Vancouver, B.C.

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Although a long way from Europe (Latitude: N 49º 16’ 36” / Longitude: W 123º 07’ 15”), Vancouver has thousands of tourists and visitors every year from there and indeed from all over the world. Despite that, locals (myself included) have knowledge to impart that should make the visitors' stay more enjoyable and informative.

To begin with, a wildly truncated history with comments:

500 BC: Settled by the Coast Salish people- these people took advantage of the abundant game in the forests, the teeming seafood in and on the beaches and the huge runs of salmon in the Fraser river.

1592 AD: Spain claimed the west coast of North America by virtue of the Treaty of Tordesillas, which was signed in 1494. Vancouver has a number of streets named after Spaniards: Cordova, Cardero, Valdez and Narvaez.

1792: Captain George Vancouver arrives and meets with Spanish captains Valdez and Galiano at the beach subsequently named Spanish Banks (English Bay got its name as part of the deal as well).

1808: The trader and explorer Simon Fraser arrives overland (and on the river that would be named after him).

1827: Hudson's Bay Company builds a trading post on the Fraser River. The department store chain that evolved from that company sells lots of touristy things along with five floors of other things at the corner of Georgia and Granville streets.

1858: Over 25,000 prospectors follow the Gold Rush. More money than the value of the gold collected is made by outfitters in Vancouver and elsewhere that sold shovels and the like at inflated prices. Robson street keeps up that over inflated price idea alive today.

1867: "Gassy Jack" Deighton opens a saloon for forestry workers on the shore of Burrard Inlet. The origin of his nickname has several theories including Jack's long windedness, his digestive system and natural gas street lights. The saloon became so popular a community built up around the place and calls itself Gastown. Gastown is still another place to buy tourist gear, this time from old buildings. Good food, though.

1870: Gastown is incorporated as the town of Granville.

1884: The Canadian Pacific Railway moves to Coal Harbour.

1886: 1,000 people strong, Granville is incorporated as the City of Vancouver, first mayor- M.A. McLean. The entire city was burned to the ground that same year.

1887: The CPR's first train arrives at the end of the first transcontinental trip. We haven't been able to stop the trickle of Easterners since.

1889: The first Granville Street bridge is completed, presently the latest of three was built in 1954. The South end of the bride is over Granville Island, which isn't really an island at all but a peninsula full of shops, theatres, a huge Farmer's Market that features fresh flowers, produce, seafood and baked goods and various other endeavours that lease their land from the federal government.

1889: The original Capilano Suspension Bridge built. Today's version continues to scare tourists to the point of incontinence.

1890: Electric streetcars begin operating. Now we all wish we had them back.

1891: The city's first tram-based public transit system, the Interurban starts up. The right of way is now used by an elevated transit system called 'Skytrain'. More on that later.

1898: The Nine o'clock Gun is placed at Brockton point and fired every evening to signal a curfew. It still fires blanks every night today, temporarily deafening tourist passer bys who don't read the notice..

1909: The Dominion Trust Building, the city's first skyscraper opens at Hastings and Cambie. Now it's barely visible beside the giant glass monsters.

1911: Canada's first artificial ice rink, the Arena opens- at the time the largest indoor ice rink in the world.

1915: The Vancouver Millionaires become Stanley Cup champions. The curse begins.

1915: The University of British Columbia opens, currently there are more than 17,000 students.

1920: Vancouver grows bigger than Winnipeg, which was before then the largest city in Western Canada.

1925: The first Second Narrows Bridge connects the city with North Vancouver. North and West Vancouver begin to be generally snobbish about how much nicer they are than Vancouver.

1936: The new City Hall at 12th Avenue and Cambie is dedicated in it's classic Art Deco style. In my mis-spent youth there was a pub across the street called 'The Jolly Alderman'. Alas, it is no more but the memories live on.

1938: The Lions Gate Bridge is completed so a real estate company can at last sell the property it bought on the North Shore- that company was owned by the Guinness family. Guinness also built one of most beautiful examples of Art Deco architecture in the world- the Marine building. You may have seen it in many films, including as the headquarters of the Fantastic Four.

1939: The landmark Hotel Vancouver is completed.

1954: The 5th British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver. The games featured the Miracle Mile, in which two runners-Roger Bannister and John Landy-both broke the 4:00 minute mark for the mile, the first sports event televised to all North America.

1959: The Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the Vancouver Maritime Museum and the George Massey (Deas Island) Tunnel all open. Finally, something to do!

1964: For the first of many times the BC Lions win the Canadian Football League's Grey Cup. Soon to be repeated many times.

1970: The Vancouver Canucks lose their first game in the National Hockey League against the Los Angeles Kings. The curse continues.

1979: The Vancouver Whitecaps win the North American Soccer League championship.

1983: BC Place Stadium inflates and becomes the world's largest air-supported dome (now converted to a convertible roof- is that a sentence?).

1985: SkyTrain (the on ground, above ground and underground transit 'subway') retraces in part one of Vancouver's original Interurban tram lines and is named the "Expo" line- followed by the Millennium and Canada lines.

1986: Expo 86, the largest special category (transportation) World Exposition ever staged in North America breaks records. Great party!

1988: The first Vancouver Gay Pride Festival. Great party!

1994: The Vancouver Canucks reach the Stanley Cup finals but lose in the final moments of the final game. The BC Lions football team won the Grey Cup for the second time in their history. Bad riot, great party!

1995: The new Vancouver Public Library , General Motors Place (currently Rogers Arena), Ford Centre for the Performing Arts (now The Centre) all open. More to do!

