Editors' Picks: City history and landmarks

Best creatures frozen in time

Whoever designed King Edward Village was really into Victoriana. Not only are the curved inner streets of the complex cobblestoned, there are giant black rats—and panthers, lizards, pigs, goats, and some critters we can’t even identify—in front of the Kensington branch of the Vancouver Public Library (1428 Cedar Cottage Mews, 604-665-3961). Fortunately, they’re cast in bronze, so they’re whimsical—at least in theory.

Best ways to say Vancouver other than, you know, Vancouver

If you thought our city was only pronounced Van-koo-vur, well, let it be known that there are plenty of other ways to say it. Of course, there are the nicknames, like Vancity, Terminal City (a reference to the terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway), or Saltwater City (Ham-sui-fau), which—according to Paul Yee’s Saltwater City: An Illustrated History of the Chinese in Vancouver—early Chinese immigrants called the city to distinguish it from New Westminster, situated on the freshwater Fraser River. But today, Vancouver is Won-gor-wah in Cantonese or We-ge-hua in Mandarin. In Korean, it’s Pen-ku-pah, while in Japanese, we’re known as Bankuba. Leave it to the French to gild our city’s name with Euro flair: Vahn-koo-vair.

Best lost names in Vancouver

Before the European colonization of what is now B.C., various locations on the Stanley Park peninsula had Squamish names. It would serve as a salutary reminder of those whose ancestral land this is to include on city maps a reference to Ay-Yul-Shun (English Bay), Stait-Wouk (Second Beach), Slah-Kay-Ulsh (Siwash Rock), Sunz (Prospect Point), Ahk A-Chu (Beaver Lake), Whoi-Whoi (Lumberman’s Arch), Paa-Pee-Ak (Brockton Point), Squt-Sahs (Deadman’s Island), and Chul-Whan-Ulch (Lost Lagoon) alongside their contemporary names.

Best of old Vancouver

Vancouver Heritage Foundation
402-510 West Hastings Street

If there’s anything you’ve ever wanted to know about Vancouver’s heritage, this is the place. The Vancouver Heritage Foundation, a registered charity, was formed to aid in conserving the city’s heritage buildings via education, restoration grants, and by creating awareness. There’s lots to like here, including the upcoming “Vancouver Special: the Tour” on September 26 ($25), where participants visit five of these “ranchers turned sideways” houses. There’s an assortment of grants available for homes that are on the Heritage Register for B.C., plus lectures and workshops, green building-rehab and -retrofit info, a homeowner’s forum, resource guides to old houses, an inventory of heritage properties for sale, and scads more.

Best place to remember the history of Vancouver's black community

As you’re speeding over the Georgia Viaduct, you probably aren’t giving much thought to the history that’s been paved over there. This area was once Hogan’s Alley, the vibrant centre of Vancouver’s black community. A diverse group of black, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese residents frequented the eateries, churches, and businesses that gave the neighbourhood its colour. Jimi Hendrix’s grandmother Nora Hendrix worked at one popular establishment, Vie’s Chicken Inn. Sadly, Hogan’s Alley was razed in the early 1970s to make way for the construction of the viaduct. Only recently have grassroots organizations like the Hogan’s Alley Memorial Project begun to work toward bringing this history back into the public consciousness.

Most architecturally awesome ornamentation

The Marine Building (355 Burrard Street) features some of the finest maritime-themed architectural ornamentation in the world. Built in 1930, this 21-storey edifice pays homage to all things nautical with intricately carved scenes of sea life (crabs, sea horses, starfish, and the like) framing the exterior walls and entranceway. Terra cotta Neptunes, tridents in hand, guard the corners of the sixteenth floor. Once inside the lobby, look up to see lights nestled in plasterwork sconces shaped like the prows of ships, and a clock where nautical symbols stand in for numerals. The floor displays the signs of the zodiac. Even the five high-speed elevators are gawk-worthy with their bronze doors and walls that have been painstakingly inlaid with a dozen varieties of indigenous B.C. hardwoods.

