Best of Vancouver 2017: City Life

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      Best evidence that City hall can’t handle snow

      When Vancouver’s so-called Snowmageddon left citizens slipping and sliding down sidewalks, steps, and driveways in January, residents scrambled to get their hands on buckets of free road salt.

      Supply failed to meet demand at local firehalls, however, resulting in Boxing Day–like queues, a few unfriendly scuffles, and the hashtags #saltgate and #saltcrisis that, for a while, left the rest of Canada scoffing at our misery. Don’t even get us started on the public-transit delays at the time—if it’s not already obvious, Vancouver functions a lot more smoothly sans snow. 


      Best way for safe drivers to avoid paying annual ICBC rate hikes

      Sell your goddamned car. There is no other way.


      Sarah Blyth.
      Amanda Siebert

      Best grassroots program offering alternatives to hard drugs

      After Sarah Blyth saw that her overdose-prevention-site model set the tone for the implementation of similar sites across the country, she started thinking about how to provide drug users with more than just a place to safely consume. She wanted to give them alternatives. By appealing to those in the local cannabis industry, Blyth started the High Hopes Foundation, a program that provides users in the Downtown Eastside with natural alternatives to hard drugs.

      Instead of using crack or heroin, subsidized (and often free) options like cannabis, cannabis edibles, kratom, and coca-leaf tea are providing users with a safer way to ease their pain. There is a reason that Blyth’s take-no-shit approach to harm reduction has been emulated in other municipalities, and she says she’s already getting questions from frontline workers in Ontario about implementing something similar.


      Best guardian lions

      Behind the new Old Beijing Duck Restaurant on West Broadway sit two massive stone lions, guarding the rear parking lot. They look like they weigh several hundred kilos each. 

      One of the guardian lions has a paw over a ball, symbolizing his supremacy over the world. Another’s paw is keeping a playful cub at bay, illustrating how these animals nurture their young. Guardian lions have traditionally been placed in front of Chinese imperial palaces and government offices, so it makes sense that a pair would be in the vicinity of a high-end restaurant that summons up the aura and cuisine of imperial China.

      Wanna take a selfie with a stone lion? Visit the alley north of the 1600 block of West Broadway.



      Best way to deal with spoiled, misbehaving, or rebellious children

      Threaten to take them down to the Steveston Fisherman’s Wharf and feed them to the sea lions.


      Best way to get hot, wet, and tired

      Just wait for public transit at any of Vancouver’s TransLink bus shelters. The incompetent design of these misnamed “shelters”—with their transparent roofs slanted upwards to the sky—guarantees that on blast-furnace summer days you get, literally, zero shade and on wet days with wind gusting in the wrong direction you get rain blowing over the lower half of your body and soaking the inadequate seating—if the bench hasn’t already been removed to discourage our city’s homeless from stretching out to catch a nap above the dirty, cold pavement. Huge fail, TransLink.


      City of Vancouver

      Best example that not everyone can be bought

      A Vancouver homeowner gave the finger to city hall by refusing to sell in a land assembly for a public-housing project on Southwest Marine Drive. As told by one city executive, the property owner didn’t budge even when offered more than the neighbours got. This means that the city will have to build on two spots, with the holdout sitting in the middle.


      Best retro sign

      While most locations of this fast-food chain have either updated their rundown exteriors in favour of more modern décor or joined forces with Orange Julius, we get hit with a pretty serious wave of nostalgia every time we pass by the Dairy Queen at East Hastings Street and Lakewood Drive. This old-school location hasn’t changed a bit since it opened, probably in the ’50s. (Fun fact: Vancouver-based actor and former Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten worked at this Dairy Queen as a teenager.)

      Although updated shops simply go by “DQ”, this location still bears the full name and even uses the word Brazier on a separate sign—Dairy Queen’s way of indicating that it serves grilled food, which began being phased out of most signs as early as 1993. But our favourite characteristic of this burger/ice-cream joint that seems to be stuck in the past is the intermittently blinking lights lining the message board.


      Wish Drop-In Centre

      Best commemoration of the sex workers’ community that once flourished in the West End

      A memorial consisting of a Victorian-style lamppost with a red light was unveiled last September to honour the memory of sex workers who were expelled from the West End of Vancouver during the 1980s. The commemorative project was initiated by activist Jamie Lee Hamilton, who was once part of the sex workers’ community that flourished in the neighbourhood during the ’70s and ’80s, a time that she described as the “golden age” of prostitution in Vancouver.


      Best parklet

      What the hell is a parklet, you may ask? It’s an area of street parking that’s been converted into a public-seating area. There are a half-dozen around Vancouver, and the best example is the Sunny Slopes Parklet outside the Rain or Shine Homemade Ice Cream outlet on West 4th Avenue.

