125 Reasons to Love Vancouver
June 1, 2011
In no particular order
1. Because our first council had foresight
Vancouver city council was inaugurated on May 12, 1886. In their first piece of business, the 10 aldermen, led by a real-estate-baron mayor (Malcolm MacLean), resolved to ask the federal government for use of an area designated a military reserve (in case of American invasion). Ottawa agreed, and two years later, Lord Stanley—Canada’s governor general at the time—dedicated those 1,001 acres to “the use and enjoyment of peoples of all colours, creeds, and customs, for all time.” In 2008, we renewed our lease on Stanley Park—99 years for $1. It’s the best land deal in the country, for one of the world’s great urban parks.
2. Because we haven’t felt the big one—yet
Hell hath no fury like the Ring of Fire, that parabola of seismic energy that encompasses the Pacific Ocean. Of the 173 major earthquakes recorded last year, only 21 were centred elsewhere. Just off the coast of Vancouver Island, three tectonic plates are pushing and pulling to an inevitable, earth-shaking conclusion. Yet we haven’t had a really major shaker since January 26, 1700, when a massive quake (perhaps 9.2 on the Richter scale) devastated the west coast of Vancouver Island. Not many cities along the Ring of Fire have gone as long as we have without experiencing a big one. Knock wood.
3. Because we invented an Olympic sport, and turned it into a video game
At Blackcomb Mountain in 1991, Steve Rechtschaffner and Greg Stump were in a bind. They were short one episode of Greg Stump’s World of Extremes TV series for Fox. Rechtschaffner came up with a scheme to have six snowboarders race down a course with banks and jumps. Fast-forward a couple of years: now a producer at Electronic Arts Canada, Rechtschaffner decided to turn the sport into a video game. SSX debuted as a launch title for Sony’s PlayStation 2 console in 2000, and snowboard cross debuted at the Winter Olympics in 2006. Athletes like Maëlle Ricker, who won gold in the event at the 2010 Games, still refer to it by its original name: boardercross.
4. Because we've finally got decent street food.
5. Because you just might bump into Reese Witherspoon.
8. Because (as a visitor exclaimed recently), "You have hedges instead of fences!"
11. Because we have few mosquitoes.
12. Because street art is alive and well.
13. Because VanDusen Garden is a sweet place for a picnic.
Cover: Joe Zeff (Love illustration), Amanda Skuse (photo), Anya Ellis (hair and makeup) and Melissa Peddle (model)
16. Because Darlene Marzari killed “urban renewal”
Back in 1968, the city was working on a plan: move thousands of people out of their Strathcona homes and flatten everything south of Prior Street to make way for a 30-foot-high, 200-foot-wide, six-lane freeway from Highway 1 to Burrard Inlet downtown. The roadblocks: area residents, many of them Chinese Canadians; Mike Harcourt, then a 25-year-old storefront lawyer who would become Vancouver’s mayor and then B.C.’s premier; and Darlene Marzari, a London School of Economics grad who’d been hired by the city’s planning department to find new homes for the Strathcona evictees. In community meetings, Marzari came to see that this “urban renewal” would be a disaster. She switched teams, helping lead opposition to the project, then went on to serve 10 years as an NDP MLA. Vancouver remains the largest metropolis in North America without a city-core freeway.
17. Because we call bullshit
When the B.C. government aired its “Forests Forever” ads in the 1980s, filmmakers Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz fought back with contrarian spots denouncing tree farms. The CBC called their ads “opinion” and refused to air them. So began the Adbusters Media Foundation: magazines with editions around the world, anti-consumerist ad and live-action campaigns, even a brand of running shoe. Twenty years earlier, when Mayor Tom “Terrific” Campbell tried to stop the kids from having fun and getting high, the alternative weekly Georgia Straight was born. And 20 years after Forests Forever, Thetyee.ca took the detection of bullshit online.
