For the Georgia Straight’s 19th annual Best of Vancouver issue, our editorial team has spent months on the lookout for good deeds, weird urban details, and various howlers to highlight. Here’s our contributors’ picks for Best of Vancouver 2014.
Best injection of fun into the urban landscape
We have a pair of Brazilian twins to thank for making our beautiful but terminally bland city just a bit more colourful. As part of the Vancouver Biennale, São Paolo–based street artists Gustavo and Otávio Pandolfo—known collectively as OSGEMEOS—completed their biggest-ever mural on Granville Island. Using the six Ocean Concrete silos as their canvas, the Pandolfos went through some 1,400 cans of spray paint to turn the 23-metre-high industrial structures into a group of yellow- and orange-skinned figures, four facing inward to the island and two facing toward downtown. When viewed with the monolithic glass towers of False Creek North as a backdrop, the work, titled “Giants”, offers passersby not just a hit of eye-popping colour but also a glimpse of what this city could look like if we all showed a little more imagination.
Best intersection for Vancouver voyeurs
Corner of Cambie Street and West 10th Avenue
Imagine you’re walking along, minding your own business, when suddenly an updraft from the Canada Line blows your skirt higher than your waist and you struggle not to flash all of Cambie Street. This is what happens above two large grates on the northeast corner, seemingly at random times but actually whenever a train passes below. Possibly a great place for selfies of the wind blowing through your hair or for punking enemies by arranging to meet there. A second source of embarrassment at that intersection? Some of the politicians who populate City Hall.
Best case of good intentions not well considered
Vancouver has an experimental recycling program to rid streets of cigarette butts. In November last year, it installed 110 receptacles for filters downtown. According to Vancouver Coastal Health, though, the city didn’t consider broader issues. Regional chief medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly noted that the presence of the containers may encourage smoking. Also, some of the boxes were mounted within six metres of doors, windows, and air intakes, in breach of the city’s own bylaws. Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada noted that this type of recycling program was invented and funded by Canada’s largest tobacco company, Imperial Tobacco Ltd.
Best appearance by the prince of darkness
The city’s adoption of Viktor Briestensky’s Dude Chilling Park sign set a precedent, suggesting that if a piece of guerilla public art proves popular enough, it has a chance of obtaining official status. The East Van Satan monument might be a harder sell, and that’s not the only thing hard about it. On September 9, commuters were surprised to discover that as-yet-unidentified pranksters had placed a life-sized likeness of a red-skinned, horned Lucifer on a pedestal near Grandview Highway and Clark Drive. (The pedestal was formerly home to a statue of Christopher Columbus, but that’s a whole other story.) The diabolical installation was notable not just because it depicted the Father of Lies throwing the goat with his right hand but also because it was horny in more ways than one, sporting a hard-on that would be the envy of Michael Fassbender. If nothing else, this gave respectable news outlets a valid excuse to use the word erect in headlines. Unfortunately, a crew from the city soon showed up and dismantled the poor devil—who looked suspiciously like a heavily customized store mannequin—before unceremoniously hauling him away in the back of a truck. Predictably, a petition popped up later that day, with concerned citizens lobbying the city to return Old Scratch to his pedestal. The phrase “a cold day in Hell” comes to mind.
Best place for man talk
In the discourse about gender, something has been lacking: a discussion about masculinity by local men. That’s where Manology comes in. The ongoing course, which is open to drop-ins and run by facilitator David Hatfield at the Roundhouse Community Centre, covers a comprehensive range of topics about manhood, including anger, prosperity, shame, monogamy, change, vulnerability, and more. It’s a chance to get beyond the surface chatter and delve into a deeper discussion about what is and isn’t working for men in the 21st century.
Best place to supersize your game of chess
Everyone knows that bigger is better, so why not board games? On sunny days, Hillcrest Community Centre (4575 Clancy Loranger Way) offers giant outdoor chess. Head down the steps just to the north of the main entrance and you’ll find an enormous chessboard with correspondingly large playing pieces. Set ’em up and unleash your inner Gary Kasparov (if the pieces aren’t out, just ask at the main desk).
