MetrotownBirgt and I went downtown Vancouver a couple of times during our stay. Usually Claus og Janet drove os to the nearest SkyTrain station, which was Metrotown in Burnaby. Metrotown spans 3 city blocks and contains 3 major shopping centres and an entertainment center. You will find 90 women's clothing boutiques, 94 men's clothing shops, 30 jewelry shops, 20 shoe shops, 15 sport shops etc. And more than 90 places to have something to eat. Open 7 days a week. In fact only closed on 25th of December. And this is just Metrotown. In the adjacent blocks you will find 2 other malls: Eaton Centre and Metropolis. We hate these shopping centres - although we can see, that the same concept is coming to Denmark. The best thing in our opinion is, that there is lots of free parking space underground.
Well, to be honest. Janet showed us The Rainforest Café, which is designed to look like a tropical rain forest with wildlife and special effects like an electronic controlled crocodiles and animated gorillas. We planned to go there for a dessert, but never got the time. I'm sure that our grandchild Britt will love it in a couple of years. Next time we came to Metrotown, the café had been replaced by an ugly arcade with computer games. The only shop, we really enjoyed, was the great bookstore Chapter's, where we spent some time on 2 occasions. It looked more like a public library than a shop, and there was a fine atmosphere in there. There are at least two Chapter's downtown, one Robson and one on Granville/Broadway.
SkyTrainIt seems that Birgit and I always shall be struck by strike, when we are on vacation. The last (sorry latest) time we went to Canada, we had to return to Denmark 2 days before schedule because of a strike. When in Vienna we had to stay for 1 more day than planned. And this time transport workers in Vancouver were on strike. Not all transport workers, since the train was going according to schedule. And we did see some SkyTrain fare-checkers on the job, but we were told, that they didn't have the authority to give you a $46 ticket. Some people bought a ticket anyway. But we experienced that the ticket vending machines were full of money and thus no of no use. And kind workers on strike asked us not to bother. So we did not bother. No busses in Vancouver were operating, so we did a good deal of walking. Built for Expo '86 SkyTrain was the first completely driverless urban railway system in North America, spanning 30 kilometres and 20 stations. The automated trains transport around 130,000 passengers every day. A couple of years later SkyTrain was expanded 21 kms in distance linking Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster and Coquitlam and introducing 14 new stations on the line. SkyTrain is a great way to see the city for very little money! And maybe continue by SeaBus ferry service to the northern part af Vancouver - 12 minutes from Canada Place. On one of our journeys we talked to an American woman from Seattle, who was using SkyTrain to get acquainted with Vancouver while her husband was attending a seminar.
Downtown VancouverOn Georgia Street - 1 minutes walk from Granville Station - we spotted this impressing glass building. When entering we discovered, that it was the entrance to the Pacific Centre shopping mall. The mall stretches for three blocks underground with lots of shops. We stopped for coffee in the cafeteria in the hall.
Another spectacular building in Georgia Street is the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library, which resembles the Roman coliseum. Probably the most disputed architectural topic in the city ever since Moshe Safdie designed the structure in 1995. Not only the price but also the architecture was on debate. We like the structure where all the arches provide lots of space to sit down and talk. For instance they have a collection af approx 87.000 fotos, some to be seen in albums for the public, others to be browsed on a computer. Around 400.000 cardholders.
Robson StreetYou can't visit Vancouver downtown without hitting Robson Street, the major shopping area of the city. Alle major Canadian and American chains are represented here: Planet Hollywood, Eaton's, the leading department store, the great bookstores Duthie's and Chapter's, the popular ice cream shop Cow's etc. Lots of fine boutiques and designer shops. Japanese noodle houses and sushi bars compete with other casual eateries and several fine dining establishments. The street was named after John Robson, Premier of British Columbia (1889-1892).
