For the Georgia Straight’s 17th 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 2012.
Best flight path to live under (and crow about)
With our sky increasingly littered with airplanes, helicopters, contrails (and chemtrails, if you’re conspiracy-minded), it’s nice to experience some aerial traffic that’s not only natural but very much social. For a great show, head over to East Vancouver at dusk, roughly between Hastings Street and Broadway, and look skyward as numerous sorties of crows head back to their night-roosting spot around the Still Creek area in Burnaby (above). Although there’s an undeniably Hitchcockian subtext, the visual experience can be simultaneously relaxing and wondrous as upwards of 25,000 crows (by some accounts) head home after a hard day’s work in the city.
Best civic-planning idea
There are some forces of nature that truly can’t be bulldozed. Case in point: St. George Creek. Once a proud home to salmon—not to mention a fishery for local Natives and European settlers—the creek was culverted and combined with one of Mount Pleasant’s main sewer systems more than a century ago. However, the creek abides. Put your ear down to a storm drain on northern St. George Street and hear the creek babbling away, as it has done for centuries, on its way down to the flats in False Creek. Now there’s a community-led initiative to uncover St. George Creek from Kingsway all the way down to East 5th Avenue. The plan, which is attracting some interest from city hall, is an important step in bringing back part of Vancouver’s dormant ecosystems.
Best proof you’re a true Vancouverite
Close down the 800 block of Robson Street to make it pedestrian-friendly? Cue the whining from businesses and NIMBY West End residents. A pop-up doughnut shop in the Downtown Eastside? Gentrification. Bring Your Own Wine? Not good enough if you can’t bring a six-pack of Bud Lite. Rain? Not enough sun. Sunshine? It’s too damn hot. If you can find the shit lining on any rainbow, congratulations: you’re officially a true Vancouverite. And we’re sorry to inform you of this, but the stink never wears off.
Best unexpected Muppet tribute
Above the entryway to the washrooms at the Regal Beagle pub on West Broadway sit two iconic Muppet Show characters, Statler and Waldorf (aka the two old guys in the opera box), albeit in a craggy, grotesque, goggle-eyed form. As they leer down at you from their red velvet perch, you can almost feel their fascinatingly ugly faces silently judging you as you go about your business.
Best rebranding failure
The East Village
You could hear the screams of protest over the renaming of the 143-year-old neighbourhood as far as the University Endowment Lands. Earlier this year, the Hastings North Business Improvement Association took it upon itself to rename the 12 blocks of East Hastings Street between Commercial Drive and Renfrew Street. The name? The East Village. Considering the neighbourhood has been known as Hastings-Sunrise since the 1940s, residents were understandably surprised when orange and green banners bearing the East Village moniker appeared in the ’hood in May this year. A survey of 450 residents conducted by the Hastings-Sunrise Preservation Committee later that month found that 81 percent of respondents preferred the name Hastings-Sunrise for the neighbourhood; in an online poll, 77 percent of Georgia Straight readers agreed with the disgruntled residents. Despite strong community opposition, the HNBIA stubbornly continues to push its East Village name.
Best literal signs that North Vancouver is getting Seoul-ful
The North Shore has long been known for its Persian-Canadian community. But did you know that North Vancouver is nurturing a Korean-Canadian community as well? After establishing a government partnership agreement with the Guro District in Seoul, South Korea, the North Shore municipality has been actively courting Korean businesses. And one of the ways to see evidence of this growth is to spot the Korean-language real-estate signs on bus benches. If you think Burnaby, Coquitlam, and the West End’s Robson and Denman area are the main local Korean hot spots, you’ve got one more locale to add to your list.
Best candidate for Vancouver’s most sustainable realtor
This local cyclist has gone to great lengths to announce himself as the greenest realtor in the city. He’s even advertised his services this way online, and he’s not afraid to pump the bike credentials. Way to go, Mike. Unfortunately, he doesn’t conduct his entire operation on two wheels, transit, and/or foot. “That is not to say that I am going to expect you to view houses or condos on a bicycle,” Carrier writes on his website. “I also use Car2go Smart Cars and Modo Car Co-op vehicles to give my clients more options.” Our question to that last bicycle comment: Why not?
Best rise in real-estate prices in Vancouver history (and best consequence)
The rise in real-estate values of recent years in Vancouver is nothing compared to the situation that prevailed in 1886, the year of the city’s incorporation (on April 6). Lots that sold for $300 in March were selling for $1,000 by early June, more than tripling in value in 10 weeks. On June 13, Vancouver was destroyed by fire.
Best lost heritage site (first bridge in Vancouver)
As early maps of Vancouver indicate, False Creek originally went as far east as today’s Clark Drive. It ended in a large, shallow, muddy, and marsh-fringed lagoon, now known as False Creek Flats. A bridge, built in 1872 along the line of what’s now Main Street, spanned the narrow arm of water that linked the deeper waters of the “creek” to the flats. There was already a natural causeway here that flooded at high tides. A local character nicknamed Julius Caesar, who kept a garden on the Mount Pleasant side, had spent much of his time rolling rocks into place on the causeway. He continued even after the wooden bridge was put in place, to provide an alternative—and, to him, safer—dry crossing.