Favourite pastime for Vancouverites
You’d think that in a city as beautiful as ours, which has been consistently lauded as one of the most livable places in the world, its residents would spend time enjoying themselves. However, as proven by the comments in any online article about the city, or as soon as anyone talks about being a long-time Vancouverite, there is no shortage of complaints about the city. Yes, complaining is one of the top pastimes of locals, it seems. Whether it’s about the rain, high price of living, social life, or almost anything, rather than spending time on understanding why the city is the way it is, people will find something wrong with everything in a matter of seconds. Yet all the whining about wet weather, for instance, has never changed Raincouver. This makes us wonder: if people hate the city so much, why do they bother living here?
Best location for a cross-cultural experience
With Vancouver’s multicultural population, there’s no excuse for not having the chance to engage in cross-cultural interaction in this city. With festivals from TaiwanFest and Indian Summer to Greek Day and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade with CelticFest Vancouver, Vancouverites can indulge in cultures and cuisines from around the world. Like cinema? There’s everything from the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival to the Vancouver Asian Film Festival. That’s in addition to all the stellar international performing artists that bring their slice of the world to us. Or simply take a ride on the SkyTrain to Richmond or the Robson Street bus full of ESL students and tourists to listen to conversations in languages ranging from Brazilian Portuguese to Farsi to Korean. Whoever calls this town No Fun City surely hasn’t tapped into the myriad of possibilities here when it comes to international cultures.
Best signs of a multilingual transformation
Although you might expect to see Chinese-language signs in Richmond and Chinatown, more and more businesses are taking note of Vancouver’s mushrooming Asian population. While SkyTrain has posted rider-awareness campaigns in English, Hindi, and Chinese and its Stadium–Chinatown SkyTrain station sign is in English and Chinese, Home Depot on Cambie Street also features signs in both English and Chinese. Real-estate signs in Korean and Chinese have been advertising in North Vancouver. Will we be seeing more of this in the near future? We can be sure this is, literally, a sign of things to come.
Best way to tell it’s the first sunny day of the year
If you’re in Vancouver early in the year, something unusual happens on the first full day of sun. No matter what the temperature is, people will break out the shorts, sometimes even flip-flops, and a few exhibitionist men will even take off their shirts. No matter that it’s still cold enough outside to see your breath crystallize in clouds in front of you—this is rain-drenched Vancouver, where sun-deprived, reverse vampires will do anything to maximize their Vitamin D intake, no matter how ridiculous they look.
Best fix for magazine junkie
The McNews store at the corner of Lonsdale Avenue and East 15th Avenue in North Vancouver has demonstrated cockroachlike survival skills. In an era when magazine shops have been shuttering across the continent, McNews endures, offering everything from popular newsweeklies to obscure literary magazines. It’s comforting walking into McNews to pick up the Saturday papers knowing you can walk across the street to read them in Blenz rather than having to rely on a tiny electronic screen.
Best real-estate play
Most people don’t think of universities as shrewd property barons. But SFU has eclipsed all other postsecondary institutions with its savvy touch in acquiring prime locations. With a Bing Thom–designed campus by the Surrey Central Station and four high-profile downtown locations—SFU Woodward’s, Harbour Centre, the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, and the Segal Building—it has established beachheads in key areas well in advance of everyone else. Kwantlen Polytechnic has followed SFU to Surrey Centre; the British Columbia Institute of Technology has a downtown site; and UBC occupies space in Robson Square and in Chinatown. But looking at the bigger picture, SFU has already won this race.
