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Vancouver, British Columbia

Blog by Ian Watt | November 10th, 2006

Vancouver, British Columbia

by Courtney Ronan

If you've never ventured north of the U.S. border into the city of Vancouver, you'll appreciate this feast for the eyes: an overhead shot of the city, (large file). One of Canada's most revered metropolitan centers, Vancouver is a mix of the best nature and urban development has to offer. It's one of the world's last remaining places where progress hasn't come at the expense of nature. Instead, the two are balanced in a peaceful coexistence -- a quality that not only keeps residents happy, but continues to draw large numbers of tourists, as well.

It has been said that the best and worst thing about Vancouver is its weather. Actually, your impressions will depend upon the region of Vancouver you visit. The surrounding topography -- the city lies near the Pacific Ocean, the mountains of Vancouver Island, and a strait -- has brought such climactic variability to the city that the far south and western parts of greater Vancouver have one-third the amount of rainfall as the part of the city that lies along the North Shore. Mountains bring brisk, whipping winds to the city (good for windsurfing and sailing), and as you head up into the mountains, the higher the elevation, the more rainfall you'll receive. In other words, some regions of the city (Tsawwassen, for example), receive an abundance of clean, dry air, while others (Hollyburn and Seymore, both along the Northern Shore) never seem to escape the rain. And occasionally, you might spot a snowcap or two.

Some of the city's more notable summits, all of them in a range stretched along the North Shore are: Black Mountain, Mount Hollyburn, West Lion, Mount Capilano, and Vancouver's highest summit, Cathedral Mountain, at 1,723 metres. While none of those summits are particularly high, they're enough to create a spectacular skyline for Vancouver.

Because of the abundance of natural beauty within the city's borders, environmental issues are key in Vancouver (Greenpeace, Vancouver is based here). Because of its varied topography, Vancouver and its surrounding areas are home to an abundance of different species, including a an extensive list of bird species and marine life. And it's not difficult to understand why the city's residents and leaders have a keen interest in maintaining the quality of its environment, given the recreational opportunities here: kayaking, mountaineering, downhill and cross-country skiing, paddling, rock climbing, and boating are just the beginning. It's not an exaggeration to say that during the same day in Vancouver, you can both water ski and snow ski.

Vancouver's many attractions include Chinatown, the third-largest in North America after San Francisco and New York City. This colorful neighborhood stretches along several blocks of Pender, Keefer, and Main streets. Here you'll find plenty of early century Chinese architecture as well as an abundance of authentic restaurants and specialty shops.

Gastown is both the birthplace of Vancouver and the site of what could have been the city's downfall -- until an aggressive restoration efffort in the early '70s by Vancouver's Community Arts Council. The neighborhood earned its name when a 19th century saloon owner, John Deighton, was nicknamed "Gassy Jack" for his verbose nature. The neighborhood grew and was shaped around Deighton's saloon; in fact, a statue of Gassy Jack stands at Carrall and Water streets. The sculpture, however, is just sculptor Vern Simpson's guess at what Gassy Jack must have looked like. No one had any record of the man's appearance, so Simpson constructed a prototype: a portly bearded man.

Gastown is reminiscent of Boston's Beacon Hill: cobblestone streets, mature trees, and antique street lamps. Catering to natives and tourists alike are art galleries, souvenir shops, fine furniture stores, and a slew of restaurants, pubs, and bars. Some of the neighborhood's streets have quirky names such as Blood Alley and Gaoler's Mews. In Gastown, you'll find the city's most-photographed landmark, the Gastown Steam Clock, which continues to emit a tune through its pipes every 15 minutes throughout the day.

For a hair-raising adventure, Capilano Suspension Bridge invites truly daring souls to make their way more than 200 feet above the the Capilano River along a 450-foot-long bridge. If you're not afraid of heights, you'll find the journey well worth the effort for the photo opportunities it affords. The Capilano Fish Hatchery, located nearby, allows visitors a peek at the Pacific salmon through glass-windowed displays of the river that serves as the salmon's habitat.

Vancouver comprises several different neighborhoods, each with their own distinct flavor. Among them: Cedar Cottage/Kensington, the only neighborhood in Vancouver that has its own lake -- of which residents take full advantage. Lined with pine trees, Trout Lake is not only a favorite haunt for walking and picnicking; it's also the site of a living peat bog and a diverse array of birds. Migrating ducks, too, have made Trout Lake one of their stops.

Dunbar/Southlands is known for its spectacular parks and gardens, particularly its cherry blossoms. In some areas, trees meet overhead to form archways that stretch as far as several blocks. Particularly noteworthy is a nearby wildlife retreat, where horses, bald eagles, hawks, and other species live a peaceful existence within close proximity to urban development. The area also is home to Southlands Riding Club, a frequent destination for many of Canada's top equestrians. Golf is a favorite pasttime here as well; Dunbar/Southlands has two public and three championship-rated private golf courses. This combination of scenic and recreational offerings has produced some of Canada's priciest and most exclusive real estate, all within the Dunbar/Southlands region of Vancouver.

Whether it's an escape from summer drudgery you're looking for -- or if you're seeking a green oasis in the midst of drought -- Vancouver represents a refreshing change of pace. Named one of the "Top 10 Best Destinations" by Conde Nast Traveler magazine, Vancouver could become your permanent destination if relocation's on your mind.