As evidence of the inhabitants of Vancouver's "love" for coffee there are at least two Starbucks locations in Robson Street. Starbucks seems to be the leading chain of coffee shops with more that 2.500 shops in USA. A couple of months later on a quick trip to London we spotted several Starbucks shops. And only last week (May 2001) we read in a local newspaper that Starbucks were preparing to invade Denmark.
Part of Robson Street used to be referred to as Robsonstrasse. We asked Janet and Claus if they were familiar with this, which they declined. The name, which we in fact spotted on a sign in the western part of the street, was taken from the German delis and stores, which were started after World War II. A couple of these German restaurants still exist, but today there is a wide selection of ethnic eating places.
A great number of large blocks with condos reaching towards the sky make sure that the area - unlike many other metropolies - is not abandoned after office hours.
Canada Place and Harbour CentreCanada Place is the architectural symbol of Vancouver. With white roof tops that resemble giant white sails the pier hosted the pavilion showcase Canada during Expo 86. The flying sails reminds me most of all of the Opera Building in Sydney built by Utzon. Beneath the elegant sails is the luxurious Pan Pacific Hotel and the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre. Inside you find an Imax Theatre which shows spectacular 3D documentaries. The screen is 5 stories high. We just strolled through the building and enjoyed the magnificent view outside from the pier of the harbour - the busiest in North America handling 3000 ships a year from almost 100 countries. We saw a seagull catching a very big fish, but unfortunately we did not bring our camera. (Yes, I know it sounds like another fisherman's story, but I didn't do the catch). Canada Place is designed to look like a ship, and you can walk the building's perimeter as if you were "on deck" a giant cruiser. Outside there are boards describing the cityscape and pages of its history.
A competitor to Canada Place as the icon of the city is the nearby Harbour Centre Building in West Hastings. It is one of the city's tallest structures, and the locals have named it the "urinal" and maybe more affectionately the "hamburger", after its bulging upper storeys. On a clear day it's a good idea take the glass SkyLift elevators, that run up the side of the tower – 167 meters in less than a minute, so don't bring a cup of coffee. BTW we were surprised to see so many people taking coffee outside walking from one place to another. Wonder when this trend will hit Europe. On the 40th storey there is an observation deck with a breathtaking view. The ticket - yes you have to pay - is valid all day so in fact you could return in the evening and enjoy the lights of Vancouver at night.
Last (latest) time we went to Vancouver Enis og Jim - my cousib and her husband - invited us for dinner in the restaurant, way up in Harbour Centre. I have to admit that I do not remember the menu, but I'm sure it was great, but I shall never forget the breathtaking view of the city, when all the lights were lit during the evening. Did I tell you that the restaurant is revolving, so during one hour you will experience 360 degrees of the horizon?
GastownOf couse we had to go see Gastown again, the old center of Vancouver with its 1900-century street lamps, cobblestone streets, and Victorian architecture. Like the last time, we were he, we had coffee outside Starbucks at Water Street and sat down at watched the world go by. Tourists were dominating the picture. Every 15 minutes we heard the steamclock and saw tourists gather around it. There must be quite a lot of photos of this clock hanging in Japanese and Chinese homes. The clock is operated by a small steam engine, like the one kids used to play with in my childhood (1950's). The clock is driven by the city's underground steam heating system for office buildings. It looks old, but is in fact about 20 years old. It is as unique as "Jens Olsen's World Clock" in Copenhagen. This time we did not visit any of the many boutiques or galleries with First Nations art in the area.
Who was Gassy Jack?Gastown is named after "Gassy Jack", an adventurer, who landed his canoo loaded with a barrel of whisky here and opened a saloon. Besides the whisky there was his native wife, his mother-in-law and the wife's cousin, Big William to paddle the canoo. Gassy Jacks real navn was John Deighton. He was born in 1830 in Hull, England. He became a sailor, first on British ships, then on American ships. He left sea in San Francisco to dig for gold in the Californian gold rush. He did not find any, but like so many other suffering from gold fever he continued north to Fraser River in 1858. He gave up digging for gold and for some years he became a Fraser River pilot. After that he bought the Globe Saloon in New Westminster. Unfortunately the saloon blew up on July 4th 1867, as he and a comrade was celebrating the American day of feast. It was probably in despair that Jack Deighton paddled his canoo to Burrard Inlet, where he should become one of the founding fathers of Vancouver.