18. Because we climb every mountain
19. Because rich people can walk the streets without bodyguards.
20. Because you might see a whale in False Creek.
23. Because UBC is one of the world's great campuses.
26. Because Greenpeace was born in a Point Grey living room.
28. Because Opera Man serenades shoppers on South Granville.
29. Because we recycle more than any other North American city.
30. Because the Sedin twins play like two bodies sharing a single mind (except during the 2011 playoffs…).
31. Because Dak Leon Mark wanted his money back
Beginning in 1885, Chinese immigrants were charged a head tax, which started at $50 and increased tenfold by the 1920s. (No other group was so targeted.) In 1983, Dak Leon Mark, who had paid $500 to enter Canada, presented his receipt to his local MP, East Vancouver NDPer Margaret Mitchell. Reading the new Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Mark believed he deserved reimbursement, and Mitchell took his request to Pierre Trudeau. By the 1980s, more than 4,000 people across Canada had joined a class-action lawsuit seeking an apology and symbolic financial redress. Mark died before the issue was resolved, but on June 22, 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for our country’s unfair treatment of Chinese immigrants who, he said, came here seeking to build a better life.
32. Because we value books
Traditional book publishing’s been gutted by the Internet, yet Douglas & McIntyre soldiers on, the last major Canadian independent house standing. Book tours have gone the way of the dodo, and authors are told to do their own marketing—start a blog, use Facebook and Twitter— yet the Vancouver International Writers Festival grows bigger and better each year. Independent bookstores close, yet the quirky MacLeod’s remains a bibliophile’s treasure chest. And some of the country’s best writers—Steven Galloway, Ann Ireland, Lee Henderson, Zsuzsi Gartner, Madeleine Thien—got their start through UBC’s creative writing program, where nary a word is said about search-engine optimization. Books are dead? Long live books.
33. Because Sam Sullivan can say hello in seven languages
The former mayor will be remembered for many things—some good (his disability nonprofits, representing Canada at the Turin Olympics), some dubious (Project Civil City, giving cash to addicts), and one that’s overlooked. During his 2005 mayoral campaign, he impressed voters with his ability to converse in Cantonese and give speeches in Punjabi. With Vancouver’s English-as-mother-tongue ratio dropping fast, this was acknowledgment that public officials needed to outgrow their language silos, and confirmation that Vancouver had become a truly cosmopolitan city. Sullivan’s latest venture, Greeting Fluency, invites us to learn common phrases in the languages most spoken here: Cantonese, Punjabi, Tagalog, Kamusta.Kung paano kayo, kapitbahay? How are you, neighbour?
34. Because you can take the Canada Line to YVR.
37. Because Elvis Costello and Diana Krall live here.
38. Because Charlie Sheen doesn't live here.
40. Because we have trees that are older than our buildings.
41. Because Jim Byrnes sings the blues.
43. Because you can catch your own crab supper in Deep Cove.
46. Because we inhale
The question: Does Vancouver really deserve its reputation as Vansterdam, a city where marijuana is widely enjoyed, to no discernible ill effect? The empirical evidence is supportive. According to a 2007 study, 16.8 percent of Canadians age 15 to 64 used during the prior year, tops among industrialized nations. Meanwhile, StatsCan reports that over 50 percent of B.C. folks have tried weed, the highest ratio among provinces. And why not? Like alcohol and cigarettes, weed has some harmful effects; but it also provides health benefits for some—which may explain why the police decline to enforce laws that most people view as outdated and costly. So there’s your answer. But wait—what was the question?
47. Because public art has finally taken root here
After the debacle in 2008 that saw us lose Denis Oppenheim’s fine sculpture, Device to Root Out Evil (an upside-down church by Coal Harbour), dozens of first-rate outdoor works have been installed. Martin Creed’s fluorescent text piece, Everything Is Going to Be Alright, is the crown atop Bob Rennie’s audacious Pender Street gallery. Stan Douglas’s photo-mural Riot Act, which re-creates the Gastown Riots in the atrium of the Woodward’s building, is a testament to our activist roots. Douglas Coupland’s Digital Orca and the Inges Idee’s 20-metre-high Drop are must-see photo ops at the new convention centre, and Jaume Plensa’s aluminum We, a five-metre-tall figure crouching at Sunset Beach, has turned into a mascot for picnic parties. At last we get it: our greatest cultural venue is the out-of-doors.