Best way to make lemonade out of lululemons
It’s been a big year for lululemon athletica, but the attention hasn’t always been good. About six months after the Vancouver-based yogawear brand dealt with customer complaints over see-through pants, its founder and chair, Chip Wilson, fired back. During a TV interview on November 5, 2013, Wilson said that “some women’s bodies just don’t work for it….It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time.” A few days later, Wilson did some backpedalling in a video clip posted by the company. Appearing distressed, he stated: “I’m sad for the repercussions of my actions. I’m sad for the people of lululemon.” He wasn’t done quite yet, however. Near the end of the year, Wilson announced that he would resign from his post as chair of the company’s board of directors by the following year. It looks like Wilson’s luck started to turn in 2014. He received an honorary doctorate from Emily Carr University of Art + Design this spring and, in August, lululemon opened its largest store to date: a 4,500-square-foot flagship location on the corner of Robson and Burrard streets.
Best goofball magnet
Got too many serious, dull, or pedantic people in your life? If you find yourself in need of seeing people letting loose their inner freaks, head down to English Bay and hang out at Morton Park at Denman and Davie streets. Artist Yue Minjun’s A-Maze-Ing Laughter, giant bronze sculptures of cartoonish men making faces, never fails to attract an endless stream of passersby imitating them and posing for pictures. Laugh with them or, as most people do, just laugh at them.
When you live in a city where condos the size of Billy Barty’s shoebox go for half a million dollars, interesting things happen in the real-estate game. Because the stakes are so high, folks who make a living brokering housing deals in Vancouver have become something akin to rock stars. Even if he’s not selling out Rogers Arena and topping the Billboard charts, Bob Rennie has the same name-recognition factor as Michael Bublé. As anyone who follows pop culture knows, there’s a rarefied few artists who don’t need two names: Madonna, Slash, and Eminem. On that front, give it up, Vancouver house shoppers, for the mono-named marvel Anthea, whose billboards, bus ads, and personalized website proudly bill her as “The only name to know in Vancouver Real Estate”. Kind of like Bono, but for those interested in living in Yaletown rather than two doors down from the Joshua tree in a red hill mining town where the streets have no name.
Most scenic squatting grounds in the city
Any freeloader with an Outward Bound pup tent and a moth-eaten sleeping bag can set up in Oppenheimer Park and live the life of Riley. From the Woodward’s squat of ’02 or 2011’s Occupy Vancouver tent city at the Vancouver Art Gallery, camping under the stars has proven to be a great way to avoid paying rent in one of North America’s most expensive cities. The question is: why would anyone want to hunker down in a setting where squatters are chock-a-block and personal hygiene consists of sponge baths and porta-potties? After all, one of the world’s most scenic locales is sitting right there on False Creek. Amazingly, it’s totally free to drop anchor in the shadow of Science World and B.C. Place, which explains the dozen of boats stationed on the water on any given day. Get a no-charge permit from the City of Vancouver and you’re good for a two-week stretch in the spring and summer, three weeks in the fall and winter. The only stipulation is that you have a seaworthy vessel. So if that dinghy you bought for six dollars at the Grand Union Hotel floats, it’s anchors aweigh with a view for which some jackass in Fairview Slopes just traded his Porsche.
Best urban forest in the world
Don’t take our word for it. According to TripAdvisor, our green jewel received the most positive reviews by its users over the past year out of all the parks in the world. Of course, with Beaver Lake, the 8.8-kilometre Seawall walk, beaches, pools, playgrounds, gardens, totem poles, restaurants, cute critters and birds, horse-drawn carriages, paths galore, and more, we all already knew it was great...didn’t we?
Best places to spend your precious bitcoins
Vancouver is arguably the Bitcoin capital of Canada. Perhaps you’ve even bought yourself a bitcoin (or a few bits) at one of those newfangled Bitcoin ATMs. But where can you spend this magic Internet money that’s burning a hole in your digital wallet? For starters, you can get caffeinated at Lost + Found Cafe (33 West Hastings Street) and Waves Coffee House (100–900 Howe Street). Then there’s India Gate (616 Robson Street) and The Parker (237 Union Street) for real meals. You can also buy gold, marijuana seeds, and more in town with Bitcoin. Got anything left over? Free Geek Vancouver (1820 Pandora Street) and PeaceGeeks (www.peacegeeks.org) are two local nonprofits that accept Bitcoin donations.
