World Facts Index > Canada > Vancouver

Vancouver is the city that has it all - natural beauty and cosmopolitan flair. Many regard it as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Set between the Pacific ocean and the coastal mountains, a harmonious blend of nature and urban living gives the city its unique character. Gardens, parks, and beaches are as important and common here as heritage buildings, restaurants, and theatres.

While maintaining the laid-back attitude of North America's West Coast, Vancouver has managed to build a unique international spirit. As the third largest city in Canada, it shares an ethnic diversity and distinct multicultural flavour with the rest of the country. It's young, lively, and the jumping-off point for many spectacular outdoor activities. Vancouverites can leave their downtown office, and within an hour, be skiing on Grouse Mountain or sailing through English Bay.

The city has vitality and style. Nowhere is this more evident than in the downtown core. Its first distinct feature is Stanley Park, located on the west end of Georgia Street. This incredible 1000-acre park includes an 11km Seawall promenade, old-growth forests, hiking trails, and the wonderful Vancouver Aquarium. From the harbour, you can see Canada Place, a "five sail" complex with a convention centre, the CN Imax Theatre, five-star hotel, restaurants, shops and cruise ship terminal.

Because the city, especially the downtown core, is in a constant state of development and restoration, there is always new, vibrant, and interesting architecture popping up into the picturesque skyline. One building of architectural distinction is Science World, one of the most unmistakable structures in the city. It was built when the city hosted the 1986 World Expo. Shaped like a giant silver golf ball that sparkles come nightfall, it hosts a wide range of rotating educational exhibits and conventions. Another building designed for Expo 86, the Plaza of Nations, continues to be a centre for many community events. For arts and culture, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Canadian Craft Museum provide fine exhibitions and permanent collections.

Other unique buildings include those that are the favourites of avid sports fans, such as the giant B.C. Place and the new General Motors Place, stadiums for watching the city's professional hockey, football and basketball teams. And located nearly directly across the street from B.C. Place, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and Vancouver Playhouse are part of the city's entertainment district.

Downtown is the city's largest shopping district. One of its main arteries is Robson Street, a highlight for both locals and visitors. It's a busy and diverse area, brimming with fashion boutiques, coffee bars and trendy cafes. Nearby, Pacific Centre and Royal Centre house the city's convenient underground shopping complexes.

Crossing Robson is Granville, a street that offers a variety of independent fashion stores and entertainment venues. Shops like John Fluevog Shoes and True Value Vintage are here, as well as the city's "Theatre Row," where a profusion of concert, theatre and movie choices can be found. The Orpheum Theatre and recently re-opened Commodore Ballroom are also on Granville, and are fantastic places to catch performances of live theatre and music. Overall, the downtown area has restaurants to satisfy every palette, hip, urban nightclubs providing the latest rhythms, and a dizzying number of bars offering live entertainment. It all adds to the city's metropolitan pace and wonderful allure.

Getting around Vancouver takes some practice. For newcomers to the city, the best landmark to refer to is the mountains to the north. Since the Burrard Inlet and False Creek waterways divide the city into intricate pieces, several spans have been constructed to connect the districts, including the Granville, Cambie and Burrard Street Bridges. Most of the streets are laid out in a grid, so driving around is fairly straightforward. The B.C. Transit system is conveniently designed, providing comfortable and simple traveling throughout the city. Forget the car and buses though, if you want to tackle the downtown area, because walking is the most pleasant and convenient way to get around. To gain a real perspective of the city's amazing beauty, visit The Lookout! at the Harbour Centre Tower for a 360-degree view of the cityscape.

Vancouver currently has 23 communities, each with its own set of unique characteristics well worth exploring. Many of the popular neighbourhoods are a testament to the rejuvenation projects that have been completed over the past couple of decades.

This is Vancouver's first community and a unique heritage zone. One block from Canada Place, you'll pass under an iron gate that says "Welcome to Historic Gastown." Red cobblestone streets, Victorian street lamps, and intriguing architecture give Gastown its old-world atmosphere. Today, the area's many boutiques, restaurants and specialty shops, such as Hill's Native Art, Three Centuries Shop, Salmagundi West, and the Jewel of India Restaurant, combine with its historic character to make it a special attraction. The Steam Clock at Cambie and Water streets goes off every 15 minutes and adds to the area's quirky cachet. Gastown is a part of the main artery of Vancouver 's night scene and has several pubs, bars and nightclubs, such as Sonar, the Purple Onion Cabaret and the Irish Heather Bistro, which cater to a wide array of predilections.

