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Introduction top

Hi, Iím Rudy Maxa, literally standing on the cross roads between East and West in a sunny corner of Canada. Join us as we explore Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, next on "Smart Travels—Pacific Rim".

Weíre visiting Vancouver and its sister city Victoria. With mountains off their back porch and the sea at their door step, British Columbians thrive on love for the outdoors and a laid back, active life style. While Victoria maintained close ties with its British Heritage, Vancouver is one of North Americaís most cosmopolitan, international and multicultural cities.

Vancouver is never too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. When the rains falls, itís a fine mist—just enough to keep the surrounding Douglas Fir forests green and verdant. For climate alone, Vancouver is a popular destination any time of the year.

To see for ourselves, weíve come to the south eastern corner of Canadaís far western Province of British Columbia. Later in this half-hour weíll take the BC Ferry across the Strait of Georgia to the Provinceís Parliamentary seat, Victoria.

 

Vancouver top

British Columbia is Canadaís door to the Pacific Rim—a region with a European heritage looking toward a future in Asia. This mix of East and West, nature and society, traditions and modernity inspires a dynamic, young and exciting city.

The mix of cultures, attitudes, and life styles offers the unexpected at every turn. Asian and European culinary traditions boosted by local fresh fruits, vegetables and fish make Vancouver one of my favorite places to dine. Downtown apartments and condominiums team with young, cosmopolitan and international residents ensuring the nightlife swings in downtown Vancouver.

 

Metropolitan Hotel top

Our hotel is a good example of this dynamic mix. It caters to the highest standards of European luxury, and international business travelers will find what they need too.

 

Gettin' Around Town top

Staying downtown at the Metropolitan is convenient and it helps to get your bearings in Vancouver. Just east of downtown is Gastown and China Town, and of course the West End is just west of us. Now donít get that confused with the West Side near the University of British Columbia just SOUTH West of here, or West Vancouver just to the NORTH West across Burrard Inlet. Thatís just WEST of the NORTH Shore. Then there is Asia WEST, a few miles SOUTH by the airport. I still get confused with Granville Island. Itís not really an island; of course it is on False Creek...Never mind, letís just go to the oldest part of town, Gastown.

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For help gettin' around town by bike, bus, SeaBus, or SkyTrain, visit the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority.

For more on Vancouverís patchwork of neighborhoods, and just where you can find them, check out www.vancouver.com and www.trailcanada.com.

 

Gastown, Part 1 top

Letís face it, compared to cities in Europe and most of the Eastern U.S.A. or Canada, calling this an "historic district" seems kind of silly. The oldest buildings are barely a hundred years old! Yet this is the birthplace of modern Vancouver.

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To familiarize yourself with the district, take a virtual walking tour at www.city.vancouver.bc.ca.

 

Storyeum / City History top

To get the lowdown on this exciting story visit the cityís coolest new attraction: Storyeum. This slick multi-media theatre captures that story from pre-history to modern times in verse and song. The story includes early explorers, the Hudson Bay Company and British Columbiaís tumultuous relations with its southern neighbor. When gold was discovered on the nearby Fraser River in 1859 the area became a rough and tumble frontier out post filled with lumberjacks, sailors, gold miners, and other characters of questionable intention.

When "Gassy Jack" Deighton finally arrived in 1867 with a barrel of whiskey, a small collection of shacks soon surrounded the salon keeperís tent.

In 1870 this small group of buildings incorporated as the town of Granville although locals still called it Gastown. About ten years later, the Canadian Pacific Railroad arrived and in 1886 the growing population of one thousand souls changed the townís name to the City of Vancouver.

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You can browse a searchable database of births, deaths, and marriages during the Vancouverís early years at search.bcarchives.gov.bc.ca.

Immediately the newly christened city burned to the ground. Out of the ashes arose modern Vancouver.

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For a quick rundown of Vancouver history, visit www.tourismvancouver.com.