      It includes two levels of seating and a minigarden, creating a comfy oasis along a somewhat busy thoroughfare. But be forewarned: this parklet is packed in the summer with West Siders gobbling their vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry cones. If you go at that time of year, you might find yourself standing on the sidewalk.



      Best neighbourhood for animal statues

      Vancouver’s Fairview area is not only home to two great guardian lions (see above), it also hosts a spectacular solo lion outside the Queen Mary apartments on West 14th Avenue. The Straight’s Homeless in Vancouver blogger, Stanley Q. Woodvine, has also spotted sculptures of an elephant and a bear outside a building on West 11th Avenue in Fairview.

      But perhaps the most arresting statue of all is a bronze sculpture called Jeri outside 1622 West 7th Avenue. Created by James Stewart, it shows a tautly muscled, slightly larger than life bald man hunched down with his arms outstretched. (Yes, Homo sapiens are animals—as much as we sometimes try to deny the fact.)


      Best curvy building frame under construction

      It’s gotta be Vancouver House, which is sloped in an oddly shaped way beside the Howe Street onramp to the Granville Bridge. Passersby might wonder what the construction workers might have been smokin’, but this was actually the intention of Danish starchitect Bjarke Ingels and his partners in design, Dialog and James Cheng. The 600,000-square-foot project will be completed next year and is certain to be a talking point for decades to come.


      Amanda Siebert

      Best way to say “fuck you” to Donald Trump

      January’s chilly weather didn’t stop thousands of Vancouverites from flocking to Jack Poole Plaza to stand in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington.

      The event served two purposes: first, to champion the liberties of those attacked and demonized during Donald Trump’s campaign; second, to collectively stick our figurative middle fingers up in the air at the man who so eagerly claimed that we should be grabbed by the pussy.

      Vancouverites and residents of the Lower Mainland came out in droves, carrying signs that advocated for LGBT rights, reproductive rights, the end of white supremacy, the dismantling of the patriarchy, the value of black lives, Indigenous lives, and people of colour, and more.


      Best reason to stay in a dead-end relationship

      Picture this: you and your partner have been living together for a while but you’ve reached the point where the appeal of being independent is starting to surpass the appeal (or lack thereof) of sleeping next to a person who still hasn’t learned to share the sheets at night.

      The only problem? Vancouver’s crippling rental market means that there is no reasonably affordable equivalent to the $1,200 one-bedroom suite the two of you have been splitting for the past few years.

      With vacancy rates lower than ever and rents at an all-time high, choosing between your independence and cold feet every night might be an easier decision than you think—especially when the most affordable option is an $1,800-per-month, 350-square-foot, windowless microsuite in the West End.


      Amanda Siebert

      Best cure for visiting the Kids’ Market

      Although it makes sense for this spot on Granville Island to be a popular destination for children, it can be a literal headache for parents who find themselves in the presence of more kids, toys, and loud noises than they bargained for.

      It’s a good thing, then, that Mary Jean “Watermelon” Dunsdon opened up the Granville Island Licorice Parlour in the heart of the Kid’s Market earlier this year. Not only are Dunsdon’s imported European treats a healthier alternative to the sugar-laden garbage that your kids beg for, these organic, sugar-free candies serve as a tasty treat for a mom in need.


      Best legal manifesto for the animals

      UBC associate professor of law, policy, and sustainability David Boyd has a stunning new book outlining the battle in various countries to provide animals with much greater legal rights. In Argentina, he writes, a court ruled that an orangutan was a “non-human person” whose rights included “avoiding suffering from being in captivity”. In another case involving a chimpanzee, an Argentine judge stated that it’s “not a correct standard” to classify animals as things.

      “From India to Ecuador, courts are beginning to acknowledge a revolution in the legal system, emphasizing the importance of recognizing nature’s rights to address today’s environmental woes,” Boyd points out in The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution That Could Save the World. In recent centuries, the law has “treated non-human animals as property intended for human use and exploitation”, according to Boyd.

      But greater scientific understanding of animals’ consciousness is changing the legal dynamics. “We need to place ecological literacy on par with reading, writing, and arithmetic as foundational learning in our education systems,” Boyd writes. “People need to speak out about the rights of nature and elect politicians who are willing to do the same.”


      Amanda Siebert

      Best street artist with a message

      Artists participating in the Vancouver Mural Festival may have brightened the streets of East Van, but just one artist can lay claim to helping unite a mourning community in its struggle for more than a year.