1997: The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts opens at the University of British Columbia, offering year round performance by University programs, touring companies and local performers.

1999: Vancouver creates the 2010 Olympic Bid team to organize the proposal to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. By July, 2004, Vancouver is selected.

2000: The annual Polar Bear Swim, started in 1920 by a local restaurant owner, Peter Pantages, reaches a record of 2,128 swimmers. Great excuse to get warm!

2001: 200 movie and television productions are filmed in Vancouver in one year. The term "Hollywood North" is used commonly. Only 'Cousins' gets universal critical acclaim- probably because of Isabella Rossellini.

2002: The Economist magazine's Intelligence Unit ties Vancouver and Melbourne as the World's Top City to live in. Melbourne has less rain, though. Interesting to note that in 2011 they bumped Vancouver down several notches because of a traffic problem 80 miles and a ferry trip away.

2003: Mercer Human Resource Consulting rates Vancouver as top city in North America for quality of life. .....and they are?

July 1 - Canada Day - 2004, Vancouver is selected as the Host City for 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Rogers Arena broadcasts the announcement live to a sold out crowd, while celebrations take place across the city.

The Climate and some stats:

-Vancouver has one of the mildest climates in Canada with temperatures averaging around 3 degrees Celsius in January and 18 degrees Celsius in July.

-It covers 114.7 sq km (44.3 sq miles), and is part of Metro Vancouver, the third largest metropolitan area in Canada, with a population of 2.1 million (2006 census). In this guide, I will be referring to both the City of Vancouver and Metro Vancouver.

-The percentage of Vancouver residents whose first language is English is 49.1 per cent and Chinese is 25.3 per cent.

-Vancouver has Canada's largest and most diversified port, trading $75 billion in goods annually.

-Vancouver has been named the best city for quality of life many times over the years. Internationally, in 2006 for example, Zurich topped the list of over 350 cities, scoring 108.2, followed closely by Geneva (108.1) and Vancouver (107.7).

Places to stay, things to do:

A few of the many touristy things-

The Sylvia Hotel is a great place to stay, built in 1912 it qualifies as old in this city. No two of the rooms are the same, it's ivy covered brick walls are situated across the street from the sandy beaches of English Bay and a short walk to Stanley Park. Great little pub on the main floor as well. At the high end are the Pan Pacific, Fairmont and Vancouver hotels, all high in the star list.

Stanley Park, oh my! This one acre park has a lake and miles of unpaved paths through it. It is surrounded by an eight mile paved walking path called the Seawall which has been extended around most of the parts of Vancouver proper that border the ocean. Getting back to the park, it has within in it a miniature railroad, the Vancouver Aquarium, an Aboriginal totem pole collection, a cricket pitch, three swimming beaches and a public outdoor pool. All started by the same Lord Stanley that donated the cup to hockey.

Grouse, Seymour and Cypress mountains. Skiing in the Winter and Spring, biking and hiking in the Summer and Fall. In the Spring these mountains are famous for the statement that you can ski in the morning and sail in the afternoon here.

The Capilano Suspension Bridge (pay) A footbridge 230 feet above and 450 feet across Capilano River, this attraction is not for the faint of heart. There are tree-to-tree 'walks' suspended high above the forest floor as well.

The Seabuses. A6951701 Started in 1985 and still going strong.

The narrowest building in the world as defined by the Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley's Believe it or Not is the Sam Kee building in Vancouver's Chinatown. It was added to the side of a building that had an ownership conflict and right of way issues in 1912 and is only about 6 feet deep.

The Gastown Steam Clock- a public steam-powered clock that was designed in 1875 but was actually created in 1977 by a local chorologist. It is powered by steam and some electricity, with the time changes whistled by steam.

Canada's busiest harbour by metric tonnage is Coal Harbour, Vancouver's main seaport when added to the container ports in the Greater Vancouver area. Just across the water (100 km.) is Victoria, the site of the largest seaplane activity centre in Canada, with most of those flights to and from Vancouver.

Where the locals go-

Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge (free). Called one of our "best kept secrets', the bridge and surrounding forest are all free, since 1912. Swimming holes with diving cliffs, waterfalls, lush forests and an Ecology Centre are all included and anyone can take public transportation there.

The Grouse Grind is not free unless you walk back down ($5 CDN for a one way ride) but it is a fresh mountain air, beautiful scenery alternative to a Stairmaster. Length: 1.8 miles, elevation gain: 2,800 feet, base: 900 feet above sea level, summit: 3,700 feet, total number of stairs: 2,830. Average rate of completion- 1.5 hours. The record (2011)- 28 minutes and 48 seconds (yes, you pay to use the timer).

The Drive is a 16 block long street (Commercial Drive) that is a magnet for artists, activists and artichoke ice cream. Originally the 'Little Italy' of Vancouver it is now an ethnically diverse collection of coffee shops, restaurants, bars and stores. The original home of the twice yearly "No Car Weekend" Festival, the Parade of Lost Souls, the Vancouver International Fringe Festival, East Side Pride, the Children's Mini Grand Prix and bars that serve all night during World Cup.

The Avalon Dairy delivers milk in glass bottles and still has a farm in a quiet neighbourhood of South Vancouver. Most of it's milk comes from the Fraser Valley miles away but there are still dairy cows on the farm (1.26 acres surrounded by houses) and the deli there serves their organic dairy products with the usual deli fair.

The Punjabi Market is a stretch of shops and restaurants a bare 6 blocks long on South Main Street. Definitely worth the visit if only for the sari shops and restaurants.

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