Along the shores of False Creek and adjacent to Gastown is another historical zone. Vancouver's Chinatown is one of the largest in North America, second only to San Francisco's. The area's distinct and vibrant character, specialty shops, and world-class dining, combined with its distinct heritage buildings, attract visitors and residents. Here, you can go for Dim Sum, pick up some bok choy and ginseng, shop for special household items, and sample a myriad of authentic Asian delicacies. The bustle here goes on day and night, from the summer's open-air Chinatown Night Market, to packed restaurants such as Hon's Won Ton House or Pink Pearl Chinese Seafood Restaurant, which feature some of the finest examples of Chinese cuisine anywhere. Look around and see if you can spot one of the world's narrowest buildings.

Not long ago, Yaletown was just a collection of abandoned warehouses. Today, it is one of the city's trendiest communities, dotted with posh condominiums and converted historic warehouses. This area is the centre of eclectic high fashion and functional art, as well as an oasis of funky restaurants, pubs, and cafes. One popular establishment worth a visit is the Yaletown Brewing Co., and unique boutiques like Atomic Model and BoNaparte Designs are also rewarding to check out. Part of the area's popularity is its buzzing, ultra-cool nightlife, and the exclusive Bar None is the place to be seen.

Granville Island
A former industrial site, marvelous Granville Island has become one of the city's biggest tourist attractions. Located under the Granville Street Bridge, the island is a hub of shopping, artistic, and maritime activity. Live theatre, pubs, and artists' workshops converge comfortably in this colourful district. The Granville Island Public Market has one-stop food shopping, where you can select fresh produce as you stop to listen to talented buskers performing. Visit wonderful places like La Baguette et L'Echalote, the Net Loft, and the Kids Only Market for fun and wonder. Numerous festivals use the island as their city headquarters, including the Vancouver International Writer's Festival, annual Vancouver International Comedy Festival, Du Maurier International Jazz Festival Vancouver, and the Bluegrass Festival.

Located minutes south of downtown, Kitsilano is known for its youthful, active population, many beaches, and magnificent mountain views. It's easy to see why its popularity has grown over the years. The area, once the country's major hippie-haven, is incredibly health-conscious, so joggers, bikers, and rollerbladers are a natural part of the backdrop. The community has a diverse profusion of eateries, bookstores, theatres, bars, open-air grocers and boutiques. Here, you'll find gems like the Naam, Sophie's Cosmic Cafe, Kidsbooks the Hollywood Theatre, and the Side Door Cabaret.

Since Kitsilano has the monopoly on waterfront parks, the opportunity for outdoor swimming, tennis, beach volleyball and windsurfing draws people from all over the city. The popular Vanier Park accommodates the annual Vancouver International Children's Festival in May, as well as the summer's open-air Shakespearean Bard on the Beach productions. You'll also find the Vancouver Maritime Museum and Vancouver Museum here.

Point Grey
Just to the west of Kitsilano is Point Grey, another popular residential area. One of the wealthiest regions of the city, it boasts an array of large, stately homes, fantastic estates, and one of Vancouver's oldest parks. The area's beaches stretch from Jericho Beach to Spanish Banks, offering haunts to swim, sail and walk in. The natural areas and seaside bike routes have made Point Grey a favourite retreat for many Vancouverites. It also has a cluster of great antique and collectible shops, and is home to the annual Vancouver Folk Festival.

West Point Grey Park provides one of the city's most dramatics viewpoints, with the University of British Columbia (UBC) just south of it. UBC has a spectacular campus, featuring several of the city's best museums and attractions, including the Museum of Anthropology and the Nitobe Memorial Gardens.