      Since early 2016, Smokey D’s brightly coloured, graphic depictions of the overdose crisis have acted as powerful public-service announcements for residents of the area. The streets and alleyways of the Downtown Eastside bear important messages, harshly worded warnings, and heartfelt memorials—including one for his partner, Dawn Heather Sangster—that intend to remind residents of the area how dangerous tainted drugs can be.  


      Best place to spot fuzzy, semiferal rabbits

      If you’re in the neighbourhood around dusk or dawn, scope out the area around the Jericho Sailing Centre for some cute-as-a-button local fauna of the rabbit variety. Presumably the descendants of escaped or released pets, the population has increased due to the fact that they breed like, well, rabbits. All I know is that they’ve got their Watership Down auditions nailed.



      Best boost to mental health

      The new Joseph & Rosalie Segal Family Health Centre at Vancouver General Hospital provides short-term, acute care to people suffering from depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, psychotic and mood disorders, and drug and alcohol addiction.

      Vancouver business mogul and philanthropist Joseph Segal gave $12 million to help get the eight-storey facility built—a sum believed to be the largest personal donation to mental health in Canadian history.

      “There are so many people that walk the streets that have nowhere to turn, no one to talk to, that have given up on life,” the nonagenarian said earlier this year. “You have to provide people with hope; you have to provide people with support—not just financial, that goes without saying; support morally. Understanding.”


      Best never-ending construction project

      Amazing as this might be, bike lanes are no longer the number one reason to bitch about what’s happened to the ever-evolving Burrard Street bridge. To forget that the 1930s structure has seemingly been under construction longer than Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia is to get stuck in gridlock that reminds you why you don’t live in Surrey.

      Things are, however, finally getting to the point where we can see what the finished product might one day look like. Highlights include art-deco-meets-art-nouveau street lamps that wouldn’t look out of place on Paris’s Pont Alexandre III, as well as expanded sidewalks seemingly inspired by the Champs-Élysées.

      The bad news? Well, that’s easy—by the time the bridge renos are finished, everyone in Vancouver will be getting around by either flying cars or jet pack.


      Amanda Siebert

      Best way to tell anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant activists to kick rocks

      As thousands of Vancouverites did in August, arrive in droves at the bigots’ planned site of protest to conduct your own counter-rally. The massive show of solidarity—and the stand against hate—will be enough to overwhelm the ignorant, who will likely be unsure what to do with themselves in the presence of so many well-intentioned, rational-thinking human beings.


      Best holdout

      Big Rich’s Adult Video
      229 Southeast Marine Drive

      The best thing about Al Gore inventing the Internet is that there’s no need to leave home when you need to get your rocks off. Back in the day, a good pud-pulling session required a Red Hot Video visit, where you’d casually inform the clerk you needed Leave It to Cleavage and Womb Raider for a sociology paper. Now an Internet connection gives you access to an endless buffet of smut.

      Evidently undaunted by this reality, Big Rich’s Adult Video continues to operate in a nondescript Marine Drive minimall. That the store soldiers on in a world gone digital suggests some folks still enjoy donning a trench coat and sunglasses and doing the walk of shame.

      Consider, for example, Yelp user Shila B., who—after wondering why no one else has reviewed Big Rich’s—writes: “[I] viewed some gems and even bought some discount stuff. It’s not the best or go to store, however, it’s close to home when I need it.” Clearly, for some, the thrill of discovering a full-length stream of Shaving Ryan’s Privates on isn’t as exhilarating as renting the real thing on VHS.


      Skwachays Lodge.

      Best hotel to discover the city’s original culture

      Vancouver is packed with high-profile luxury-hotel chains, from the Fairmont to the Shangri-La and the Sheraton. For those looking for something both boutique and outside the box, however, it’s more than worth spending a night at the Skwachays Lodge (31 West Pender Street).

      Owned and operated by the Vancouver Native Housing Society, the building contains 18 unique rooms, including the Forest Spirits Suite—which features floor-to-ceiling birch branches—and the Northern Lights Suite, decorated with a beaded black-bear sculpture. The hotel is designed to showcase First Nations creations and culture and boasts a 12-metre rooftop totem pole, an on-site fair-trade gallery, and 24 live/work Indigenous-artist studios below the hotel.

      Located steps away from Gastown, it’s close enough to hit all the best tourist hot spots yet far away enough to feel secluded from the bustle of the downtown core.


      Best soul-sucking bus route

      More often delayed than not, the No. 10 bus route is notoriously erratic and crowded at the best of times. Operating on the somewhat imprecise scheduling philosophy of “I’ll get there when I get there”, it runs from the sinking pit that is downtown to parts unknown and is the bane of my existence. But hey, at least it’s the best at being horrible. That’s something, right?