 

Gastown, Part 2 top

Visiting a popular tourist attraction is always a mixed bag. Here youíll find all the tacky tourist shops with the "Kiss me I'm Canadian" T-shirts.

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For information on the shops, galleries, and restaurants youíll find in Gastown, visit gastown.org.

But you will also find yourself in the midst of pleasant sidewalk cafes, good restaurants and the best vintage clothing boutiques and modern art galleries in the city.

 

First Nation Art top

Iím looking for a unique gift and Gastown has a number of shops specializing in authentic "First Nation" art.

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Here are some of the shops featuring First Nation art:
Heritage Canada     Hillís Native Art     Inuit Gallery of Vancouver
Marion Scott Gallery      Spirit Wrestler Gallery

 

Museum of Anthropology top

For a closer look into British Columbiaís pre-European past weíre headed to the Museum of Anthropology on the University of British Columbia campus. The museum has prized findings from around the world, but we are focused on the spectacular permanent exhibition of First Nation artifacts and art.

The term "First Nation" refers to the people who settled in this area between eighteen and thirteen thousand years ago. With bountiful salmon and sea life and plenty of wild game in the forests the Salish were able to settle in permanent villages, develop a complex culture and not take up traditional farming.

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For some history of contact between European explorers and First Nation peoples, visit www.hallman.org.

British Columbiaís First Nation developed complex societies based on fishing, hunting and gathering.

The totem pole, now a symbol of the First Nationís rich cultural and religious heritage, was nearly lost due to repressive government policies and disapproving Christian missionaries. By 1920, most totem poles had been carted away by collectors or left to rot in abandoned villages. In 1950 the University of British Columbia started a totem pole restoration project. The results are on display here.

Part of the projectís goal was to encourage contemporary First Nation artists this traditional art form. This exciting renaissance produced new and impressive works such as The Raven and the First Men by Haida artist Bill Reid. The wood sculpture depicts the moment when the powerful and wise Raven finds the first Haida people in a clam shell and coaxes them out.

Outside you will find a reconstruction of a Haida house. If you look closely you will notice that the post and beam construction is the inspiration for the Museum of Anthropology itself. Canadian architect Arthur Erickson based the museumís award-wining design on traditional First Nation structures.

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To learn more about the Museum of Anthropology and the First Nations, visit www.moa.ubc.ca where you can also take a virtual tour.

 

Stanley Park top

First Nation peoples felt a strong connection with the surrounding forests, mountains and water. Modern Vancouverites have kept alive a stunning bit of that spirit, smack in the heart of their city. Our next stop, Stanley Park, is the natural choice for a casual walk during lunch or a vigorous jog after work.

One thousand acres of trails, beaches, forests and lakes spread out, right next to downtown Vancouver. Tennis, gardens, an aquarium and pastoral solitude await tourists and busy urbanites alike.

Of course, a love affair with nature is easy when nature stares back, everywhere you look.

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For a detailed map of the park, go to www.city.vancouver.bc.ca.

 

Grouse Mountain top

Across Burrard Inlet and beyond the North Shore is Grouse Mountain. Just minutes from downtown, these natural get-a-ways host hiking and mountain biking in the summer and skiing in the winter.

The easiest way to access this natural wonderland is on the Skyride to the top of Grouse Mountain. From the top, you can take nature walks or catch a lumberjack show. Long a northwest tradition, these athletes show off the skills once important to their craft. Of course in the winter, these hills are alive with thousands of locals and tourists sushing down some of North Americaís best ski slopes.

 

Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre top

For a more contemplative outdoor experience you can plan a stop at the nearby Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre. Itís much less touristy—a plus—and a great place to get to know the plants, animals, geography and ecology of the North American rainforest. Kids love it and the center caters to their needs with a variety of activities. For me, one of the best parts is the 20 story high suspension bridge across Lynn Creek.