He had only 6 dollars to start with. Jack promised the area's mill workers they could have all the whisky they could drink if they would help him build a saloon. And it is told that the saloon was ready within 24 hours. The workers must have been pretty thirsty I guess. Outside the saloonen was a big mapple leaf, and the spot was soon known as Maple Tree Square. Under the mapple the local pioneers often gathered to talk about problems in the small settlement. Officially the settlement's name was Granville, unofficially - even on Admiralty charts - it was referred to as Gastown. Soon Jack opened a hotel and a drug store. Jack got his nickname "Gassy" for entertaining his guests with endless stories about life in the docks in Sydney, about golddigging in California, about Mexican bandits, about fights with grizzlies etc. Deighton House Hotel burned down in the great fire in 1886. Gassy Jack died on May 29 1875, 44 years old. 100 years after his death in 1986 a statue of Gassy Jack, standing on a barrel of whisky, was erected on the corner of Water Street and Carrall Street - where the old maple tree used to grow. In fact nobody knows, what the famed saloon keeper looked like. So it is said, that a random photo was picked from a pile of ancient photos. "This fellow looks as if he could be a Gassy Jack."
StoryeumLast time we were in Vancouver, we went to see a theatrical presentation of British Columbia's history. It took place in Storyeum Vancouver's newest entertainment attraction, located 142 Water Street, Gastown. A huge passenger lift took us down to an underground theater, where we had a guided tour for a little over one hour. On seven different stages we were taken through time in British Columbia. We were brought back to the creation af Canada's Western Province and magnificent rainforests, listened to to the First Nations' sacred stories of the spirit of man and nature, saw life in their bighouse, witnessed Hudson Bay Company coming to BC, experienced the gold rush, saw the last link of the transcontinental railway, the timber, fishing and mining industries and the immigration that through hard labour brought prosperity to the country. Local artists performed in every scene of the story telling. If you are a Vancouver resident you probably won't "have to go". But being tourists we found it a very entertaining way to tell the fantastic story of BC, its people, its heritage and its legends. We can recommend bringing kids to the show.
By the way there was a great exhibition in the hall with lots of old time fotos (I don't know if this is a permanent exhibition). I noticed an elderly gentleman eagerly studying fotos fra the old days of telephony. Having worked in the telephone business for more than 40 years, I had to talk to him and we had a god chat about the equipment in "the good old days". The guy had retired some years ago from his job in Toronto and now he was playing tourist in BC. I tell you this just to show you how easy it is to engage into a conversation with a typical Canadian. One of the main reasons why Birgit and I love Canada.
ChinatownDuring this trip we managed to visit Chinatown, which together with Gastown are the historic parts of Vancouver. We walked along Keefer Street from Gastown, not more than a 15 minutes walk. In fact we could have taken "The Silk Road" which is a pedestrian walk connecting Chinatown and Downtown Vancouver. The route is clearly marked with colourful banners and road signs and it takes you from city centre's Central Library through Keefer Street, International Village, the Chinese Cultural Centre, the Chinatown market area and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. It is the second-largest Chinatown in North America, next to the one in San Fransisco. The first Chinese immigrants settled in the area during the Fraser Gold Rush in the 1850s. The next wave were Chinese workers to work on the Trans-Canadian railway. Many of these decided to settle in Vancouver. The years before the British crown colony Hong Kong was given back to China, many Chinese people came to live in Vancouver. From Hong Kong alone more than 125.000 prosperous Chinese came to Vancouver. This invasion of course has raised prices of property.
