It’s only about two and a half hours from Seattle to Vancouver in Canada but we took a much longer route, via Highway 20, to the Mount Baker area.
The terrain was a complete change to what we had recently driven through in California. We were now on the edge of the Rockies and high pine covered escarpments dwarfed the valley roads. Except where there had been logging and their bald brown patches stood out against the verdant green.
In the valleys the greens were varied, a result of the huge variety of different trees.
We stopped for coffee in Concrete. This is not a typo but a small town surrounded by mountains, just off the Highway 20. Everyone there seemed to be passing through and asking directions to somewhere else.
We were no different.
After Concrete we crossed the border into Canada and the sun appeared.
We were back to kilometres, litres and a currency that was near parity with ours and also, like ours, made of plastic. The Canadian Dollar was just a few cents higher, which would certainly help the budget.
Vancouver was developed as a railhead of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. These days it’s the port that has prominence along with logging and film production.
Vancouver is sometimes referred to as ‘Hollywood North’.
We stayed in Mount Pleasant, south east of the city centre. Once a working class area it has now been gentrified. It’s Brunswick in the Pacific Northwest, with hipsters, organic restaurants, barber shops and everything arts and crafts.
The food was simple, imaginative and tasty and everyone ate with a knife in their right hand and a fork in their left.
We had been on the road for a month and felt that Vancouver and in particular Mount Pleasant was a good place to stop for a few days.
This however didn’t stop us from sightseeing.
We caught the Hop-on-Hop-off bus to Canada Place in downtown Vancouver. Our transport was an old converted trolly bus and the commentary was by a wisecracking local with a wonderfully sarcastic approach.
Vancouver has been voted as ‘The World’s Second Most Livable City’. Our driver was rather pissed off about that, especially when we told him we came from Melbourne, The World’s Most Livable City’.
We took the Green route to Stanley Park, 1,001 acres of what Vancouver used to look like in 1886, when it became Vancouver’s first official park. It isn’t a landscaped park, like most, but rather an evolution of the original terrain, with forests and open areas all set against the backdrop of Vancouver Harbor and English Bay.
Before there was Vancouver there was Gastown, a wild west settlement of hunters and lumberjacks. On July 1, 1867 ‘Gassy’ Jack Dayton got the locals to build his pub in 24 hours.
As our driver said there must have been a real incentive there.
The next day we jumped on the Hop-on-Hop-off bus again and did the City Route.
Our first stop was China Town.
The Chinese have had a huge influence on the demographics of Vancouver, especially during the building of the Trans Canadian Railway, where three Chinese laborers were killed for every mile of track laid.
Within China Town there’s the Dr Sun Yat-sen Park and the Classical Chinese Garden. Completed in 1986, the gardens were built with the help of many Chinese artisans who were brought from China to work specifically on the project.
The water in the ponds were made to be deliberately murky so as to enhance the reflections.
Next was Granville Island a strange place that has a freeway flyover going right over the top of the island. The main attraction was the farmers market, selling fruit, veg, meat and fish.
The quality of the products looked excellent.
Other highlights were the Marine Building, designed by McCarter and Nairne and completed in 1930. This is a very handsome office building in the Art Deco style with a beautifully detailed foyer.
Another classic Art Deco building was the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Waterfront Station.
The design of the Vancouver Public Library is based on the Colosseum in Rome, with an installation making an obscure reference to the expression “A picture is worth a thousand words”
We left the bus in the city and walked back to our hotel. On the trip we came across BC Place, a large stadium that’s home to the BC Lions, a Canadian Football League club and the Vancouver Whitecaps, a Major League Soccer club. It was also the stage for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The ethnic mix of Vancouver is interesting with 52% of residents not having English as their first language. Almost 30% are Chinese who originally came here as as laborers on the railroad, then the gold rush and finally when Hong Kong reverted to the Communists. There are also Italians, Greeks, English, Japanese and Indian groups within the mix.
We found Vancouver to be one of the most culturally diverse places we had visited.
From our motel room we could see a rather elegant Art Deco building on a hill, not far away.
On further investigation it turned out to be the Vancouver City Hall designed by Townley and Matheson and built in 1935-36.
It’s now far removed from the current downtown area of Vancouver, a result of the city spreading towards the waterfront.
We left Mount Pleasant on our last night and walked into Gastown for dinner. This involved trying to avoid Crazytown – the poorest area in Vancouver and all of Canada.
The street people go there because the temperatures only reach 0°C in winter. In the rest of Canada they go far lower.
Vancouver is yet another city that was once criss-crossed with tram lines. And, once again, backward thinking forefathers pulled them up.
At least they have been partially replaced and now the city has an efficient public transport system. Part of which is the the Vancouver Skytrain, the longest fully automated metro system in North America.
The car is still the main form of transport for the residents of Vancouver, resulting in a very congested downtown area. Another reason why they are only ‘The World’s Second Most Livable City’.
Vancouver has been called the ‘city of neighbourhoods’ with each one having a distinctly different feel and ethnic mix.
Without really knowing this we stumbled into Mount Pleasant and got a real taste of Vancouver’s suburban life.