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Test your knowledge of temperate rainforests at www.dnv.org. If you need to get a little studying in beforhand, go to www.scsc.k12.ar.us.

Rudy: Boy, this is a, this bridge is a, I noticed is rocking back and fourth. Is this a safe suspension bridge?

Ranger: It is yes, itís inspected a once a week. And the cables...

Rudy: When was the last time it was, like...

Ranger: Friday, yes every Friday it is inspected.

Rudy: This is gorgeous. Its like the forest primeval. Its really gorgeous. This doesnít seem like a Rain Forest. I associate rain forest with South American, tropic, humid, weather.

Ranger: Warm weather, yea. No, the west cost of Vancouver is a temperate rain forest.

Rudy: Temperate Rain Forest.

Ranger: The climate is much cooler. And we do get quite a lot of rain, over 200 millimeters of rain a year.

 

Chinese Immigrants top

Out here in the rainforest itís easy to forget we are only minutes from one of the most urban, multicultural cities in North America. When gold was discovered in 1858, twenty five thousand prospectors flooded into the area. Thousands of these hopeful prospectors came from China.

Thousands more came during the 1880ís to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway over the Rocky Mountains, and another wave of immigrants came north to escape harsh anti-Chinese laws in the United States. The Asian immigrants settled in Vancouver and helped create the third largest Chinatown in North America. During the 1980ís affluent Chinese flocked to British Columbia when the British Government Ceded Hong Kong to mainland China. Chinese is now the Provinceís most spoken language after English.

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Youíll find details of the British-Chinese joint declaration regarding Hong Kong at www.hkbu.edu.hk.

 

Aberdeen Centre top

But old Chinatown did not appeal to these newly minted Canadians, so Richmond, a suburb just south of Vancouver, became the new Asia West.

The Aberdeen Centre is a tangible representation of Vancouver blending the best of the East with the best of the West. To me, this state of the art shopping and entertainment center is more reminiscent of the new Singapore or Hong Kong than of old China. Groceries, department stores, restaurants and entertainment all in a dazzling display of Asia Now.

And where else can you sample dim sum, check out the newest electronics from Asia, or sample authentic Chinese tea all under one roof?

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For a little history on the development of Aberdeen Centre, check out www.aberdeencentre.com.

The Aberdeen Centre is a great place to play and shop, especially on a rainy day, but the sun is out so weíre off to visit the one of the most popular destinations for Vancouverites and visitors alike—Granville Island.

 

Granville Island top

The name Granville Island, like many place names in Vancouver, is a little misleading. Granville is more a peninsula than an Island. It lies across False Creek from downtown, but False Creek is not really a creek. I think I got it?

Once a collection of rusty factories and warehouses, Granville Island is now a thriving public market and arts center. The Island houses dozens of galleries, crafts stores, a maritime market, an art school, theatres, museums and restaurants.

Local farmers pedal their fresh produce and fishermen offer up their daily catch.

 

Granville Island Brewery top

British Columbianís taste for fresh food even extends to their beer. Granville Island was the first Canadian Microbrewery and one of a hand full of breweries that spearheaded the North American beer renaissance.

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For a rundown of different styles of beer, check out the beer styles index.

Lana: We brew in smaller batches and we brew according to the Bavarian Purity Law which means there is only water, yeast, hops and malt in most of our beers.

Rudy: And do you brew right here, on the premisis?

Lana: We do indeed.

Rudy: Well what do you suggest I taste?

Lana: Well the Pilsner is brewed right here.

A Pilsner is a light, tangy, refreshing summer beer as opposed to the heaver, darker, bitter ales. Iím in the mood for something light soI suggest their fruity, unfiltered Wheat Beer, the Robson Street Hefeweizen.

Rudy: Wow, I like that. Do you drink beer?

Lana: Oh, I love beer.

Rudy: Youíre not tired of it?

Lana: Oh well, when they come up with new limited release beers all the time I canít get tired.

Rudy: Well, cheers!