On 50 East Pender Street "The Chinese Cultural Centre" offers walking tours which reveal the secrets of the area. In summer there is Chinatown Night Market every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights from 6:30 pm till 11:00 pm. The Market is on Pender Street and Keefer streets between Main and Gore streets.
More than 30 percent of the population of Vancouver have Cantonese or Mandarin as their mother tongue, making Chinese the most dominant minority ethnic group of the city. It is often said that the Chinese people are fully integrated in society. I'm not sure that we would agree on that statement in Denmark. It seems to me that liberal Canada accepts neighbourhoods to have their own culture and language while in Denmark we insist that immigrants have to learn the Danish language and to adopt or at least accept the Danish values. On later visits to Vancouver Birgit and I have often found ourselves to be the only caucasian people on the bus downtown. Quite a strange experience. But vibrant and colorful Chinatown is always worth a visit.
Sam Kee BuildingAccording to "Guiness Book of Records" and "Ripley's Believe it or Not" the world's narrowest office building is Sam Kee Building at 8 West Pender Street: 1.8 meter (6 feet)! The Sam Kee Company, once one of the wealthiest companies i Chinatown owned by Chang Toy, bought this land as a standard-sized lot in 1903. But in 1912 the City widened Pender Street, expropriating 24 feet off the front of the lot. Sam Kee Company asked the city to compensate them for their loss. When the city refused to do so, the company simply built on what had been left to them in protest. In 1986 the building was renovated by the architect Soren Rasmussen (I don't know, if the architect is Danish - but the name is). [September 2005: Mette has enlightened me on this point and informed me, that Soren Rasmussen is/was Danish. He emigrated to Canada around 1955 together with his family, mother, father, 2 sisters and 1 brother. In fact Soren Rasmussen is her cousin. Thanks, Mette. Funny enough this happened the very same year that my aunt, uncle and 2 cousins did the same] A couple of years ago the city of Pittsburgh, USA (who else?) challenged the Sam Kee Building in Vancouver, claiming that "the Skinny Building" in Pittsburgh is only five-feet and two-inches wide. I have not yet learned if the good tourist people of Vancouver have accepted this claim.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese GardenOn our previous visit to Chinatown we missed Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden at 578 Carrall Street, but this time we made it. The garden was built from 1985-86, and China and Canada collaborated to create it. Ancient techniques of the original Ming dynasty (1368-1644) gardens was employed, and it is said to be is the first authentic Chinese garden outside China. The construction began in January 1985 with the installation of timber piles and concrete ground beams to meet the seismic requirements of BC. Chinese building materials arrived in 965 custom-made, wood cases, 70 steel containers holding tons of traditional carvings, ornamental limestone and roof tiles from private gardens dating back to Ming dynasty. More than 50 artisans from China were involved in the creation of the garden.
We took a guided tour since we are not acquainted by chinese culture and traditions. An American senior, belonging to the staff of volunteers, told us over a nice cup of tea about the idea of a Chinese garden: to create an atmosphere of tranquility for contemplation and inspiration. We were told that the Chinese calligraphic inscription above the entrance to the Garden means "Garden of Ease". The garden is surrounded by walls, so you can't hear noise from the traffic. Then the guide took us around the garden carefully interpretating all the elements that we saw. The garden is a carefully balanced harmony of contrasts: of dark and light, solid and empty, hard and soft, straight and undulating, male and female, yin and yang - as the Taoists name it. The garden tries to capture all the elements of the landscape: mountains, rivers, lakes, trees, flowers, valleys, hills and to concentrate them in a small space. The garden is a place of peace and tranquility where the master of the house (sorry, women) retreats from the daily life and duties without turning his back on family.
After the visit to "Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden" we went to the adjacent small Chinese park (free of charge).
Sun Yat-Sen (1866–1925) was a Chinese revolutionary, by many considered to be the "Father of Modern China". He had a significant influence on the establishment of the Republic of China. Sun Yat-Sen was the first provisional president of the Republic of China in 1912 and de facto leader from 1923 to 1925.