Best of Vancouver 2012 communities: West Vancouver offers far more than wealth

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      With their luxury cars, look-at-me jewels, and exorbitant spending habits, the Real Housewives of Vancouver who happen to call West Vancouver home could not do a better job of perpetuating unsavoury stereotypes. There’s no denying that mere mention of West Van, which boasts some of Canada’s richest postal codes, might bring to mind the ladies who liquid-lunch, people whose personalities aren’t nearly as deep as their pockets. But Trish Panz knows another side of West Vancouver.

      Having moved to the area from Powell River when she was in Grade 3, the second-term city councillor has lived in other parts of the province but has always come back, returning in 2000 with her husband and two sons to the district she calls home.

      “The community I know is natural, smart, committed, and inclusive,” Panz says in an interview at the West Vancouver Community Centre, a modern, environmentally sound building that she calls the “living room” of the community—and whose lobby features iconic Canadian artist Gordon Smith’s stunning Beach Tangle sculpture. It’s a massive wall hanging replete with driftwood, fishing-vessel lines, and other chunky detritus the West Vancouver resident of more than 50 years found on local beaches.

      “The people I know are taking care of our streams and organizing our upcoming PumpkinFest [October 13 and 14]. They’re helping preserve our shoreline. In Eagle Harbour, where I live, the community organized a fun run last year, and 500 people came through the trails to raise money to buy a bear-proof garbage container for Eagle Harbour beach. That’s the community I know. They’re here because there’s a real sense of being connected to nature. Growing up was all about mountains, trails, beaches, and streams, and it’s accessible to all,” says Panz, noting that since 1975, the district has purchased 29 of 32 waterfront properties in and around Ambleside, with the purpose of keeping the beachfront in the public realm.

      Even West Vancouver’s youth say that natural beauty is what they cherish about their hometown. A survey conducted earlier this year among the region’s young people resulted in a top-10 list of things this demographic loves most about West Vancouver. The first five items were the people, beaches, proximity to nature, parks, and the ocean.

      A 2010 survey found residents wanted priority placed on projects linked to the environment, followed by youth and seniors, then diversity and housing. With the municipality turning 100 this year, it seems that the real West Vancouver has a lot to celebrate.

      Best way to get in touch with your inner Scot

      Bagpipes by the Beach
      Ambleside Park

      The West Vancouver Firefighters Charitable Society hosts this festival of pipers every June, featuring police, fire, and military pipe bands from throughout Metro Vancouver—which join together to play in a stirring grand finale. Set on a huge grassy field in the early evening with spectacular Ambleside Beach as a backdrop, it’s all enough to take your breath away. The event is run by off-duty firefighters, entry is by donation, and net proceeds support various charities.

      Best way to help your kids fall in love with art

      Silk Purse Arts Centre
      1570 Argyle Avenue

      Events and workshops for kids and adults take place at this waterfront studio all year round, but there’s something especially magical about the idea of sending your children to an art camp situated in a quaint house built as a honeymoon cottage on a spectacular beach. There, campers collect objects like shells, feathers, dried kelp, and other natural treasures to create mixed-media pieces worthy of display on the living-room mantle.

      Best source of hope for salmon stocks

      West Vancouver Streamkeeper Society

      The West Vancouver Streamkeeper Society, a volunteer-run organization, worked with the District of West Vancouver to obtain approval from the federal and provincial governments to construct a coho-salmon rearing pond. It will be adjacent to McDonald Creek in Memorial Park, across from the Memorial Library (which has the highest circulation per capita in the country). The group has raised $81,000 plus in-kind donations to make the rearing pond a reality.

      “The larger picture is all about helping salmon stocks in our streams,” society president John Barker tells the Straight. “In West Vancouver we have 22 creeks and tributaries and four of the five Pacific salmon present in several of these creeks. Our task is to protect what we have and to create opportunity through stream enhancements to advance salmon further upstream to suitable habitat that was available before the forces of urbanization compromised fish access. We are continually rewarded with evidence of more returning adult salmon entering more streams and gaining access to additional spawning territory through our enhancement efforts, supplemented by releasing coho and chum fry from our volunteer-run hatchery on Nelson Creek.”

      The organization also works with students from West Vancouver Secondary School, who help with salmon surveys every year.

      Best way to explore award-winning architecture

      West Coast Modern Home Tour

      The West Vancouver Museum hosts a summer tour of West Coast modernist homes designed by architecture greats such as Arthur Erickson, Ned Pratt, Ron Thom, Paul Merrick, and Russell Hollingsworth.

      This past summer’s event took participants to two homes in Montiverdi Estates by Erickson, as well as to the home built in 1958 for Bob Mills, the original owner of the Waldorf Hotel. It has a mature Japanese garden overlooking Burrard Inlet as well as dazzling Polynesian detailing.

      Call it the West Coast Tour of Homes You’ll Never Live In.

      Best oceanfront arts festival to rival the folk fest

      Harmony Arts Festival Ambleside

      West Vancouver has an annual beachfront arts-and-music extravaganza to call its own. The Harmony Arts Festival got started 23 years ago because the district was looking for a way to raise awareness of local artists. Since then, it’s grown in popularity and creative depth, with this year’s event drawing more than 100,000 participants and musicians such as Lache Cercel, Zhambai Trio, Rumba Calzada, Maria in the Shower, Tiller’s Folly, the Matinée, and John Reischman and the Jaybirds. Plus, more than 80 artists displayed their works at the adjacent, outdoor Vancouver’s North Shore Tourism Art Market. Besides taking self-guided art-studio tours, people could also snack on everything from pho to tacos, crepes to organic baked goods, all while watching the skies turn golden pink at sunset.

      Best arts-oriented legacy

      Kay Meek Centre
      1700 Mathers Avenue

      This theatre helped put West Vancouver on the cultural map. Two years after it was completed in 2004, the municipality was declared one of Canada’s cultural capitals by Heritage Canada. The centre, which consists of a 500-seat theatre and a smaller studio space, takes its name from a former schoolteacher turned philanthropist, who for decades had dreamed of seeing a learning-based performance centre built in the community she’d come to adore. She made an initial gift of $1 million, then later donated more to see her vision realized. She died at age 98—on the same day that the first public performance at the theatre named in her honour took place.

      Shows this season include Bill Richardson and Veda Hille’s Craigslist Cantata (a coproduction with Arts Club on Tour), an appearance by the Vienna Boys’ Choir, and Motet, a new collaboration by Finland’s Circo Aereo and Britain’s Gandini Juggling.

      Best place for SCUBA diving

      Whytecliff Park

      In 1993, the waters off this ruggedly beautiful park became Canada’s first saltwater Marine Protected Area. That means newbies and advanced divers don’t have to contend with boat traffic. Beginners stick to the sheltered bay, while experts go further into the channel. Regardless of their level, divers are treated to an array of marine life, including giant Pacific octopuses, sea stars, rockfish, plumose anemones, cloud sponges, moon snails, and nudibranchs.

      “I’ve witnessed a pod of orcas swim past…and visited the local wolf eel,” writes diver Jenessa Greenough on the International Diving Centre website. “I’ve also had one of the most coveted BC diving encounters at our very own Whytecliff Park: on the far side of the Islet, in 65 feet (20 metres) of water one summer evening a couple of years back, my buddy and I had a six-gill shark casually come check us out.…Whytecliff is full of surprises and the more you appreciate it, the more it offers up for you to enjoy.”