Lana: Youíre welcome, enjoy

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TIP To learn more about Granville Island Brewing, visit: www.gib.ca.

To find a brew pub in British Columbia, check out http://realbeer.com.

To find a brew pub in the U.S., check out www.brewpubzone.com.

 

Aquabus top

Even though Granville is not an island, the easiest way to get back downtown is to take the Aquabus. The aquabus will drop us off at several locations downtown or we can stay on board for a water tour of Vancouver. Weíre just crossing False Creek to one of the cityís hottest new neighborhoods, Yaletown.

 

Yaletown top

With its large, young, downtown population Vancouverís nightlife is a seven nights a week affair, and Yaletown buzzes with the trendy restaurants and avant-garde nightclubs favored by the locals. Just remember, during the summer the term "after dark" in Vancouver is a relative term. It often doesnít get dark till after 10:00 p.m.

The point is, no matter your taste or inclination; youíll find plenty to do in Vancouver after dark. Enjoy a late night snack, an intimate drink among friends, sidewalk dining or a little shopping. Vancouverís multiculturalism ensures a wide variety of places to eat.

 

Diva at the Met Restaurant top

We are going back to our hotel—which just happens to house one of Vancouverís award winning restaurants. Diva at the Met is an example of why Vancouver is high on the culinary map. We have already seen the cityís many cultural influences and Chefs such as award winning Ray Henry know why that makes a difference.

Chef Henry: I think what makes Vancouver unique is the diverse cultures that are so close together here. I mean three blocks away we have Chinatown, we have a little India here and itís very influential on how we work here.

Chef Henry: We might take one or two flavors and tweak it a little bit, give it a French influence or give it an Italian twist, its part of our evolution as chefs. Youíre constantly walking down, youíre constantly seeing different things from different cultures and youíre always applying it to new menus.

Rudy: What sort of fresh ingredients does this region enjoy?

Chef Henry: Oh, a big bounty of stuff. We have the lower mainland, the Frasier Valley, a lot of berries. We have wild mushrooms that grow up in the Okanogan Valley. We have peaches, pears, beautiful wines that grow up there as well. So regionally we are very blessed here. I mean this is mini-France right here in Vancouver, for sure.

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For more on vancouverís culinary scene, visit www2.hellobc.com.

A great meal is an excellent way to end our stay in Vancouver. And now itís time to say good night because early tomorrow we take the Ferry to Victoria.

 

BC Ferry top

Short of flying the only way to get to Victoria is to catch the B.C. Ferry. The crossing takes about 95 minutes, but give yourself extra time for loading on the ferry.

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BC Ferries has been in traveling across the Strait of Georgia since June 15, 1960. Since then, theyíve taken the time to log Stories of the Unusual but True.

We booked ahead since we are visiting here during a busy summer month.

 

Victoria, Part 1 top

Named for Queen Victoria this small but lively city has long reveled in its strong British heritage.

 

Afternoon Tea top

Some say the Victorians outdo the Brits when it comes to Afternoon Tea and there is no better place to find out then the Fairmont Empress Hotel. Built in 1897 the hotel has been lovingly restored in all its elegant grander. Be sure to make reservations and be prepared to tell your waiter if you want one lump or two.

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Reservations should be made at the Fairmont Hotel one to two weeks in advance.

Once an outpost of the British Empire, Victoria is now the Provincial Capitol of British Columbia. While the sun of empire has not set on fish & chips, highland dancers and lawn bowling, there is another side to the "Tweed Curtain."

 

Victoria, Part 2 top

Like Vancouver, Victoria enjoys a mild year round climate and locals love to get outdoors. Victoria is officially Canadaís "fittest" city and the nationís cycling capital. Most people can ride their bikes to work in thirty minute or less and up to 20% do just that. Commuting to work on a bicycle is not just a fad in this town. Victorians are also the worldís most safety conscious. Itís said that 92% of them always wear bike helmets.