Best reminder that we live on stolen land
Remember seeing the words stolen land spray-painted on Vancouver’s streets during the 2010 Winter Olympics? Four years later, the City of Vancouver essentially shot from the same can of paint. On June 25, council unanimously approved a motion formally acknowledging that the city lies on the unceded traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. The move followed the Year of Reconciliation, during which the city heard much about the harms of colonization. So are you hoping that the provincial and federal governments will follow suit anytime soon? Don’t hold your breath.
Most efficient airport in Canada
If you’re complaining about wait times at YVR, don’t be surprised if someone labels it a First World problem. According to a 2014 study by aviation experts at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, Vancouver International Airport ranked as the most efficient airport in the country. The study evaluated operational and management efficiency in addition to cost effectiveness.
Best black-wax injection
2447 East Hastings Street
Call the neighbourhood what you will: Hastings-Sunrise, East Village, or That Area You Move to When You Can’t Afford Commercial Drive. Whatever you refer to it as, there’s no denying that the strip of Hastings that runs from Lakewood to Renfrew is undergoing a major rebirth. A decade ago, it was where you picked up your prescription at London Drugs after buying cheap vegetables at Como Market and olive oil at Ugo & Joe’s. Now it’s a blossoming hipster hot spot. For proof, look no further than the traffic coming in and out of Horses, a vinyl-speciality record store right in the middle of an explosion of coffee shops (Platform 7), styling eateries (Tacofino), and intimate neighbourhood bars (the Brighton). After years of having to make the trek to Red Cat on Main or Zulu in Kits, it’s nice to know there’s an East Side place to score essential black-wax releases by the likes of Nick Cave, Nina Hagen, and whoever is on the cover of Pitchfork this week. Horses, which carries zines and showcases local art, also features a cassette-vending machine for local bands who want to distribute their releases. That’s right, a cassette-vending machine. Move over, Main Street: there’s a new cool kid in town.
Best SkyTrain station
The Peter Busby–designed station at Brentwood Town Centre looms above the Lougheed Highway like a flying saucer. It makes older stations, like Nanaimo and Scott Road, look like dreary relics from East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Best inside-out mall
The Village at Park Royal has been redesigned to look like a quaint town. Store entrances face sunlit sidewalks and a tree-lined streetscape full of parking spots. With its outdoor benches, this southern portion of Park Royal is the antithesis of the traditional inward-facing big-box suburban mall. (Think Metrotown.) Now it’s breeding copycats across the country.
Best reason to choose Vancouver over Surrey
If you’re worried about break-ins, keep this statistic in mind. Last year, Vancouver had 1,327 police officers. Surrey, which has three-quarters of Vancouver’s population, has 703 RCMP officers. Surrey has more than twice as much space as Vancouver, which means the Mounties have to travel much greater distances to respond to calls. With half the officers and double the territory, is it any wonder there were more than four times as many murders last year in Surrey than in Vancouver?
Best case for Burnaby over Vancouver or Surrey
Burnaby preserves green space and is debt-free, whereas Surrey is known for its urban sprawl and a city-owned development company that has piled up nearly $100 million in debt. Meanwhile, Vancouver is still paying down debt associated with hosting the Olympics. Besides that, Burnaby has tons of SkyTrain stations, which means if you pick the right location to live, you won’t have to blow a bunch of money on gas.
Best place to get a computer fixed on a budget
304 Victoria Drive
Billed as “Vancouver’s Laptop Scrap Yard”, the Hackery’s group of computer whizzes are always happy to help diagnose your computer problems. More of a DIYer? Odds are good that the East Vancouver–based Hackery will have the parts you need to fix your beast or be able to track them down. If the Hackery can’t fix your ailing machine, you won’t be charged a dime for the time, and its commitment to ethical recycling means you can get rid of your laptop without sending it to a landfill. Heck, they’ll even come pick up your decrepit technology for free if you live within Vancouver, Burnaby, or Richmond city limits. It’s a win-win-win.
