As several readers are planning visits to Vancouver this spring and summer, I have decided to do a series of posts on sights to see in the city.
If one only has a couple of days to spend, a second priority should be Granville Island, in False Creek, under the south end of the Granville Street Bridge. False Creek is the large inlet which runs from English Bay under the Burrard Street Bridge, the Granville Street Bridge, and then the Cambie Street bridge, east to the Olympic Village and the Science Centre. Formerly the site of sawmills, railway yards, and hundreds of small businesses serving the maritime, forest and fishing industries, the area became a derelict brown land and a blight upon the city. In the 1970’s, with local leadership and federal funding, Granville Island was reclaimed to what it is today. Among other things, it became the heart of multiple urban renewal projects featuring a mix of low-rise housing, houseboats, co-operatives, condos and public housing on the south side of the inlet, and tall high-rises on the north side on what had been the site of the Expo 1986 World’s Fair. This north shore of False Creek, around David Lam Park and the Roundhouse Community Centre, is Yaletown, all new in the last twenty odd years. False Creek has its own seawall which provides ample scope for meandering along the water beside the parks, gardens, sculptures, townhouses and high-rises which make up this vibrant core of the city.
At the heart of False Creek is Granville Island, which retains the original machine shop and concrete plant of times gone by, and many of the original buildings. Now it houses a thriving community of craft studios, art galleries, artisan shops, printmaking studios, a marina, boat rental facilities, marine suppliers, outfitters, many theatre companies, the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Granville Island Brewing, Kids’ Market, children’s playgrounds, a boutique hotel, restaurants and cafés. The daily farmers’ market is extensive, colourful and up-scale: with quality butchers, numerous fish-mongers, purveyors of vegetables, fruits, soups, spices, pasta, baking, candy, coffee, condiments and flowers. In addition to the regulars, there are over 100 day vendors from elsewhere selling their homemade crafts and foodstuffs on rotation. The food courts in the market offer an array of choices: fresh fish, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Mexican, soups and salads. You name it, they have it. Visitors can sit inside or outside, enjoying the buskers who fill the air in the courtyard between the market and the water, or on the other side of the market beside the bakery.
A visit to Granville Island is always upbeat and, on sunny days when it’s easy to linger, positively enchanting. There is no more comfortable place to people watch, or to enjoy the buskers, the birds and the boats. Granville Island is a community and the locals love the ambiance of which they are a part. So do the visitors who take the time to sink into the scene, talk to the locals and make the island their own.
Driving, the island is accessible east from Burrard Street and north from Fourth Avenue. There is pay parking on the island and, in some areas, parking free for three hours. Best access to the island is to take one of the little ferries operated by False Creek Ferries or Aquabus and which run back and forth from various points along the downtown Vancouver seawall to Granville Island. Both lines dock right in front of the farmers’ market. The Granville Island webpage has a map of the island, and highlights things to do and see. Don’t forget to take a look at the mechanical display in front of the cement plant. It’s a delight. And if you have never seen boat houses up close, check out the floating real estate moored west of the Granville Island Hotel. Can you imagine living there?