Best of Vancouver 2018: City Life
Best place to live out a Game of Thrones fantasy
After a few lessons at the Academie Duello, any Vancouverite would have a shot of stealing the Iron Throne. As the city’s premier swordplay establishment, the Academie teaches armizare: a medieval Italian combat system designed to train knights for the battlefield and duelling ground. Its downtown studio specializes in instructing locals on the fundamentals of wielding a longsword, sidesword, and poleaxe, while its partner farm in Richmond offers everything from horseback combat to mounted archery and falconry. Fair warning—those metal swords are heavier than they look.
Best neighbourhood to escape the crowds
Mellow and low-key, Dunbar sometimes seems like it’s frozen in time—unlike so many other parts of the city. Refreshingly devoid of chain stores, chain restaurants, and even chain movie theatres, this patch of the West Side is an excellent spot for those who just want to get away from it all. Grab a bag of popcorn at a single-screen cinema house.
For lovers of cookbooks, the Dunbar library branch is an ideal destination. Serious readers can head south on Dunbar Street to Lawrence Books, where B.C. titles from bygone eras are available at bargain prices in its narrow aisles. And while the new and improved local Stong’s Market has all the deli delights found in modern grocery stores, it hasn’t lost its quaint touch. For proof, check out the historical images on the wall in its coffee shop.
Best change for change’s sake
Little things can make a big difference in people’s lives. Take the case of parents who need to change children’s diapers in public. Not all washrooms are equipped with diaper-changing tables. Vancouver park commissioner Erin Shum, who is a new mom, wants to change that by having all washrooms operated by the park board installed with these contraptions. Shum has also suggested that all City of Vancouver washrooms should have the same.
Best admirably progressive apology
Blame Donald Trump and the MAGA red-hat horde (looking at you, Kanye!), but, increasingly, we’re in a world where apologizing is a lost art. Why admit you’ve messed up when it’s easier to return fire on Twitter? A big hats off, then, to Red Truck Beer Company for responding to criticisms that its Red Truck Concert Series this year was something of a sausage party.
When the lineup for the 2018 edition of the three-weekends-in-summer festival was announced, local artists—including Juno Award–winning Jill Barber—questioned why almost all the acts were men. (The headliners were Coleman Hell, Allen Stone, and Michael Ray, the undercard almost exclusively dude.) Rather than ignore the issue, Red Truck showed that it was actually listening. It released a statement on Facebook that started with an apology for the lack of diversity, then included: “We have recognized our failure to be adequately sensitive and proactive with regards to the issues of diversity and inclusion in our programming.”
This was followed by the announcing of support for Girls Rock Camp Vancouver and a pledge of “We promise to do better.” Difficult as it is these days to keep the faith, sometimes there are folks who seem genuinely determined to make the world a more equitable place.
Best way to lose the will to live
Visit Vancouver’s property-listings websites.
Best way to spend a few extra hours with your pharmacist
For a year or so now, patients of Pier Health Resource Centre, a pharmacy in the Downtown Eastside, have made regular outings with clinic staff. Pier’s director, Bobby Milroy, says the trips to Metro Vancouver’s great outdoors are all about mental health—and not only the mental health of his patients, many of whom struggle with addiction. Milroy notes the trips have also proven to boost the spirits of his staff. “This gave me a chance to get out in nature and just relax,” he says. Milroy gives all credit for the program to one of his patients, Alex Gibb. “One can easily become complacent or fall into a routine or negative rut,” Gibb tells the Straight. “So it’s good to change your environment....It triggers positive things within yourself.” Milroy adds that a few hours fishing on the Capilano River or a hike up the North Shore mountains is just what the doctor ordered.
Best new place to take an outdoor lunch break downtown
The Vancouver Public Library central branch’s newly opened rooftop garden is an oasis amid the roar of the urban core. Grab a book from one of the lower floors and head up to the tiled, leafy patio, high above the busy streets, with your lunch bag and thermos. At 7,400 square feet, designed by landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, the expansive new deck—complete with tables and chairs—will make going back to work a little harder.
Best reason to appreciate the rain
Have you ever had to sit on a bus on a steamingly humid day that’s full of men who haven’t showered in a week, aren’t wearing deodorant, and have just exercised? Think you haven’t? Well, if you’ve been in this city for any rainless stretch that has spanned more than a few days, you might as well have. Think of the rain as the shower that keeps the city not only clean and green but also smellable.
Best new dance space
Left of Main
211 Keefer Street
What happens when a small indie dance company takes on the dream of renovating a 1,500-square-foot, 100-year-old abandoned dim-sum restaurant in Chinatown? A much-needed affordable studio opens up not just for local rehearsals, but for inovative, intimate performances. Plastic orchid factory staged its 10th-anniversary show, i miss doing nothing, here in the summer, a piece that revelled in its setting, with the Chinatown street noise and the natural play of sunlight through the windows.