Best way to afford living in a mansion
By sharing space, food, and chores in a collective house, many have found an affordable way to live in style in Vancouver, North America’s most expensive city. Ami Muranetz, a consultant on sustainable development, cofounded one in Shaughnessy, where residents had a four-storey, Tudor-style mansion for rents ranging from $480 to $600 each. Their lease was not renewed by the owner over a misunderstanding that the house was used as a hostel. Muranetz and her partner later moved into another collective house in a Spanish-style mansion on Southwest Marine Drive. Their rent is $900 a month.
Best secret forest
999 Charleson Street
We are almost loath to give up this quiet gem of a park, but more people should know: Charleson Park is an unsung jewel. Although it offers spectacular views of downtown Vancouver from across False Creek, numerous cycling paths, and a sizeable off-leash dog park, our favourite path through this 7.14-hectare green space actually starts on West 7th Avenue at Laurel Street. There you’ll find a pedestrian- and bike-friendly overpass (which crosses over West 6th Avenue and the railroad tracks) that leads to a cozy grove of trees, a tiny waterfall, and a pond usually full of ducks. Stanley Park may get the lion’s share of attention in Vancouver, but urban forests like these shouldn’t be overlooked.
Best way to get unwanted exercise downtown
What could possibly be more refreshing after a hard day’s work in Vancouver than to start your commute to the ’burbs with a long trudge down the broken 70-plus-steps escalator at Granvillle SkyTrain Station? The people-moving machine has been out of commission for most of September. Stalled escalators will surely make for great fun when combined with the people-cramming capabilities of the new Compass fare system. Oh, right: that’s busted too.
Best war of pharmacies
Shoppers Drug Mart and London Drugs have been slugging it out along West Broadway for decades. In recent years, the competition has intensified with London Drugs operating two huge stores, one west of Cambie Street and the other between Arbutus and Macdonald streets. In the meantime, Shoppers Drug Mart has one outlet on West Broadway west of Macdonald, another east of Burrard Street, another west of Willow Street, a fourth south of West Broadway on Granville, and a fifth south of West Broadway on Cambie Street. Managing to rise above the fray west of Oak Street is Finlandia Pharmacy & Natural Health Centre, offering an alternative to the corporate giants with its vast assortment of vitamins and supplements.
Best sign that Ron Zalko is a hypnotist
Fitness guru Ron Zalko likes telling a story about a woman who visited him and said, “Ron, I drink and I smoke and there is no way I’m going to give it up. Can you keep me in shape?” Zalko responded, “Of course I can.” Within six months, his words came true: she had stopped smoking and drinking and was running marathons.
Best sign that younger people are smarter than older people
Anyone who meets the new president of UBC, Arvind Gupta, comes away thinking that he’s exceptionally intelligent. After all, you don’t get that job if you can’t keep up with the professors. But when he spends time with his family, Gupta recognizes his limitations. “My kids help me with the technology at home when it doesn’t work,” he says. “I have a PhD in computer science—and they point out that they fix my computer for me.” Some things are best left to the millennials.
Best pre–lost weekend pit stop
28 East Pender Street
Remember the good old days when men poured Scotch on their Corn Flakes, drinking and driving was actually encouraged, and every self-respecting home came complete with a fully loaded bar cart? Not that we’re condoning such things, but from what we’ve seen in old black-and-white movies, it was a more civilized, not to mention classy-looking time. For those who wish life were something straight out of Mad Men, but aren’t quite sure where to track down a double old-fashioned glass, might we point the way to Modern Bartender? A go-to for many of the city’s top drink slingers, the specialty store is the one place in town that not only knows the difference between a Baron Cobbler and a Boston shaker, but also sells them. Looking for a flip glass, a mint julep cup, or an AG Hawthorne strainer, not to mention handcrafted lavender and cherry-cedar bitters? Head to the place that bills itself as the Imbiber’s Playhouse. About the only thing they don’t sell is an ice bag for your poor punished liver, which is somehow fitting considering that no one worried about minor inconveniences like cirrhosis back in the good old days.