48. Because we keep going, and going, and going…
Aren’t old folks supposed to park their walkers in front of TV sets and slot machines? Dal Richards (93) still leads his big band; Gordon Smith (92) paints as brilliantly as ever; Olga Kotelko (91) holds all 17 world track-and-field records for her age class; Cornelia Oberlander (86) remains a landscape architect of renown; Jimmy Pattison (82) operates one of the largest private companies in Canada. Hey, David Suzuki: great that you’ve launched a new TV show, but we’ll be more impressed when you do it again 10 years from now, when you’re 85.
49. Because Steve Nash helped bring us Major League Soccer.
50. Because we have guerilla gardeners.
51. Because Bob Rennie built his own art gallery.
54. Because Bill Reid left us masterpieces of Haida art.
55. Because Nickelback spends most of their time elsewhere.
56. Because Joe Houssian turned Whistler into a great ski resort.
58. Because the Museum of Anthropology kicks ass.
59. Because electric vehicles are starting to catch on here.
60. Because Michael Bublé doesn't take himself too seriously.
61. Because Mike Gillis is a genius
Stanley Cup or not, the Canucks are an excellent team and a rock-solid NHL franchise. How did we get there? As an agent, Mike Gillis cut eye-popping deals for his players. As GM of the Canucks, he’s negotiated stellar, long-term contracts for owner Francesco Aquilini (who was widely derided for hiring him). Dozens of NHLers out-earn the Sedin twins ($6.1 million each), hundreds out-earn Alex Burrows ($2 million), and almost all out-earn Yannik Hansen ($825,000). Astutely evaluating and signing core players before they blossom, Gillis left himself room to add depth and versatility. And he’s instilled a culture that encourages the players to thrive. His smarts guarantee us a first-class team for years to come.
62. Because we know how to party (and, yes, riot)
Vancouver got high-fives during the 2010 Winter Games—full marks to the VPD for turning a blind eye to what otherwise might have been classified as disorderly conduct. It wasn’t ever thus. In Gastown in 1971, when a smoke-in to protest drug raids got heated, the cops took to trying out their newly issued batons. A year later, 2,500 Stones fans crashed Pacific Coliseum, inciting a riot. Ditto in 2002, when Guns ’n Roses cancelled their show. When the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup final in 1994, 70,000 mourners convened on Robson. It took rubber bullets and tear gas to remedy the situation. And in 1997, at the APEC summit, the students of UBC learned that you can’t bring pacifism to a pepper-spray fight. Who says it’s a good party when the cops show up?
63. Because we turn devastation into inspiration
When Terry Fox began his lonely, hobbled run in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in April 1980, nobody knew who he was. By the time he reached Ontario, two months later, he was the lead item on the national news. Today, the Terry Fox Run is a global phenomenon that has raised more than $500 million for cancer research. Rick Hansen’s round-the-world wheelchair odyssey, Man in Motion, was every bit as inspiring and laudable; he’s raised $250 million and made life better for untold thousands of people who’ve suffered spinal injuries. And let’s not forget Michael J. Fox, whose grace, intelligence, and humour in the face of Parkinson’s have brought new attention to finding a cure for the disease.