From November 13 to 24, dumb instrument dance stages Public & Private, a work accompanied by thunderous live taiko drumming. At the same time, Left of Main studio is now headquarters and office space for not only plastic orchid factory but MACHiNENOiSY and Tara Cheyenne Performance. Funded by everything from a city cultural-infrastructure grant to Canadian Heritage cultural-spaces funding, the four-year project proves that artists really can create their own spaces and come up with affordable solutions—and, unthinkably, that dancers can also be developers.
LGBT community’s best behind-the-scenes publicist
As the former cochair of Vision Vancouver, Paul Nixey helped elect Canada’s most LGBT–friendly mayor, Gregor Robertson. Nixey has also advised Canada’s most LGBT–friendly Liberal MP, Hedy Fry, as she’s advanced many measures to bring about greater equality, regardless of a person’s sexual orientation. But what many people don’t know is that Nixey also quietly promotes important health initiatives benefiting the LGBT community by contacting media outlets to keep these issues in the public eye.
This includes expanded access to pre-exposure prophylaxis and post-exposure prophylaxis (known as PrEP and PEP), which reduce transmission of HIV. He also tried to amplify the voices of young folks at YouthCO to have their views heard on sex education. Vancouver is a world leader in measures to make a city a welcoming, healthy, and safe place for LGBT people, whether in the schools, at park-board facilities, or in various medical centres. Nixey is one of the reasons why.
Best way to get on Mother Nature’s good side
Sure, recycling and composting are cool, but those duties are child’s play in the grand scheme of our rapidly deteriorating environment. To really get into Mother Earth’s good books, try reducing your consumption of single-use plastics—a task that’s been made a little easier for Vancouverites thanks to the opening of Nada along with the Soap Dispensary & Kitchen Staples, two packaging-free grocers that are committed to zero waste. The launch of initiatives like Soapstand, a vending machine offering refills on household soaps and cleaners, also gives citizens one less excuse to cling to the disposable stuff.
Best place for Vancouverites to stare death in the face
B.C. is pretty spoiled when it comes to suspension bridges, but the new Cloudraker Skybridge in Whistler may be the scariest one to cross. The long, swinging structure stretches 130 metres from Whistler Peak to the West Ridge, offering heart-pounding views of Whistler Bowl below. You can definitely feel that sucker moving once the wind picks up, creating a thrilling and terrifying experience once you’ve made it far enough to realize that turning back would take as much effort as just crossing the damn thing. Wanna keep your adrenaline up? Make a pit stop at the Sea to Sky Gondola—and maybe Whistler Bungee—on your drive back to Vancouver.
Best year to be queer
When it comes to out LGBT history in this city, it’s only a few decades old. But with numerous LGBT organizations celebrating milestone anniversaries, it’s an encouraging indication of how far things have progressed. Among those celebrating this year were Out on Screen, Qmunity, AIDS Vancouver, Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium, Pride in Art Society, and the Vancouver Pride Society, just to name a few. So the City of Vancouver officially declared 2018 as the Year of the Queer. Cheers to all the hard work by local individuals, organizations, and businesses, and here’s to many more years to come.
Best reason for Vancouver’s dudes to ditch the cargos and sportswear
Vancouver may not exactly be known for its trendsetting styles, but a couple of openings in Yaletown are giving the city’s guys one less excuse to reach for the sweat-wicking T-shirts and cargo shorts. Exhibit A: Emile Clothing Co. (100-1062 Homer Street), a men’s-clothing boutique that stocks quality European labels and tailored yet casual and affordable pieces like merino-wool crewnecks and cropped trousers. And then there’s Surmesur (1012 Mainland Street), a made-to-measure menswear store from Montreal that offers custom shirts and suits. Add the Indochino flagship (1014 Homer Street) into the mix, and it’s fair to say that Yaletown has become the gentlemen’s fashion destination.
Best place to get tinnitus
Ever wondered why the downtown core is plagued by ear-busting horns at noon every day? Spoiler: it’s not the cruise ships. The Heritage Horns, as they are known, were designed in 1967 to play the first four notes of the Canadian national anthem every day at 12 p.m. Originally placed on the roof of the B.C. Hydro Building at Burrard and Nelson streets, they were moved in the 1990s. Canada Place Corporation fixed them up and attached them to the roof of the Pan Pacific Hotel, where they’ve been sounding every day since 1994. The horns are so noisy that the blast travels through downtown and beyond the North Shore—which, to be honest, is probably about as loud as the subwoofer at the back of Celebrities.
Best place to smell a rotting corpse
If you don’t want to spend your golden years in the B.C. Penitentiary, your best shot at inhaling the scent of rotting flesh comes from a trip to the Bloedel Conservatory. This year, Uncle Fester—the greenhouse’s Titan arum (or “corpse flower” to the gruesome)—surprised everyone by blooming four years early, releasing a stench that drew hundreds to the doors of the dome. There’s no accounting for curiosity.
