No self-respecting tourist—let alone local—would be caught dead in a hotel gift shop. By forgoing the mass-produced shot glasses, Dad Ts, and tacky tchotchkes typically found at your standard inn, however, one Canadian interpretation has found success at travellers’ ground zero.
You may have heard of it: the Drake General Store, its name tied to one of Toronto’s most celebrated cultural icons. (No, not that Drake.) Originally located at the base of the city’s legendary Drake Hotel, the boutique has since expanded across Canada with an additional six locations, including a tucked-away shop-in-shop at downtown Vancouver’s Hudson’s Bay Company (674 Granville Street).
“Every hotel has a gift shop, but we were also located in a very community-oriented area,” Joyce Lo, Drake General Store cofounder and codirector, notes of the company’s start, “so we wanted to take a hotel gift shop but make it for the neighbourhood.”
For Lo, who manages the bulk of Drake’s buying, this meant creating—and sourcing—as many proudly Canadian products as possible. These include flasks splashed with graphics of uniformed Mounties, CBC logo tuques, and delightfully geeky body-care items labelled after significant dates in Canadian history. (The sage-and-bergamot-infused 1867 hand cream commemorates Canadian Confederation, for example, while the moisturizing 1984 face gel is a nod to our country’s first space mission.)
Drake also offers an eclectic range of home décor and housewares that features prominently at its Vancouver outpost. Think dinner plates decorated with panoramic visuals of the Rockies, playful ombré tumblers, and cheeky doormats emblazoned with the word Homie—all designed in Canada by an in-house team of artists.
“We always look for pieces that kind of start a conversation, pieces that resonate with people but also have a bit of humour,” says Lo. “We try not to take ourselves too seriously.”
Holding steadfast to Drake’s earnest roots, Lo takes care to tailor each shop to its locale. In Vancouver, you’ll find artfully coloured civic prints by the B.C.–born Point Two Maps, Pacific Northwest–inspired blankets from Forest & Waves, and silk-screened pennants inscribed with irreverent phrases like “Fuck it” and “Not today” by the Riley Park–based Explorer’s Press.
Other Vancouver-made items include handcrafted, peppermint-spiked soaps by Woodlot, locally harvested honey from Mellifera Bees, and hibiscus- and chai-flavoured cocktail syrups by Cahoots. “Almost all of them have a connection to nature,” Lo observes of the boutique’s B.C.–sourced stock. “With the mountains and the oceans, there’s a lot of inspiration there.”
And while Drake’s growth has also allowed it to expand its borders, incorporating goods from the U.S., Japan, and Denmark, the shop’s focus will always be the Canadiana. The company has even teamed up with Etsy to find cool, homemade curios to produce in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday next year.
“We’re looking for a little bit of everything,” says Lo, “things for kids, for the home, things you can wear—just something unique.”