Best street sign to steal if you have a cat named Seymour
If you have a kitty named Seymour, a False Creek North street called Seymour Mews appears to be right up your alley.
Best example of putting your money where your mouth is
A pair of great gals (Sir Backs and Kirsten Mellin) recognized the need to provide dental work to needy individuals. Lack of dental care can lead to issues ranging from physical pain and malnourishment to unemployment and more, so they launched an “army” to combat the problem. The Bottle Army is a nonprofit society that helps both people and the environment. First off, the organization hires low- or no-income citizens facing employment challenges and in need of dental work. They employ them to collect bottles (which, in turn, benefits the environment). The bottle-collecting, in addition to grants and donations, helps raise funds for dental work. It’s win-win for all involved.
Best community organizing
When an official with Access Transit told a group of people with disabilities that the TaxiSaver program would be cancelled, Jill Weiss disappeared into a nearby washroom and started weeping. Then the chair of Vancouver’s Persons With Disabilities Advisory Committee got cracking, emailing as many people, groups, and media outlets as possible and organizing town-hall meetings. It was all part of a noisy campaign to convince TransLink that it had made a horrible error by eliminating coupons offering a 50-percent discount on taxi rides for HandyCard holders.
“It was a bad decision for people because it was an essential service,” Weiss told the Straight, “and it was a bad decision for TransLink and for taxpayers because it was the least expensive way to provide rides. A TaxiSaver ride costs a quarter of a HandyDART ride on a HandyDART vehicle, so it made no sense at all.” Weiss has fought many battles in the past, including a 10-year campaign to get wheelchair lifts installed on buses. But she can’t recall a time when so many seniors and people with disabilities were willing to take a public stand. In this campaign, there were no form letters or petitions; instead, Weiss urged people to write letters about how the decision affected their lives. And after she had spent two months working nonstop, the TransLink board relented.
Best 1920s “ghost sign” discovery
The year was 1923. William Lyon Mackenzie King was serving his first term as Canada’s prime minister and broadcaster Foster Hewitt was just starting his career announcing hockey games. That same year, some fine thinkers in Ottawa decided that marijuana ought to be banned under the Opium and Drug Act. Closer to home, the Vancouver Little Theatre Association bought a building at 639 Commercial Drive that had been operating as a cinema called the Palace Theatre. In the late ’30s, the VLTA undertook renovations, which included giving the outside of the building a new entrance façade, marquee, and canopy. The theatre reopened in 1940 as the York, but it turns out that the sign for its previous incarnation was never removed, just covered up. This past June, workers involved in the building’s restoration stripped stucco off the bricks of the south wall, revealing a faded, but still legible, sign reading “Little Theatre”. The poor condition of the original bricks meant it wasn’t possible to save the sign, but the Little Theatre moniker will be incorporated into the current restoration, which has been undertaken as a partnership between the Wall Financial Corporation and the Cultch.
Second-best 1920s “ghost sign” discovery
Vancouver got an all-too-brief glimpse of its past in February, when a demolition crew knocking a building down at the corner of Granville and Robson streets uncovered an old movie ad painted on the bricks of an adjoining structure. The sign promoted a screening of Grandma’s Boy, a silent Harold Lloyd comedy that screened at the Capitol Theatre during the week of October 2, 1922. Don’t rush down there with your Nikon (or your iPhone) in hand, though: the building with the Grandma’s Boy ad on it has also been torn down. Heritage Vancouver has called the 800 to 1200 blocks of Granville one of the city’s most endangered sites, noting that many of the low-rise Victorian and Edwardian buildings that define the street’s character are not on the Vancouver Heritage Registry. But hey, why preserve a few old piles of bricks when there’s money to be made in densification, right?
Don’t look back, Vancouver. Never look back.
Best makeover of community space
Westminster Pier Park, New Westminster
The City of New Westminster deserves a pat on the back for cleaning up a derelict patch of waterfront property in the community and transforming it into a civic gem. The $33-million Westminster Pier Park, located on the north shore of the north arm of the Fraser River, just east of the River Market, officially opened in June. The former industrial site, which had long been a community eyesore, has become an award-winning public park highlighting the Royal City’s history and culture. Created amid a push to revitalize the city’s downtown, the park provides the community with a new place to gather and play. Visitors can also reflect on the city’s past through an installation of historic photographs and a “memory band” of metal plates engraved with local names and phrases. There’s something for everyone: a 600-metre boardwalk along the river; oversized “lounge chairs” so you can sit down and soak up the water view; two playgrounds; a basketball court; grassy areas; picnic tables; and plenty of spots to just sit and watch the mighty Fraser roll by. Add a latte from the market and the drone of ongoing high-rise-condo construction and you’d swear you were in Vancouver’s southeast False Creek.
Most imaginative direct-action educational campaign
One summer day, stickers suddenly appeared on Trutch Street signage in Kitsilano declaring that “Joseph Trutch was a racist bigot.” That prompted a flurry of media coverage about how B.C.’s first lieutenant-governor was, indeed, a racist bigot, particularly in his dealings with Native people. In his earlier job as the colonial land commissioner, Trutch vehemently opposed negotiating treaties with First Nations people. And thanks to an anonymous activist’s sticker campaign, a lot of Vancouverites are now aware of this.
