A Guide to Vancouver (Part 2)
Editor’s note: In Gregg LaMarsh’s first installment, he shared some tips, tricks, and experiences for a February trip to Vancouver Island, Canada’s surf capital. In Part 2 of this telling, he heads over to the mainland to explore the city of Vancouver, across the Strait of Georgia from Nanaimo, and sums up his trip overall.
A Guide to Vancouver (Part 2)
By Gregg LaMarsh
There is a Jimi Hendrix connection to Vancouver. As a child, he was shuttled often enough from nearby Seattle to visit his maternal grandmother in Vancouver, that he was eventually enrolled for grade one at Dawson Annex PS, which used to be at Burrard/Barclay. His grandma then worked at Vie’s Diner. A very modest shrine-kiosk has been erected near the site, but has been controversial because crusty old-timers are apparently saying, “No and hell no! Vie’s was on a completely different street!”
See also the portrait of Jimi and other (mostly male) Vancouver icons on the Beatty street mural wall across from the WW II Sherman tanks.
“Well I stand up next to a mountain and chop it down with the edge of my hand.” (Voodoo Child)
Are We Being Punked?
For the first time ever, we took one of those all-encompassing City Bus tours. It came at the end of the trip after we’d returned, exhausted, to Vancouver. First, there was a driver-guide who was not easy to understand. Then, a new ticket-taker-cum-guide boarded. I won’t mention Beatrice by name, but she provided a sense of surreal comedy BY SHOUTING EVERY SINGLE WORD OF HER COMMENTARY FOR HALF AN HOUR!! Roseanne had nothing on this lady. First the difficult driver, now the overwhelming volume—were we being punked?
To her credit, however, Beatrice’s spiel was equal parts generic tourist fluff and righteous diatribe about how her city’s heritage wazzam (was and still is) in the process of unprecedented change, as offshore speculators have bought huge swathes of the city, driving real estate prices through the roof and tearing down whatever stood there before, in order to erect yet-another tower of greed (eg. The Wave). One smallish church parking lot just went for $67 million! As we passed the ritzy shopping strip of Robson-Alberni, she said, ‘All I could afford here is a cup of cocoa!’ God bless Beatrice for providing us with a dose of straight-up reality. I’d have it no other way. You go girl.
‘Their powers and their follies have become fantastic.’ (Robinson Jeffers-The Beaks of Eagles)
Unsurpassed Urban Renewal Project in Vancouver: Granville Island-daily covered food market plus high-quality crafts shops. Well-done Vancouver! Tip: take a ferry to get there.
Only on the West Coast: at one of the aforementioned shops, a stylish $6,000 Gandalf-esque wooden rocker with harp strings attached to either side (for musical therapy).
And you thought the bidding war that you lost was depressing: Recently, a property in the Grey Point part of Kits(ilano) in Vancouver had a bidding war that lasted a total of 20 minutes. In that time, it went up half a million dollars from the original asking price! Vancouver is now the world’s 3rd most expensive city (see ‘maxed-out’). The city has a number of North America’s costliest homes. A rare 4 bedroom condo in Coal Harbour is now listed at $59 million. Land and sea.
Best Value Lodgings in Vancouver: Save your money at the perfectly acceptable downtown YWCA on Beatty, right across from the BC Place Canadian football stadium and its Terry Fox memorial out front. The location is very good. Worth checking into.
Yum Yum: Outstanding sandwiches at “Meat & Bread.” They also make wicked “chocolate fingers.” Honey enthusiasts will want to taste Chilliwack River Valley’s thistle honey.
Outstandingest Map: The blue Downtown Vancouver Official Walking Map. Perhaps the single best urban map that we have ever encountered.
Worst Time to try to Rent a Car in Vancouver: On the spur of the moment if the city is hosting the Grey Cup Canadian Football Championship game.
Beware the BC bailout: A habit of promising to meet with pals, but then shamelessly cancelling at the last minute, or even not showing. After initial skepticism, we eventually experienced this ourselves!
The Place to buy smokeless moxa: Chinatown. Ancient Chinese pain medicine.
