For the Georgia Straight’s 18th 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 2013.
Best local ode to Matt Groening
In a parking lot off an alley near the intersection of Cambie and Hastings streets downtown (across from Victory Square and next to Dressew Supply, 337 West Hastings Street), there’s a graffiti-art celebration of the Life in Hell cartoonist’s most famous TV creation, The Simpsons. (You’re showing your age if you remember Groening’s first animated renderings of the beloved family as relatively crudely drawn one-minute shorts during three seasons of The Tracey Ullman Show starting in 1987.) The mural features famous characters such as El Barto, Mr. Burns, Duffman, Kent Brockman, Marge, Lunchlady Doris, Kang (or Kodos), and the oh-so-sweetly-pathetic Ralph Wiggum. It is also revealed that Homer is a secret Vancouver Canucks fan. (With the Springfield Isotopes’ abysmal track record, who could blame him?) If you go down there as the light is fading, watch out for Ralph’s “pointy kitties”.
Best signs that Vancouver is finding its sense of humour
After years of being called No Fun City, the often seasonal-affective-disorder afflicted Vancouver appears to be finding the lighter side of life. The guffawing statues of A-Maze-ing Laughter down at English Bay are a literal call to levity. The delightful Keys to the Street provided the public with free access to pianos in outdoor spaces. The giant rubber duck at the Richmond Night Market, Main Street’s public-art pole poodle, and the rainbow crosswalks at Davie and Bute streets are visual celebrations of unexpected joy. If we continue with this trend, perhaps we can drop the “No” and just be “Fun City”?
Best multicultural project under way for 2014
Many minority communities in Greater Vancouver trace their roots to the 1960s, when Canada removed race as a criterion for immigration. Unlike pioneering Chinese, Japanese, and South Asians, who started arriving in larger numbers in the 19th century, these have a young history that is largely unexplored and untold. The Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society is working with these various groups to chronicle and share stories about their early beginnings. Through the First Families, First Stories project, this process will provide communities a voice in the ongoing dialogue about Canada’s complex cultural fabric. The project will produce timelines reflecting the collective memories, struggles, and progress of these settlers. Exhibits will be mounted in May 2014 during Asian Heritage Month, a yearly celebration recognizing the rich history of Asian Canadians and their contributions to their new homeland.
Best cultural navigator
Laurier Institution chair Farid Rohani, a Baha’i from Iran, has no difficulty discussing the ideas of Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh faith. Rohani also organized a meeting at UBC Robson Square where plans were hatched for Vancouver’s Walk for Reconciliation to promote harmony between aboriginal and nonaboriginal people. He’s respected among Ismailis and expatriate Afghans, and has been on the board of the Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society. He’s one reason why Vancouver is a model to the world in bringing diverse communities together.
Best idea to celebrate First Nations history
What is now modern Vancouver was not quite the wild and untamed land it was made out to be in Eurocentric versions of the past. A proposed Salish Sea Village by the city’s waterfront will seek to re-create the sophisticated society of distinct First Nations cultures that flourished thousands of years before British explorer George Vancouver and Spanish navy captain Dionisio Galiano sailed on separate expeditions into Burrard Inlet in 1792. The idea is being promoted by a group that includes local historian Bruce Macdonald. The heritage advocate and author told the Straight last summer: “We’re from a civilization that’s been here 10,000 years. Forget about Egypt. Forget about Israel. Forget about ancient China. We have an ancient civilization right here.”
Best way to get rich
Develop a line of yoga clothing that makes women’s butts appear sexier. Then open a retail outlet on West 4th Avenue and turn your employees into evangelical believers in what you’re selling. Later, take the company public but ensure you retain more than a third of the shares. Call yourself Chip instead of your given name, especially if it’s Dennis. Do some crazy stunts that keep you and your company in the public eye. Love Vancouver. Put on concerts. And in about 15 years, you might be worth $3.5 billion.
Best proof that Vancouver loves Che Guevara
Organizers with the Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba are preparing for the sixth International Che Guevara Conference in November. At last year’s gathering in East Vancouver, Cuban doctor Aleida Guevara, daughter of the late revolutionary icon, delivered a stirring speech. Lawyer and former Vancouver city councillor Tim Louis spoke at one of the conference events, and he told the Straight why he’s an ardent Guevara admirer: “He’s an internationalist. He believed that we have a responsibility to fight for a better world, not just in our homes, in our country, but to help other people that are trying to do the same thing.”