Best (and first) excuse for a beach party in Vancouver
In July 1859, a rumour reached the newly established settlement of New Westminster of an attack on a survey crew exploring the coal beds in what’s now Coal Harbour. The naval ship HMS Plumper, commanded by Capt. George Henry Richards, was sent to investigate. Finding all was well, Richards—who gave his name to the downtown Vancouver street—rowed ashore with his men and a keg of navy rum.
Best historic stratagem to get other people to work for free
When “Gassy” Jack Deighton arrived to settle on the south shore of Burrard Inlet in 1867, among the few things he brought with him was a barrel of whisky. He promised to open a saloon in the little community that had grown up below
Hastings Mill if its few inhabitants would build the place for him. Under the direction of carpenter Mike McNamara, a team completed the task within 24 hours. However, in the process they drank all the whisky, and the “christening” of Vancouver’s first bar had to wait a few more days until a replacement barrel could be brought from New Westminster.
Best urban renewal
Corner of Kingsway and Edmonds Street
Prior to the development of the SkyTrain Expo Line, the corner of Kingsway and Edmonds Street was one of the last places people would have wanted to visit in the Lower Mainland. It may not have been as drug-infested as the Downtown Eastside or as crime-ridden as Whalley in its heyday, but this patch of South Burnaby was not for the timid. Thanks to a tremendous effort by city council, though, this part of town has staged a remarkable turnaround. Check out the bright Tommy Douglas library branch, which began serving the public in 2009; the new retail outlets and coffee shops; a soon-to-be-opened $30-million community centre and swimming pool; and a nearby Hindu temple. This summer, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver pegged the benchmark price of an apartment higher in South Burnaby than in North Burnaby, which has always been considered more upscale. Honourable mention in urban renewal goes to Columbia Street in New Westminster and Surrey Central—two former shitholes that are finally getting their shit together.
Best place to lose your faith in humanity
Riding public transit
Ever take public transportation in the Lower Mainland? How high does your blood pressure rise when you do? Between people who are unable to wait for passengers to exit the SkyTrain car before they start shoving their way on, the rudeness flowing freely from passengers and drivers alike, and the assholes who insist on drinking and screaming on the 99 B-Line after 6 p.m., it’s a wonder there aren’t more fistfights on buses. And hell hath no fury like transit takers called out on their shitty behaviour.
Best place to regain your faith in humanity
680 East Broadway
If you’re craving 30 seconds of polite, even friendly, conversation after nearly getting your lights punched out on the 99 B-Line, hop off the bus at Fraser Street and pop into the Sol Convenience store. We’re not sure what they’re putting in the water there, but the store’s employees are so downright pleasant that no matter how terrible your day has been, they’ll put a smile on your face. What else makes this little convenience store a cut above? Cheap falafel ($3.99) and donairs anytime, day or night.
Best leading economic indicator
Waves Coffee House
It sounds crazy, but sometimes when a Waves Coffee House is built, it’s a sign that a neighbourhood is on the verge of an upswing. Maybe that’s because Waves franchisees go first where their competitors fear to tread. Like the corner of Begbie and Columbia streets in New Westminster. Or Richards and Hastings streets in Vancouver (though there’s now a Blenz across the street). In North Van, you’ll find them at Mountain Highway and Lynn Valley and at Lonsdale Avenue and 1st Street. And yes, there’s a Waves at Kingsway and Edmonds streets (see above).
Best 30-second workout
The SkyTrain escalator to street level at Granville Station
Walk up the escalator instead of standing right and you’re guaranteed an elevated heart rate. (Multiply that if you take the stairs.) Who says you don’t have time for a daily workout?
Best place to speculate on real estate
You want a decent house in a decent location in Vancouver, but that’s not going to happen until your Lotto Max numbers come up. Here’s a suggestion: why not roll the real-estate dice and hope that things turn out in your favour. Some of the cutest bargain-basement heritage homes in Vancouver are located along Prior Street between the Georgia Viaduct off-ramp and Victoria Drive. The only problem right now is that Prior is an unofficial highway for every second suburb dweller in Metro Vancouver. As you might have heard, the city is looking at a proposal that would see the viaduct torn down and its traffic shunted off Prior to nearby Garden Street, located in an industrial area just to the south. Tough it out for a couple of years and—if the proposal becomes a reality—you could find yourself living in a 100-year-old Craftsman home on a quiet residential street within walking distance of downtown. Of course, you might also find yourself standing on your front porch wondering what kind of fucking idiot drops $900,000 to watch the folks of Burnaby, Coquitlam, and New Westminster whip along the street like they’re at the Daytona 500.
Best trash receptacle to avoid
Would someone please explain why the garbage can at Charles and Templeton streets, right near the Lord Nelson Elementary School playground, perpetually smells like a cross between a New York subway-system bagman, the slums of Calcutta, and a polecat’s ass? And that’s just during the winter. Lord have mercy on those who accidentally walk by it during the dog days of summer.