Best name change of a civic site/asset
Strathcona’s Keefer Street Pedestrian Overpass—which connects Raymur Avenue to Keefer over the railway tracks—is being renamed the Militant Mothers of Raymur Overpass as part of a recent city initiative to honour contributions by Vancouver citizens. In January 1971, mothers who had demanded the railroad cease operations during the hours their children would be crossing the tracks to get to and from the school nearest to Stamps Place Housing—a social-housing complex that opened in 1968—took matters into their own hands when the city and school board stalled and the railroad reneged on its promise to do so. Twenty-five of them risked their own safety (and some were arrested) by sitting upon and then camping on the tracks until the various parties agreed to build an overpass, which was completed later that year.
Best evidence that yelling into the empty void of the Internet produces fast and effective results
Despite what your parents and employer have been repeatedly telling you, complaining on the Internet isn’t a complete waste of time and, in fact, does get shit done—if said shit involves getting B.C. native and bawdy box-office star Seth Rogen onto the airwaves of our regional transit authority, that is. Take it from the Vancouverites who took to social media in May to propose Rogen as the voice of TransLink after a Visa-backed campaign with Morgan Freeman was axed. The suggestions seemed only half-serious at first, but, two months later, Rogen was advising passengers to keep their feet off the seats of SkyTrains. Never stop believing (and tweeting), kids.
Best place to watch real-life Frogger
Before you start screeching about global warming, peak oil, and the indisputable fact that Gregor Robertson looks kinda hot in spandex riding shorts, rest assured we’re on your side. As long as it’s not raining like monsoon season in Mumbai, we bike to work. That has given us valuable perspective on why people hate cyclists in this city. Criticize motorists all you want, but you don’t see four out of five of them running stop signs, roaring through red lights, and ripping through occupied crosswalks.
The vast majority of cyclists, on the other hand, seem to think the rules of the road don’t apply to them. It’s on the False Creek seawall in front of Science World where things are at their worst. The city has made a noble effort to get cyclists to pay attention to the new designated crosswalks including setting up yield signs and installing barriers.
But despite said crosswalk being perpetually busy with young families, tourists, and assorted others, eight out of 10 two-wheeled idiots roar right through it without even slowing down. That forces those on two legs instead of two wheels to weave their way through the traffic like they’re crossing the street in Saigon. Dear cyclists of Vancouver: if you really want to make the world a better place, start by looking at yourself.
Best calling-out of local transit riders’ grossest habits
After Vancouver-bred Hollywood star Seth Rogen did a guest spot voicing announcements on TransLink services, he went on the Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon and chatted about it. Which recorded announcement shocked Rogen? Asking riders not to clip their toenails. In the wise words of Jimmy Fallon’s Sara: “Ew!”
Best fake sign
Commercial Drive’s Dude Chilling Park—site of multiple sign thefts and Jimmy Fallon jokes—saw a rival sign installed by a group of dedicated pranksters. Riffing on the art project turned bona fide location, organizers for Vancouver’s annual Dyke March installed a sign for Dyke Chilling Park in the same area. Although it has since been removed, a petition is still circulating online for its permanent placement—a move that organizers say will honour the LGBT community in Mount Pleasant.
Best place to shop Japanese handmade goods outside of Japan
Vancouver’s fascination with beautiful, handcrafted Japanese objects shows no signs of dissipating with the launch of Out & About (321 Cordova Street), a boutique in Gastown that offers a wonderfully curated selection of ceramics, stationery, candles, and more—the majority of them designed and produced in the Land of the Rising Sun. Alongside the minimalist drip kettles, gorgeous glass jewellery, and recycled-cotton socks, you’ll also find stacks of stunning design books and coffee-table tomes, making Out & About one of those one-stop, has-a-little-bit-of-everything shops in which—despite its modest size—you can expect to spend hours.
Best real sign
Having a bad day? Drive down Seymour Street to check out the Penthouse Night Club marquee signage. Displaying topical one-liners, including “Poles more reliable than CNN predictions,” “Rare Pokémon inside,” and, our personal favourite, “Less fake news, more fake boobs,” the sign boasts better jokes than some local standups.
Best pop-up bike store
Taking the plunge on a custom-made bike at a store usually means a waiting period of a week or more. For those into instant gratification, there’s no better place to find a freshly assembled ride than on Union Street a block west of Main, sometimes under the viaduct and sometimes at the Murrin Substation. Sure, the hours are a bit spotty—there were times this past summer (usually after a police visit) when the on-site technicians would disappear for days. But when things are busy, they are super busy.