East Vancouver
Vancouver's east side has always been known for its multitude of great ethnic neighbourhoods and unconventional shopping and entertainment choices. Indeed, it's reputation is well-earned: there are many distinctive places to shop at, eat in and explore. Once dubbed Little Italy, the area on Commercial Drive, between Broadway and Venables, is often considered the city's hub for artists and modern counter-culture. The Drive is a popular area for all kinds of shopping, bakeries, diverse restaurants and coffee houses. Shops and cafes like Juicy Lucy's, Uprising Breads, Arriva, and Continental Coffee help piece together this diverse community. In addition, from May to October, the East Van Farmer's Market brings in a cornucopia of fresh produce and exotic specialties grown by local farmers. You can also wander through the pockets of eclectic galleries and second-hand shops, such as Cosmopolis and Attic Treasures.

The Vancouver East Cultural Centre(the Cultch) serves as a venue and exhibition space for a wide range of local and international performing and fine arts. Additionally, the Britannia Community Centre and Pacific National Exhibit (PNE) serve as focal points for local events and celebrations. The PNE, built in 1910, holds an international fair each summer with agricultural, educational and cultural events, as well as a massive amusement park for the whole family.

Another delightful area to shop and dine in is Little India, located after East 47th and along Main Street. The Punjabi Market has many well-known jewellery and fabric shops that are fun to explore. This is also where flavourful Indian foods and spices are readily available, and where many people stop to pick up a tempting box of authentic sweets. Some of the stores and restaurants here include Guru Bazaar, All India Foods, and Bombay Sweets. This area is not as well known as some of the city's other neighbourhoods, but you'll find the discovery is just as enjoyable

The Suburbs

West Vancouver
This suburb area northwest of downtown is one of the more prosperous communities in Canada. Settled on the slopes of the North Shore mountains, it's a town of capacious homes and spectacular sea and city views. If you're looking for a great place to shop, the large Park Royal Centre is the country's first shopping mall. The area also offers great places to hike and a bewildering number of great photo opportunities. And if you're spending the entire day in the area, visit the West Vancouver Memorial Library and be sure to walk through Lighthouse Park. It's a beautiful 80-acre old growth forest, and lucky visitors might get a chance to watch seals lounging on the rocks near Howe Sound.

North Vancouver
Just next to West Vancouver lies North Vancouver. It is a lovely, green and bustling city, as well as a maritime centre. The lower Lonsdale area has charming heritage buildings and many antique and specialty shops, while the Lonsdale Quay Market is a thriving waterfront treat. North Vancouver is the gateway for several of the area's finest ecological sites. Tourists will revel at the beauty of Lynn Canyon Park, the elevated thrill of the Capilano Suspension Bridge, and the awesome splendor of the Fraser Valley. The year-round fun of Grouse Mountain and Cypress Mountain are also nearby.

Sandwiched between the Fraser River's North Arm and Burrard Inlet is the city of Burnaby. Once considered a sleepy suburban zone, it has now become a dynamic municipality and thriving commercial area. This is evident by the construction of the colossal Metrotown Centre, which draws shoppers from all over the region. The city is also home to Simon Fraser University, a wonderful example of local architect Arthur Erickson's innovative design, set atop Burnaby Mountain. One of Canada's most popular universities, this school attracts students from all over the world.

The rapidly expanding city of Richmond takes its shape from the Fraser River. Surrounded by the river's North and South arms, the city is protected from flooding by high, man-made dikes. The dikes make up the perimeter of this flat urban area and are ideal for walking or cycling. While in the city, enjoy the historic fishing village of Steveston, and the giant, vibrant Asian shopping centres like Yaohan and Parker Place.

New Westminster
New Westminster is the oldest city on Canada's West Coast. Located in the centre of the Lower Mainland along the north banks of the Fraser River, it offers spectacular views from all vantage points. Spend time exploring the Westminster Quay Public Market, and to get a taste of the area's rich history, visit the Irving House Historic Centre.

These are just a handful of the diverse shopping areas, communities, and neighbourhoods that are here to discover and explore. They provide insight into the wonderful cultural, urban and outdoor experiences that Vancouver has to offer.

Weekend trips

One of the top destinations in the country, the quaint historical city of Victoria is a popular weekend and day trip from Vancouver. Located on the West Coast's large Vancouver Island, this picturesque capital city is a 90-minute ferry ride from Vancouver. The trip itself offers a good look at the coast's natural beauty and if you're lucky, some Orca whales as well. In this city that rests on a Pacific Ocean harbour, you'll tread cobblestone streets, watch hanging baskets of colourful blooms sway, and listen to the clip-clop of horsedrawn carriages. Much of this small city's residents are anglophiles -- visitors can sip afternoon tea and bask in the glory of olde Brittannia after spending the day enjoying the city's shopping, galleries, parks, museums, and restaurants.