Best two-wheel repair on four wheels
VanCycle Mobile Bicycle Shop
If you’re a cyclist in distress, if it’s not your knight in shining armour, it’s at least your hero in hammered metal. The VanCycle Mobile Bicycle Shop rolls its vintage silver milk truck right to your door, your work, or your street corner, as the case may be. Offering tune-ups, repairs, hard-to-find parts and accessories (think quality panniers, kiddie trailers, lights, and helmets), and a boxing service for travel, the mobile shop can even give you a loaner bike if your own is too far gone. The vehicle has just about every replacement tire, brake, or tool you could need. Did we mention the free tune-ups of kids’ bikes (parts not included)?
Best prank in a public place
In November 2012, an enterprising and mischievous artist managed to swap the sign for Guelph Park in Mount Pleasant with a replica of the trademark green Vancouver park-board signs—except this one branded the grassy area “Dude Chilling Park”. News of the amusing new title, inspired by a statue of a lounging man in the park, spread quickly on social media, and supporters rallied around the new name. The spot on Guelph Street between 7th and 8th avenues even temporarily appeared as “Dude Chilling Park” on Google maps. After swapping the fake sign for its original, the park board voted to find a permanent home for the now infamous East Van marker. According to board chair Sarah Blyth, the sign is expected to return to Guelph Park and take up residency in the Brewery Creek Community Garden.
Best place to, like, totally re-create the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy album
If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, head on down to the north end of Manitoba Street in the former Olympic Village. There, on the waterfront—just past the giant bird statues—is a stepped-stone seating area that’s perfect for reenacting the cover of Zeppelin’s fifth album. Although our local formation is artificial (the album cover was shot at the geological feature Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland), it’s still an uncanny match. Gear down and rock on!
Best runner-up to the Grouse Grind
The stairs to Wreck Beach.
Best economic jolt for those who don’t attend university
SFU Public Square’s Community Summit
This annual gathering, now in its second year, focuses on a different issue of public concern each time, bringing people together to research, identify, and discuss potential solutions and take action. The goal is inclusive, intelligent, and inspiring dialogue among diverse participants, and to further SFU’s aim to be Canada’s leading community-engaged research university. This year’s summit takes place at various venues from September 29 to October 4 and focuses on B.C.’s economy. A highlight is an evening event October 3 at the Orpheum featuring celebrated author and economist Robert Reich. He wants the rich to pay more taxes, not only because they can afford to, but also because that will stimulate more economic growth.
Best place to pretend you’re Gisele Bundchen
Victoria’s Secret opened its first Vancouver location in August. The American lingerie retailer took over the 35,000-square-foot HMV location (because who buys CDs anymore?) at the corner of Burrard and Robson in 2012, which makes this the second-largest Victoria’s Secret store in North America. That’s a lot of bras. To help paint the city pink, supermodel and Victoria’s Secret “angel” Lindsay Ellingson was on hand to meet and greet fans (i.e., teenage boys). Inside the shop, an ultragirly wonderland awaits: bubblegum-pink walls, plush velvet wrapped sofas, chandeliers, and lacy underthings. Although most of us will never be underwear models, you might just feel like the next Gisele Bündchen while strutting up and down the change rooms in your new sexy getup. Work it.
Best street retail without parking meters
The Central Lonsdale area in the City of North Vancouver includes several decent restaurants, a little live music, a multitude of banks, coffee shops, dollar stores, pharmacies, one of the region’s brightest libraries, and more hair salons per square kilometre than any other neighbourhood in the Lower Mainland. Best of all, you can still park for free.
Best reason not to drive into the downtown core
Parking meters that cost 25 cents for every 150 seconds. You can find them on Robson Street, near Sinclair Centre, and probably in other locations that we haven’t noticed yet. It’s why Vancouver had the highest peak on-street parking rates in North America in 2012. (We are expected to be overtaken by Chicago this year.)
Best place in Canada to find a sugar daddy
No wonder there are so many desperate housewives around here: Vancouver has the dubious distinction of being the best place in the country to find a sugar daddy. That’s according to SeekingArrangement.com, which bills itself as “the elite sugar daddy dating site for those seeking mutually beneficial relationships and mutually beneficial arrangements”. The site looked at its own data and found that Vancouver has 3.86 sugar daddies for every 1,000 adult males in town, compared with Toronto’s 2.9 SDs per 1,000 and Winnipeg’s 1.06. Apparently, Vancouver sugar daddies are also the most generous in Canada, spending an average of $4,928 per month on their “sugar babies”, which is $600 above the national average. According to SeekingArrangement, the average sugar daddy in Canada is 38 years old and has an annual income of about $271,198. Vancouver sugar daddies, meanwhile, are 40 years old and make $292,506 annually. Married men make up 31 percent of the site’s users.