Work typically starts around 9 a.m., when a ragtag crew starts breaking down what, weirdly looks like perfectly good bikes into random parts. Those parts are then assembled, mix-and-match-style, into new bikes over the course of the day—unbelievably, in broad daylight. The new rides are quickly spray-painted right before they are ready to roll. That’s either because everyone loves a shiny new bike or so the poor guy who just had his Gestalt X10 boosted from his Yaletown luxury condo bike lockers can’t accurately identify the Frankenstein atrocity of which his prized purchase has just become part.
Look for the blue tarps on the side of the street—especially if your bike has just been heisted. And remember to bring cash, because sometimes the last thing you want to do is give a stranger your credit-card number.
Best location from which to spy on AC/DC
In early August, Vancouver was abuzz with the rumour that AC/DC was back in town, recording once again at the Bryan Adams–owned Warehouse Studio in Gastown, where the legendary hard-rock band made its past three albums. What made the rumour particularly juicy was the possibility that both long-time AC/DC singer Brian Johnson and drummer Phil Rudd—who’d both been famously absent during the band’s last tour—were back in the lineup. (Johnson, suffering from hearing problems, had been replaced by Axl Rose, while Rudd had lost his spot behind the drum kit after running afoul of the law back in Australia.)
The gossip caught fire when paparazzi-style photos of the ex-members, taken by local shutterbug Glenn Slavens, were published in the Georgia Straight. Lucky for Slavens, his friend Crystal Lambert has an apartment with a bird’s-eye view of the Warehouse’s outside deck, which is where the AC/DC members were spotted hanging out, smoking cigarettes, and sipping something from white coffee mugs. Rumours of an unexpected new AC/DC album in the works drew headlines worldwide. “Let There Be Rock”, indeed.
Best shine of rainbows
Rainbow crosswalks and Pride celebrations serve numerous purposes. They offer visibility for LGBT people who may otherwise not be represented; they help to reinforce the idea that LGBT people are everywhere, not just in specific areas; and they’re uplifting in so many ways. That’s why it’s great to see that Burnaby held its first Pride festivities, and White Rock, Coquitlam, and Surrey joined the rainbow-crosswalk party. As for vandalism and defacement of crosswalks: well, that just reinforces why they need to be there in the first place.
Best reason to donate clothes to charity
If the idea of helping to save the Earth is too big for you to handle, cutting down on waste is a good place to start. Being mindful about wantonly throwing away clothes is a good example. According to a Metro Vancouver staff report, about 20,000 tons of unwanted clothes end up in dumps in the region each year.
Best example of class segregation
It can be argued that “poor doors” are the perfect example of the divide between the haves and the have-nots. As the term denotes, poor doors are entrances in residential buildings used by people of humbler means. In Vancouver developments, it is common to have separate entrances for social-housing residents and condo owners. City council doesn’t seem to mind at all. For example, on July 31 this year, council approved a 30-storey high-rise project at the southeast corner of Burnaby and Thurlow streets. Condo residents will come in through the lobby on Burnaby Street, and people in social housing will enter through another passage on Thurlow Street. Developer plans have even called for children’s play areas to be segregated.
Best place to go inside the Parq casino if you don’t gamble
Parq Vancouver, the glitzy new hotel resort–casino–dining destination hybrid, opened one year ago. Most people visit the entertainment complex in hopes of winning some money; others check in because they are tourists who can afford Vancouver’s expensive lodging rates. But for those who don’t gamble and aren’t interested in upscale comfort food, there’s a charming little spot you can check out. Tucked away in D/6 Bar and Lounge on the sixth floor is a large bookshelf. If you push hard enough, it swings open and leads you into a speakeasy. The hidden space is usually a venue for private bookings, but when it’s not taken, it can be an intriguing place in which to hang out.
Best low-rise tower of babel
A strata dispute shows that there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of building harmony in multicultural settings. In October this year, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal is scheduled to hear a complaint by a number of current and former owners at a Richmond townhouse complex about the language used to conduct strata-council meetings. The meetings, apparently, are not held in English because it might sound foreign to some people of Chinese heritage. Rather, according to the complaint, strata business is conducted in Mandarin, which some speakers of English and other languages cannot understand.
Best cultural navigator
Who can seamlessly interact with people from a multitude of countries while avoiding the type of faux pas that would trip up the best of us? There are a few candidates, including the mayor’s director of community relations, Naveen Girn, and Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie. But this year, our choice for the city’s best cultural navigator is Winnie Cheung, a former executive director of international services at UBC and a long-time champion of intercultural understanding.
The Hong Kong–born Cheung’s mission in recent years has been to bring about a Museum of Migration so that stories and heirlooms of immigration across the Pacific Ocean can be shared with Canadians and tourists alike. Cheung, executive director of the Pacific Canada Heritage Centre–Museum of Migration Society, doesn’t seek the limelight. She just gets things done. Pay attention to this initiative. We’re likely to hear a great deal more about it in the years to come.