      Earnest Ice Cream

      Best way to piss off locals without mentioning bike lanes, real estate, or Christy Clark

      Ride-hailing giant Uber is still months away from legally entering the B.C. market, but the company has already mastered the art of leaving locals fuming on social media thanks to a disastrously executed free-ice-cream deal this summer.

      Those thinking logically will tell you to get real: the promotion, which promised the delivery of complimentary Earnest Ice Cream sandwiches to Uber users, was a ploy to get Vancouverites to download the app all along. But it’s a lot more fun to tweet snide comments at the ride-sharing biz while slyly taking shots at its allegedly misogynistic work culture.


      Best way to wear your East Van pride

      Grubwear has come out with a range of kickass ways to wear your East Van roots on your sleeve, your chest, and just about anywhere else. The label behind Studiotique (617 Kingsway) has everything from EASTVANAF long-sleeve pullovers to retro-font Mount Pleasant tees and East Van cross snap-back hats.

      But our favourite new accessories are their denim-jacket-friendly six-button Pride Packs, with pins that celebrate everything from the Kingsway and Fraser intersection to Dude Chilling Park. And no East-of-Main dweller is too tiny to rock their ’hood: there are kids’-size Dude Chilling tees, and check out the black-and-white East Van cross onesie for babies.


      Lee Tran is one of many low-paid workers who have stepped up to put in countless hours at overdose-prevention sites in the Downtown Eastside that were established last December.
      Travis Lupick

      Best team to save your life

      Last December, the B.C. Ministry of Health used emergency powers to open more than 15 new overdose-prevention sites. These bare-bones facilities serve as relatively safe spaces where people can bring drugs and inject under supervision. They required the government to hire a small army on less than a week’s notice.

      One group stepped up to make it happen: drug users themselves, along with their friends and families. People like Lee Tran. “Previously in my life, once, I was a drug addict,” he told the Straight last winter. “And so I feel what these guys are going through. I know what they need. And I heard about this work, so I felt like this was something I wanted to do.”

      And Sue Ouelette, Kevin Thompson, Dave Chevelday, Melissa Patton, Daniel Stadt, George McPhee, Tina Shaw, and Robin McIntosh. They’re ordinary people who dedicated the entire last year of their lives to helping addicts survive B.C.’s overdose epidemic. While firefighters and paramedics are praised for the burden they’ve carried since fentanyl arrived, the Downtown Eastside’s teams of overdose-prevention-site staffers have received less attention.

      On the frontlines, earning low pay and working with little support from government, they’ve responded to hundreds of overdoses and, to date, every single intervention has saved a life. “They are true heroes,” said Coco Culbertson, one of the sites’ managers.


      Best place to unleash your inner librarian

      For those who find books and historical artifacts fascinating, we suggest you take a trip to the UBC Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC) at the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. It houses everything from a 13th-century Bible to extremely rare Chinese books, from Japanese maps of the Tokugawa period to Charles Darwin letters, and, in the Chung Collection, more than 25,000 unique items that highlight the importance of Chinese-Canadian history.

      Even if you don’t normally find libraries and books interesting, you may geek out when you come face to face with RBSC’s first editions of the Harry Potter series or the official first edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. You might end up wanting to pursue a career as a librarian after taking a visit to this magical place.


      Vancouver data analyst Jens von Bergman created a map detailing where concentrations of toddlers live.
      Jens von Bergmann‏

      Best way to bring colour to data

      During the past three years, Vancouver data analyst Jens von Bergmann has created hundreds of colourful maps that detail all sorts of Metro Vancouver complexities.

      Curious about where toddlers live? In December 2015, von Bergmann published a map that showed a surprising number of them reside in downtown apartment buildings. Have you ever wondered about interurban migration patterns of young professionals? Last May, von Bergmann took a detailed look at what he describes as the region’s “generational pulse”.

      There are also loads of maps exploring Vancouver residents’ favourite topic to fight over: real estate. Whether you’re interested in heritage buildings, bike-share programs, or street trees, there’s a chance von Bergmann has a map for you. They’re posted online via his Twitter account (@vb_jens) alongside colourful previews.

      He also routinely makes himself available to answer questions there and discuss the nuances of the numbers he brings to life. Most of the data is free and open to the public. At his websites, and, von Bergmann says he has simply built a fun and accessible way to share.


      Best reason why Vancouver needs ride-sharing asap

      Because there are not enough taxis to accommodate the massive numbers of tourists, travellers, and locals who don’t drive/bike/bus/SkyTrain/walk in Metro Vancouver. And, frankly, it’s embarrassing to be one of the largest cities in North America not to offer this service. When the day comes that ride-sharing is legal around here, we’ll all feel like Vancouver has entered a more modern age.