Line can't kill South Cambie's village-y feel
Consider the location of Vancouver's City Hall, at Cambie Street and West 12th Avenue. It seems like a strange choice—it's not in the heart of Vancouver, if there is one.
But on January 1, 1929, the nearby intersection of Cambie Street and West 16th Avenue became the centre of a new Vancouver that was created by merging three municipalities: Point Grey, Vancouver, and South Vancouver. After much debate, the Cambie and West 12th site was chosen for City Hall, and construction was completed in 1936.
Echoes of the amalgamation are still scattered around the city. These are the places where the grid breaks down, a street jogs or runs at an angle: where Oak Street curves to one side between West 15th and 16th, where the little diagonal streets just west of Cambie near the Park Theatre bend in order to join up to their partners on the other side of Cambie. It's hard to believe, for those of us who didn't witness it, how different Vancouver was a mere 70-odd years ago.
And our city keeps on changing. With the Canada Line running along its length, Cambie may become the centre of the city once more. Expected to be in operation by late 2009, the line will mostly go underground along Cambie. It's too soon to know how it will affect South Cambie, the neighbourhood bounded by Oak and Cambie streets, and West 16th and 41st avenues. Along with residents' fears of increased crime and lowered property values, the presence of the Canada Line could accelerate the housing trend in South Cambie away from detached homes and toward condos. Anecdotal evidence indicates a lot of recent construction in the neighbourhood; take Olive, the new complex at Cambie and West 16th. Census figures show that the proportion of dwellings in South Cambie that are apartments in buildings under five storeys is increasing, from 27 percent in 1996 to 35 percent in 2001. Density will only increase as the Canada Line nears completion. Next stop Yaletown?
But these days, South Cambie has a quiet, village-y feel. Family-friendly amenities such as parks and schools are abundant. The commercial areas on 16th, Cambie, 41st, and Oak so far mainly contain one-of-a-kind stores and restaurants rather than chains and yield some surprises.
Deco the Hall
Vancouver City Hall
Cambie Street and West 12th Avenue
Viewed from far away, City Hall is an ugly collection of concrete blocks topped by a ghastly orange-neon clock. And certainly some less-than-pretty decisions about our city have been made inside. But up close, City Hall is a beautiful art-deco monument (“Moderne”, according to its heritage plaque). Do a walk-around, taking note of the wave-motif trim and the subtle lettering carved above the north and south entrances that spells out Vancouver City Hall. There's also a tranquil park on the north side. The whole thing is uplifting—it gives you hope about what this city could be.
Instant cures for indecisiveness
3440 Cambie Street
Black Dog Video
3451 Cambie Street
3456 Cambie Street
Vancouver residents are spoiled for variety, as evidenced by the Straight's Time Out listings. Yet once in a while, we have these “What do you want to do?” “I dunno, what do you want to do?” moments. Cambie, in the block between West 18th and 19th, has the cure.
Long-time heart of the community, the Park Theatre is one of the few single-screen independent theatres left in Vancouver. (After Famous Players and Alliance Atlantis closed it in 2005, it was bought by local movie-theatre baron Leonard Schein's Festival Cinemas, which also owns Fifth Avenue Cinemas and the Ridge Theatre.) Besides the offer of a single, well-chosen movie, the price is $7 on Tuesdays, and you can buy tickets on-line in advance.
Black Dog Video (which has another location on Commercial Drive) boasts the same high-quality selection as the Park Theatre. You won't spend hours wading through Hollywood drivel to find something good; you could probably just cover your eyes, spin around a few times, and grab something rewarding off the shelf. Look for the handwritten stickers indicating staff picks, or check out the customer ratings board by the door. The scale ranges from “2 hrs. of my life I'll never get back” to “It's that good! No, really, it is!”
And now for something completely different… Kino Café stands out here, as it would in any neighbourhood in the city. If you're looking for jazz, flamenco, and gypsy swing rather than the same old music in the same old bar or club, this is the place for you.
Best place to run out of blintzes
The South Cambie neighbourhood, particularly along Oak Street, is a good area to see the diversity of Vancouver's Jewish community. There are five synagogues, a Jewish elementary school and high school, and a community centre. Stop in at old favourites Max's (Oak and West 15th) and Kaplan's (Oak and West 41st), or try the newer Sabra Bakery and Kosher Restaurant (Oak and West 22nd), which serves Jewish and “international” food, including Chinese.
If you want to sample some other religions, there's the impressive gold-domed Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church (Ash and West 14th); Blessed Sacrament, a Roman Catholic church where most masses are held in French (Heather between West 15th and 16th); and the Vancouver Shambhala Centre, a Tibetan Buddhist meditation centre (Heather and West 17th).
Best places to out-Kits Kitsilano
Capers Community Market
3277 Cambie Street
3493 Cambie Street
Tomato Fresh Food Café
3305 Cambie Street
Choices and Tomato have always given Cambie a wholesome flavour, but the addition of Capers in July confirms its reputation. American-owned Capers now has four locations in Greater Vancouver, while B.C.–based Choices has six. The two are about to get some competition from U.S. giant Whole Foods, which is planning to open a store at West Broadway and Cambie.
If you don't feel like cooking, Tomato is a long-time favourite with those who have a health-food bent. It's a funky, friendly place, but if you don't have time to sit, there's always the takeout wing, Tomato to Go. While you wait for your order, you can save even more time by getting a quick haircut at the little barber shop that piggybacks the restaurant.
Best place to pretend you're in Japan
3096 Cambie Street
In Vancouver, where mediocre sushi is as common as overpriced coffee, Shiro, tucked in a nondescript strip mall at West 14th and Cambie, is a hidden gem. It's hard to see into the restaurant, but be brave and go on in—it's worth it. Fish fiends will love the high-quality sashimi, along with other offerings such as real-crab California rolls, tasty tempura, and less-common dishes such as zaru soba (cold soba noodles served with chopped green onions and dipping sauce) and chawan-mushi (comfort food in the form of a lidded bowl of egg custard spiked with seafood and vegetables).
Even the washroom is authentic. The toilet is kitted out with various spraying and drying functions, besides a heated seat. However, if you can't read the Japanese instructions, it's probably best to keep it simple or bring a translator.
Climb every (little) mountain
VanDusen Botanical Garden
5251 Oak Street
Between Laurel and Heather streets, and West 20th and 22nd avenues
Queen Elizabeth Park
Between Cambie and Ontario streets, and West 29th and 37th avenues
Parks figure prominently in the South Cambie landscape. When city life gets to be too much, head for one of these green spaces and leave it all behind.
VanDusen Botanical Garden is pleasant year-round, and hours can be passed exploring its different corners and enjoying a variety of plants from around the world, as well as features such as the hedgerow maze, the floating bridge, and sculptures in unexpected places.
For something a little less sedate, head over to Douglas Park. On summer evenings, the playground is busy with children and there may be a cricket game taking place. And on Thursday nights during the summer, there's Performance in the Park, a free, hourlong, family-friendly show that you can watch while munching on picnic food sold on-site.
Queen Elizabeth Park, aka Little Mountain, is a great place to take visitors or go to on your own. Besides the view and the gardens, there's pitch-and-putt, Frisbee golf, tennis, picnicking, the Bloedel Floral Conservatory, Seasons in the Park, brides galore, and more.