Best place in Canada to catch a cougar
According to Rich Gosse, founder of CougarEvents.com, you should have been at the Roxy on July 12 for the crowning of Miss Cougar Canada. Cubs in the room each had one vote. “The older women, the cougars, they’re hungry because men their own age are not interested in them,” Gosse claimed at the time. He also calls our city Vancougar, noting: “The very first time ‘cougar’ was used to refer to middle-age women who like younger guys was at the Vancouver Canucks hockey games.”
Best expansion to the burbs Canuck Place
We all know and love Canuck Place, the Vancouver-based children’s hospice at 1690 Matthews Avenue, and although it’s the kind of place one hopes to never need to visit, it’s expanding. A second location will open in Abbotsford in early 2014. Besides care for children with life-limiting illnesses, it also provides respite care for families needing a break while caring for a child with a terminal condition, as well as schooling and outings for sick children and their loved ones. Then there’s counselling for anyone who’s lost a young family member, and all at no cost. With one of the largest concentrations of pediatric-care specialists in Canada, the organization receives some support from the provincial government but relies heavily on donations from corporations and individuals.
Best place in Vancouver to learn a new language
Best way to help people with limited vision
What should you do when you see someone with a walking cane trying to get on the SkyTrain or down a steep set of stairs? How can you best help a blind person approaching a crosswalk? The answers may not be what you assume. Shawn Marsolais can help you help others by seeing things the way she does. Marsolais, a former Paralympic athlete with only about two-percent vision, is the founder of Blind Beginnings, a charitable organization that helps children and youth who are blind or visually impaired (as well as their loved ones) through leadership programs, family activities, community workshops, counselling, networking, and support. She also gives talks about etiquette when it comes to encountering people with limited or no vision. She’ll help you see things differently.
Best neighbourhood in which to get drunk
It used to be the Downtown Eastside, where nobody judges you. But the VPD’s ramped-up foot patrols increase the chance of being asked to explain yourself. That’s why we’re recommending Columbia Street in downtown New Westminster. It aspires to become the Lower Mainland’s version of Bourbon Street, according to former downtown New West BIA president Michael Hwang. Best of all, there are two SkyTrain stations bookending this section of the street, making it easy to hightail it out of the neighbourhood once you’ve had enough to drink. It’s far tougher to escape East Hastings Street, where cabbies sometimes balk at picking up flags.
Best new Porterian cluster for foodies
East Hastings and Nanaimo
Michael Porter is a Harvard business prof who introduced the expression “business cluster” (also known as a Porterian cluster) in his 1990 book, The Competitive Advantage of Nations. Essentially, he described how countries and businesses could derive competitive economic benefits from grouping together geographically. In Vancouver, printing and copying businesses, bridal and grad clothing-rental shops, and outdoor-recreation companies are good examples of this in practice on a smaller scale. Restaurants do it as well (think Denman between Robson and Davie, various stretches of West 4th Avenue, et cetera), and one of the latest dine-out havens is on East Hastings near Nanaimo. When chef-owner Brad Miller opened his wildly popular Red Wagon diner-style eatery across from Church’s Chicken at Garden and Hastings the day after Halloween in 2010, only a few pho and sushi joints and the Roundel Café a few blocks east attracted the kind of hip, all-ages crowd that swarms the area today. After Miller, in short order, came the outstanding walk-in Campagnolo Roma directly across the street; the Tacofino Commissary, the Tacofino food truck’s excellent bricks-and-mortar version (a few doors down from Roma); the East Café, a small, funky, espresso-themed and reality-priced coffee-and-sandwich bar; a soon-to-open coffee bar next to Tacofino; and a few new sushi and pho joints. Phew. Local residents soon learned when to venture outside their doors so as to avoid the lineups of hungry migrants, who are all very welcome—as long as they never call the neighbourhood the East Village.
Best new community garden (with a caveat)
Hastings North Temporary Community Garden
When London Drugs announced that it was developing a large portion of the north side of the 2500 block of East Hastings, where it has a big retail outlet, locals realized they would be witnessing the birth of another unimaginative four-story condo block with streetside retail, the type of boring project that is becoming increasingly common to the area and reducing the neighbourhood’s thriving business diversity. But after the company bulldozed a bunch of small shops and businesses, they shuttered the bombed-out site and announced that the plan had been put on hold indefinitely because of a lack of condo pre-sales. Months later, the company breathlessly announced that the giant empty lot would be gifted to the neighbourhood as a community garden. The grand opening took place on August 10, well after planting deadlines for this year’s growing season (but with lots of transplanted greenery in wood containers for that gardeny-growy look), and with scant mention of either the property-tax break obtained because of the repurposing or the two-weeks-notice eviction clause that can be invoked on the green-thumbers. And we are absolutely positive that none of this has anything whatsoever to do with the Vision Vancouver community/neighbourhood plan due in the near future, where it is already rumoured that the zoning will be changed at select Hastings intersections to allow eight-storey condo structures.