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TIP Bicycle helmet use is mandatory in British Columbia. For an interesting report on the effects of the Helmet Use Law in British Columbia, visit UNC's Highway Safety Research Center.

If youíre interested in biking in and around Victoria, check out www.hellobc.com and www.crd.bc.ca.

 

Nightlife & Dining top

But, donít let the localís penchant for biking, hiking, and sailing fool you. Itís not Vancouver but there is plenty of nightlife with restaurants, nightclubs and even a Chinatown in this easy-to-walk small city.

Victoria is noted for fine dining. Itís chefs, like those in Vancouver, get their inspiration and produce from the local farmers.

The mild climate has helped establish Vancouver Island as ďCanadaís Provence,Ē but perhaps the most unusual crop comes from the oldest source of food, the sea.

 

Outer Coast Seaweeds top

Just 40 minuets west of Victoria weíre visiting Outer Coast Seaweeds and Diane Bernard, The Seaweed Lady. (Adobe Acrobat Reader)

Diane: Right here is the worldís most famous seaweed. One seaweed, one use and itís a twelve billion dollar industry internationally.

Rudy: This is the dark green stuff that is wrapped around the rice when I eat sushi.

Diane: Thatís right. The Japanese will take this and make a slur of it or a mash and then re-spray it back down into their sheets and roast it and then package it and ship it all over the world.

Rudy: Itís just right here all the time?

Diane: Yes.

Rudy: Or at least in the summer.

Diane: This is a really gelatinous seaweed. Here again you get the colors, and almost in the sunlight will have a blue tinge. This is Iridia, Latin for Iridescent, and its locally known as rainbow seaweed.

Rudy: Good for?

Diane: We use this in our facial products. Feel that. This is gorgeous and soft and silky.. Rudy we are going to make you beautiful before the end of the show.

Rudy: The sea isnít big enough to do that.

Diane: Oh Rudy, seaweeds are wonderful. Theyíre wild, exotic, diverse, theyíre tasty, loaded with vitamins and minerals.

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Want to hear more from The Seaweed Lady? Check out her interview from www.highonadventure.com.

 

Butchart Gardens top

In contrast to this garden from the sea, Victoria also preserves one of the worldís finest dry land gardens.

At the beginning of the last century Robert Butchart built a cement factory near here and began mining the rich limestone deposit. The resulting huge pit bothered his wife Jennie who began hauling in tons of topsoil by horse cart. Soon the former limestone pit began to blossom and neighbors would come by to stroll through her Japanese Garden or gawk at her noisy peacocks. By the 1920ís fifty thousand people each year were visiting Jennie Butchartís creation.

Now, fifty-five acres of gardens greet visitors from around the world. The garden is planted to highlight each season, so—no matter when you visit—there is always something beautiful to see.

 

Cheerio... top

Butchart Garden with its flowers, plants and birds from around the world is the perfect metaphor for Victoria and Vancouver. From diverse influences and cultural roots that reach back to Europe, Asia and the First Nations come two Pacific Rim cities that teem with excitement, harmony and beauty.

When you visit this corner of Canada, experience it like a British Columbian. Take time to enjoy the outdoors, explore the diverse cultures and donít forget to stop and smell the roses. Until next time, Iím Rudy Maxa and this is Smart Travels. Cheerio.

 



Interested in planning your vacation to Vancouver?
Start your trip at
Expedia.com/Vancouver and Victoria.

 

Links

For help gettin' around town by bike, bus, SeaBus, or SkyTrain, visit the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority.

To familiarize yourself with the district, take a virtual walking tour at www.city.vancouver.bc.ca.

For a quick rundown of Vancouver history, visit www.tourismvancouver.com.

For information on the shops, galleries, and restaurants youíll find in Gastown, visit gastown.org.

To learn more about the Museum of Anthropology and the First Nations, visit www.moa.ubc.ca where you can also take a virtual tour.