64. Because a West Van couple secretly raised a bear in their backyard.
65. Because Chip Wilson got women out of sweatpants.
66. Because 49,000 people did the Sun Run this year.
68. Because we kick butt at utimate Frisbee.
69. Because the Jimi Hendrix used to live in Strathcona.
70. Because we were ranked the #1 Pet friendly city.
72. Because Marc Emery defied the Yanks.
73. Bob Geldof/Georgia Straight/Boomtown Rats
75. Because a socialist premier can become a capitalist tycoon
B.C. politics—need we say more? Yet beyond the infamous flakes, rubes, drunks, and mediocrities, the vast majority of our politicians have proven to be competent, principled, and selfless public servants who go on to impressive achievements once they leave office. Never mind the ones we liked: the Mike Harcourts, Carole Taylors, and Rafe Mairs. Consider the one we didn’t. After Glen Clark left the premier’s office in 1999 in disgrace, he was hired by Jim Pattison. Today, after a series of promotions, he’s not only a Pattison Group VP, but Pattison’s presumed successor. Which says something about our politicians—and about our captains of industry, too.
76. Because we coin memorable phrases
“Hey Todd: If you can leave your McJob for the evening, and kick your cyberspace habit too, come join us for dinner. We’re doing the 100-mile diet thing—gotta reduce that eco-footprint.” Utter that sentence and English speakers around the world will know exactly what you’re talking about. “McJob” (along with “Microserf” and “Generation X”, not to mention “City of Glass”) was popularized by Douglas Coupland, while cyberspace was first envisioned by William Gibson. The 100-Mile Diet is a 2007 book by James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith, while the ecological footprint is a concept invented by the UBC geographer William Rees.
77. Because the “W” stands for “we”
Former city councillor Jim Green, the hat-wearing Southern gentleman who’s championed the Woodward’s housing project since its infancy, points out that his master-planned housing baby has no equal on the planet. The 536 kitted-out condos offset the 200 social-housing units in a balancing act that lured the city’s yuppies further east than ever before. The mix of housing brings folks from every walk of life together on a single city block. The biggest surprise to come out of this social experiment? Nothing went wrong. The sidewalk did not split open to swallow Woodward’s, and 6,000 people pass through its courtyard every day. One block down, 10,000 to go.
84. Because the Save On Meats sign gets to stay.
85. Because the country's first Louis Vuitton Maison opened here.
87. Because we have free blackberries for everybody.
89. Because Arthur Erickson raised the architectural bar.
90. Because Ken Honey knew a Playmate when he saw one
Local photographer Ken Honey did a lot of scouting at Wreck Beach, wearing exactly what he hoped his subjects would—nothing but a pair of shoes. The strategy worked: Honey ultimately found 13 Playboy Playmates, including Canada’s first, Pamela Gordon, in 1962, and three of the most famous: Kim Conrad, who married Hugh Hefner; Dorothy Stratten, who launched an acting career before being murdered by her ex-husband; and Pamela Anderson—whom Honey famously discovered on the scoreboard at a B.C. Lions game. Anderson has proven that it’s possible to achieve mainstream success while retaining links to the porn world. Honey pulled off much the same trick during the half-century he lived here before his death this year at 86: when not shooting cheesecake nudes, he was one of the city’s leading wedding photographers.
91. Because we take a nice picture
As millions of visitors have shown, our city looks good on postcards and Flickr. Maybe that’s why we’re known internationally for a stellar roster of photographers, from Fred Herzog to members of the so-called Vancouver School of photoconceptual art: Jeff Wall, Stan Douglas, Roy Arden, Ken Lum, Rodney Graham, Ian Wallace. Wall, with recent one-man shows at both London’s Tate Modern and New York’s MOMA, is considered one of the leading artists of his generation. One result: an impression among gallery-goers around the world that we’re a brainy, bohemian kind of place, like Berlin or Brooklyn, but with mountains and totem poles on our postcards.
92. Because the city’s a smorgasbord
Your best friends are a Chinese-Caucasian couple? Your son’s pal in high school was Rwandan? You spent an evening at a Catholic church hall when your niece’s best friend threw a lavish Filipino birthday party? You shop at a mall (Park Royal) owned by an Ismaili Muslim family on land leased from the Squamish First Nation? The city was settled by Natives, named by the British in a region explored by the Spaniards, and built up in its early years by a Jewish mayor, Chinese entrepreneurs, Punjabi millworkers, and Japanese fishermen. It has the least segregated neighbourhoods in Canada and the highest proportion of interracial couples. Sushi, bánh mì, and pho for all!
