H 3W7
First, there is the International Buddhist Society’s Buddhist Temple (9160 Steveston Highway, between No. 3 Road and No. 4 Road, Buddhist Temple). The largest Buddhist temple in Canada, its surrounding gardens and water features are quite remarkable. The main temple could be in China with its graceful classical features, porcelain roof tiles, and guardian lions. Inside, the scene is even more breathtaking; it is a place of worship and a golden Buddha, perhaps 20 or more feet tall, sits behind offerings of fruit and flowers. He is flanked by four golden statues as attendants tend to and arrange the offerings in front of him. Tall pillars in red, covered with small lights soar to the ceiling. Across the courtyard there is the Ksitigarbha Buddhisattva Hall with the same features and large golden effigies. Also on the property is the Worship Hall with its Amitabha Buddha and the Thousand Buddha Hall. I admit that I have never entered a Buddhist temple previously and may not understand the symbolism or the tenets of the faith, but the sheer artistry of the buildings and their surrounding gardens was outstanding.
Continuing down the Steveston Highway, we come to the area of Steveston proper. It was once the site of a small community gathered around the harbor and the cannery that was its sustenance. Except for the fact that Richmond has encroached on it, it still is. Like so many such places with some rustic beauty, it has become a bit trendy and quite popular. Along the Steveston harbor, there is a boardwalk and any number of restaurants and small shops. With access to the wharfs below, visitors can select fresh salmon or prawns off the boats moored there. It is fairly competitive with sockeye salmon going for $4-$5 a pound. If you can ignore the turbid, green water, it is all a picture postcard.
I had mentioned the cannery. Like most of British Columbia’s early canneries, it’s closed, at least as a cannery. The Gulf of Georgia Cannery(12138 4th Ave., Richmond Cannery) is now a National Historic Site. Your visit begins with a short film, "A Journey Through Time" in a theater which was once the home to one of the operation’s two giant boilers. It is possible to take a tour through the area, but the signage is excellent and it is possible to understand the process without much further explanation. The cannery is divided into two parts: the reduction plant and the canning line. We took the reduction plant tour and did the line ourselves. Closed for salmon production in 1929, the plant canned herring during World War II, and that was when the reduction plant was built to deal with the fish and parts of fish that didn’t go into cans. That material was reduced into solids (fish meal) and liquids (fish oil and solubles). The plant would eventually close in 1979. There was a bit of mind-numbing science and engineering in the reduction plant, but the salmon canning line was interesting and easy to understand. Also on site, there is an explanation of the different kinds of salmon and fishing techniques. It was all well done.
Riverview, New Brunswick