Best place to visit on rainy days in Vancouver: Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in authentic Chinatown. The real McCoy. When we visited, this relaxing urban oasis was undergoing renos (the pond was drained) so tickets were at a reduced price. Workers found a pair of 30-year-old disposable Kodak cameras in the muck that evidently had been dropped by errant tourists into the pond back in the ‘80s. National Geographic awarded this as the World’s Top City Garden. The garden was originally designed, then built, by consultants from Suzhou, who included traditional covered walkways. The walkways keep visitors dry.
Really? Seriously? The Urban Fare upscale supermarket in Vancouver’s Yaletown sells imported French bread loaves for $200. Ditto “square” melons (see “trust fund”).
Demographic curiosity: All ages flock to dine at Moxies in downtown Vancouver. To have seen seniors dining at one table, families with young children at another while the speakers blasted ROCK CONCERT VOLUMES of non-stop music, was astonishing! Probably, Beatrice from the bus tour was in charge of loudness levels there, too.
Dumb-All-Over Award: The two rocket surgeons who in 2015 harassed a helpless female moose up in northern BC, by jumping on top of her from their boat for a ride, as she struggled to escape across deep waters. Their $4,000 fines were announced the day of our flight home.
Tragic Statistic: Take your pick, either the ongoing teen suicide rate among First Nations tribes or Vancouver’s DTES (Downtown East Side), ground zero for the current fentanyl crisis. It is easy for visitors to find themselves passing the alleys around East Hastings Street where most opioid ODs occur, the very back lanes shown on media reportage, when crossing between Gastown and Chinatown. Once, we were shopping nearby and witnessed three ambulances arrive at one alley in less than an hour. Too much human wreckage. PM Trudeau visited the area the day we left.
‘I see the needle and the damage done.’ (Neil Young)
There also remains a tragic divide between First Nations people and whites, in both Tofino and Ukee. Resentment can be palpable. As for islander teens, in both communities we noticed that all bike and skater parks were utterly abandoned. Once at low tide, a pair of 20ish native men had a friendly chat with us by the jagged rocks of Ukee’s Big Beach. After we’d departed, the stoned men surprised us by lighting off a firecracker at a distance of maybe 30 yards. The sound startled us, but it was no big deal. The perpetrators grinned good-naturedly and shouted, “Just havin’ some fun!” I waved back. The following morn, we were shocked to learn that just after we’d left the beach, virtually every police car in the area was summoned to deal with the situation. Maybe the firecracker resembled gunfire to some ears in this low-crime neighborhood?
Spike Salmon Steak Recipe:
Proceed to boat basins in either Tofino or Ukee. Inquire as to which local mariners have a license to sell their catch o’ the day fresh to the public (use ‘eh’ at end of every sentence). Eventually ignore licensing requirement. Before departing with purchase, sympathize with fishermen over ever-increasing marina berthing fees. Preheat BBQ as per usual. After rinsing (the fish not you), sprinkle liberal amount of the world’s greatest salmon seasoning onto surface of fish: SPIKE by Gaylord-Hauser. Use only the original “red box” version. Insure that no gangs of rogue raven thieves are lurking about in treetops above your BBQ. Be aware that bears can smell raw fish 5 kms away. Lay the steaks with the seasoned-side down on the grill. Cook on the grill for 8 minutes or until the flesh flakes. Turn once in that time.
Alternative fish sources: Trilogy Fish in Tofino or Fishful Thinking (great name) in Ukee.
The allure of this distinctive location is powerful. Every visitor gets relocation fantasies about Vancouver Island’s west coast/best coast. How about you, are you hooked?
‘I’m getting closer to my home…’
(Grand Funk–I’m your Captain)
Thx for reading, klecko.
I am done. The end, ‘eh.
Dedicated to the salt-blooded, rough-looking, Barnacle Bill-type traveler being mocked at the seashore in the corny Expedia TV ad. To his detractors, who’ve written him to appear silly: Island This.
About the author:
Former rock drummer and Special Ed teacher Gregg LaMarsh lives with his wife Ellen in Toronto, Canada. Travel has always played a major role in their lives. It is his hope that somehow this piece will be of use to fellow travelers. He is done. The end.