95. Because the Chan Centre has brilliant acoustics.
98. Because you can hike from Port Coquitlam to Squamish.
100. Because Geist is a terrific literary magazine.
101. Because Vancouver has a terrific literary community.
102. Because Car-Free day turned into a city-wide party.
104. Because international arrivals at YVR makes air travel a thing of grace.
105. Because we still have reporters who report
The city’s newspaper of record has largely followed the trend to replacing reporters with repeaters, but the scribes who remain are given wide latitude. Sometimes that means there’s no one to cover the fire/flood/assassination attempt, but at other times it means remarkable reporting—Daphne Bramham’s coverage of polygamy at Bountiful, for example, or Larry Pynn’s investigation of the floatplane industry. Howe Street crusader David Baines is the scourge of white-collar shysters, and Kim Bolan has remarkable expertise on the gang world. At a time when everybody and their yoga teacher has a blog, and offhand commentary passes for considered thought, these reporters uphold journalism’s good name.
106. Because our starchitects design our rec centres
Montreal and Toronto lure internationally renowned architects to design their galleries, libraries, concert halls, and museums. Here, our best and brightest—who work all over the world—grace the city instead with community centres. Practically the only major public buildings built here in the last 20 years, these mini-country clubs include Bing Thom’s flower-like Sunset Community Centre on Main, Walter Francl’s swooping-roofed Trout Lake centre and ice rink near Commercial, and Gregory Henriquez’s submarine-themed underground centre at Coal Harbour. Latest entrants in this field of functional art: the husband-and-wife Patkau team, at work on the Marpole-Oakridge centre (and in competition with Henriquez to design Dunbar’s new rec centre). Eat your heart out, New York.
107. Because our mayor is not Rob Ford
Thank the stars Gregor Robertson has little in common with the buffoon now ruling Toronto. Yes, Robertson is earnest and surrounded by control freaks. Yes, he’s one of those West Coast mayors—progressive, bike-ridin’, green-spoutin’ types—elected in L.A., San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. Yes, he’s got a program to save the world, one homeless shelter, bike lane, and photovoltaic panel at a time—and, despite complaints from motorists and developers, he’s sticking to it. As a bonus, he is, as a visitor from Toronto recently put it, “hot like Clark Kent.” Don’t love His Worship? Repeat after us: “He’s not Rob Ford.”
108. Because you can’t get a Big Mac on Granville Island
Cement trucks, fresh produce, a cutting-edge art school, hand-dyed scarves—not the mix you’ll see at any accountant-planned mall. Granville Island is an only-in-Vancouver special, a government-initiated plan (kudos to onetime Liberal cabinet minister Ron Basford) to create a festival marketplace on what was once a sandbar, re-using old industrial buildings and banning chain stores. Locals and tourists alike pour in to the city’s one McDonald’s-free zone to buy handmade brooms or cut flowers, silver earrings or the latest cookbook, attend dance performances, have a beer, let their toddlers feed the seagulls, listen to buskers, pick up seafood just off the boat, and then head home, perhaps on one of the toy-like ferries that chug across False Creek.
112. Because everyone assumes you're from somewhere else.
113. Because swans nest two feet from the footpath around Lost Lagoon.
114. Because we have a place called Lost Lagoon.
115. Because our Chinatown isn't a Chinablock (or a freeway).
119. Because we're outraged by the killing of sled dogs.
120. Because Little Sisters bookstore stood up to Canada Customs.
121. Because Denman Street has managed to dodge gentrification.
123. Because we count spot prawns among our region's greatest delicacies
124. Because we've got more sushi restaurants than Starbucks.
125. Because, at 125, we're still young.