Coolest official new landmark

Vancouver has a treasure that ranks among the best in the world. The PNE’s 51-year old classic wooden roller coaster was given official landmark status on July 11, 2009, by the roller-coaster world’s prestigious American Coaster Enthusiasts. It’s now one of only five coasters worldwide to have both classic (this means that our coaster is original and doesn’t have any modern add-ons like vision-impairing headrests) and landmark honours. What makes our coaster so special? Its amazing design: once the coaster is pulled by chain to the peak of the first hill, it zips down, up, and around completely by gravity, attaining speeds up to 80 kilometres per hour. There’s a thrill in every downward dip as riders are lifted out of their seats for some screaming airtime.

North America's biggest Buddha

International Buddhist Temple
9160 Steveston Highway, Richmond

If you haven’t been to the 26-year-old International Buddhist Temple, also known as the Guan-Yin Temple, it’s visit-worthy. You’ll find the 10.7-metre-tall Buddha in the Main Gracious Hall. The world’s longest Buddhist mural—the Seven Buddha Mural that took two years to paint—is here too. The temple’s serene vegetarian restaurant, open at lunch, is worth a stop in.

Best evidence of Chinese numerology at work

Imagine this typical Vancouver scene: a woman gets into an elevator. She pushes her floor number and then pauses as her hand hovers over the space between floors “3” and “5.” She looks puzzled yet again when she notices that floors “14” and “24” are also missing. Then she gets off the elevator and sees that every one of the suite numbers has the number “8” in it. The music from the Twilight Zone begins to play creepily in the background instead of the Musak that was playing in the elevator before. But no, this isn’t some bizarre alternate universe. It’s Chinese numerology that’s caused certain inauspicious numbers to be erased from Vancouver elevator pads and other lucky numbers to appear everywhere. For example, the number four sounds phonetically like death in Chinese and eight sounds like prosperity. So in the future, think carefully about your apartment and floor numbers before you commit to them.

The thing that Vancouver will make viewers jealous of while watching the 2010 winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics are just around the corner, and our city will be the centre of focus for 16 days. But are we prepared to impress the world aesthetically? We probably won’t be able to compete with Beijing’s stunning 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremonies or cutting-edge architecture like the Water Cube. Sure, the Richmond Oval is nice, but it ain’t no Bird’s Nest stadium. What we are lucky enough to have, though, is a setting that is stupendous on its own without having to touch—or spend—a thing. When audiences see breathtaking shots of our North Shore mountains as the city’s backdrop, they’ll turn green with envy. Top that, London 2012.

Best way to avoid the Olympics hysteria

Total denial

Fact: the Olympics are almost here. Fact: kicking, screaming, or protesting them in any way is counter-productive at this point. So what then do semireclusive, sports-illiterate Vancouverites do to cope with the approaching onslaught of “cheer” heading this way? Humbug vigilantism? Preventative therapy? Abandon all possessions and flee the city? Anyone who assumes our lives will be irrevocably altered between February 12, when the Games begin, and March 21, when the Paralympics wrap up, isn’t taking into account Vancouver’s uncanny ability to deny and ignore. Consider the Downtown Eastside, last winter’s gangland “kill-a-thon”, or the great garbage strike of 2007. Without a doubt, there’ll be a significant number of Vancouverites who simply won’t notice or acknowledge the Olympics, and instead focus on the fact that the lineups at Starbucks are much longer and populated with better-looking, more in-shape people than ever before.

Best blast from the past/glimpse of the future


Anchored off the south shore of Burrard Inlet near Burnaby’s Capitol Hill, the floating McDonald’s restaurant, nicknamed the McBarge, was a fixture at Expo 86. Take a boat ride up Burrard Inlet past the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing, and you’ll cruise alongside the McBarge’s dilapidated remains. So this is what the Olympic glory days will look like 20 years from now”¦