Best way to upgrade your Poäng
If you’re between the ages of 18 and 40, there’s a pretty good chance you own an Expedit bookshelf and Malm dresser. Have no idea what we’re talking about? Congratulations, you’ve somehow escaped the conformity—yet unquestionable functionality—of IKEA. If you were looking to upgrade your interiors this year, you had a new spot to shop around. Crate & Barrel opened its first B.C. outpost at Oakridge Centre in March. The Chicago-based home-furnishings and décor retailer sells just about everything: indoor and outdoor furniture, kitchenware and dining pieces, bedroom and bathroom accessories, lighting, rugs, storage, and décor items are spread out across its 27,000-square-foot store. The only thing missing from Crate & Barrel? Swedish meatballs.
Best visit by a Don(ald)
Donald Trump parked his private jet at YVR in June to announce that the Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver would be gracing the city skyline in a few years. At a splashy news conference downtown, Trump—joined by his oldest children, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump—declared a joint project with Vancouver real-estate developers Holborn Group and TA Global Bhd. In true Trump fashion, the new tower will be over the top. Expect to see a 63-storey tower erected on the 1100 block of West Georgia with 147 hotel rooms, 218 residential suites, a restaurant, champagne bar, fitness centre, conference and banquet rooms, and nightclub. The building will come with a $360-million price tag, but Trump is footing part of the bill. Either that, or we’re getting trumped.
Best way to scrap your car in Vancouver
The Richmond-based B.C. Scrap-It Program offers Lower Mainland owners of 2000-or-older vehicles a way to unload their high-polluting beaters by choosing from a list of incentives that includes discounts on bicycles, car-sharing memberships, cash, or TransLink passes. The eight-month, three-zone “MultiPass” offer is particularly appealing because a three-zone transit pass currently costs $170 per month, which adds up to $1,360 worth of free travel on Lower Mainland bus, SeaBus, and SkyTrain routes. The trick is, how will the upcoming implementation of Translink’s dreaded Compass system affect those using the Scrap-it MultiPasses? According to the program’s website, it is “currently waiting for instructions from TransLink” with respect to the transition. Let’s hope it works out better for MultiPass holders than it did for the passholders who, come January 1, will lose their families-ride-free-on-Sundays privileges.
Best sin-soaked place to hear (or read) God’s word
On Granville Street sidewalks between Robson and Georgia, colourful mall missionaries hector and lecture the commuters, shoppers, and partying bridge-and-tunnel crowd. And right in front of the Granville Skytrain Station, an area usually staked out on weekdays by hawkers of throwaway commuter papers, there has recently been an influx of primly dressed, middle-aged women wordlessly offering the latest afterlife advice via publications like Awake! and Watchtower. We’re not sure about that whole Jehovah’s Witness thing, but at least they don’t stand directly in your way, chanting “24 Hours!” like it’s the countdown to Armageddon or something.
Best sign Vancouver is losing its sexual inhibitions
The building that housed the former Vancouver Public Library central branch was taken over by Victoria’s Secret. Then again, librarians are sexy too.
Best indications around town that sex sells
The Museum of Vancouver curated a sex show. Science World offered an exhibit on sexuality. And David Eby got elected to the legislature. Okay, maybe Eby wasn’t selling sex, but there’s no denying his appeal to progressive, well-educated women living in Vancouver–Point Grey.
Best place to discover your glow
On any given day of the week, cult beauty store BeautyMark (1268 Pacific Boulevard) is crawling with makeup and skin-care buffs, but you wouldn’t know it while getting a facial at Collective Skin Care upstairs. After a decade helping clients look their best at Beverly’s the Spa on 4th in Kitsilano and Yaletown’s Spruce Body Lab, Vancouver-based aesthetician Kathryn Sawers has launched her own business, taking up residence in BeautyMark’s second floor. Sawers performs all treatments herself, walking clients through product lines. Facials can range from 20-minute sessions to more complex treatments involving skin analysis, masks, extractions, and facial massage.