Among the most popular attractions are the Royal London Wax Museum, Empress Hotel, Miniature World, Crystal and Butchart Gardens, a replica of Anne Hathaway's thatch roof cottage, and Craigdarroch Castle. For those with a taste for the alternative, there's a strong skate and arts subculture here that despite attempts by the city's conservatives to quell it, thrives in little shops, great cafes and unusual book and record stores.

History of Vancouver

The 116-year-old city now dubbed Vancouver was once a wild, densely-forested and mountainous coastal area inhabited only by First Nations people and wildlife. Many events have combined to transform the once pristine and wild setting to the thriving cultural and business centre it is today. Yet the city retains its natural splendour, now set around a diverse urban core. And to think it all began with a couple of explorers who recognized the bountiful resources and spectacular potential of the area..

Before the white tide of fish-men...

When British explorer Captain James Cook first arrived here in 1778, the natives in Nootka Sound mistook the captain and his raggedy crew for a boatful of strange, transformed salmon. It's no wonder, really: the First Nations had lived undisturbed for thousands of years. The region's temperate climate, coastal location and excellent food supply made it an ideal place for natives to subsist comfortably for most of the year. Many, including the Musqueam, Kwantlen and Squamish lived and thrived along the shorelines of Burrard Inlet. But then the white European settlers came and claimed the land as their own, altering years of harmonious and relatively peaceful living.

So this British chap and Spaniard explorer met up one day...

The city's transformation into the urban centre it is today began with explorers seeking the Northwest Passage, a sea route through northern America. In 1791, Spanish explorer Jose Maria Narvaez came through our waters, but decided not to go ashore. In June of the following year, two more explorers showed up. England's Captain George Vancouver led his ship, the sloop H.M.S. Discovery, into Burrard Inlet and later went on to chart the area's waters. He exchanged information with Spanish explorer Dionisio Alcala Galiano, who showed Captain Vancouver maps he had already made of the area. This cooperation between Britain and Spain ended in 1795, after Spain's power began to wane, and the British took control. The Spanish influence, however, can still be seen in area place-names like Dionisio, Galiano Island, Langara and the Straight of Juan de Fuca.

Though the British controlled the area, it wasn't until 1808 that they sent Simon Fraser to set up trading posts in the region. The fur trade, which was followed by gold rush mania, would forever alter the region.

A few ambitious settlers and a chatty bar owner...

Arriving settlers thrived on fish, lumber, fur and farming. In 1858, gold was discovered on the Fraser River and, within weeks, nearly 30,000 Americans had flocked to the area in search of bounty. Fearing a takeover by the Americans, the British declared the mainland a British colony, thereby keeping the prosperity under its control. In 1859, New Westminster (once called Sapperton because British sappers were stationed there), was incorporated and declared the capital of the province.

Meanwhile, a talkative gentleman named John Deighton pulled his canoe into Burrard Inlet and decided to capitalize on the area's industry. The village he founded was eventually named Gastown after him, the name derived from the loquacious Deighton's nickname: "Gassy Jack." Deighton opened up an extremely successful saloon, serving hundreds of thirsty millworkers and prospectors in the budding town. Gastown began to fill up with small shops and services. Deighton was more than just a notorious saloon owner, though. Some historians say he was the founding father of Vancouver because he had faith in its potential long before anyone else did.

As the population grew, people moved outward to settle in areas now known as Burnaby and Delta. The first newspaper went to the presses in 1861, and the first hospital was built the following year. In 1865, the first telegraph lines reached here, and the first message to travel along its wires announced the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Other urban staples appeared: a rudimentary postal system and a stage coach line for transportation. The area was soon cleared by extensive logging.

Canada was confederated in 1867, and the sweeping effects of this change were felt almost immediately in Vancouver. One of the most pivotal moments in the history of the city was the extension of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1884. The railroad now reached clear across the country and brought thousands of people to the area to do business and settle. Rapid development began, and the population grew from 400 to 13,000 in four years.

Arduous beginnings and auspicious renewal...

In 1886, the city of Vancouver--population 1,000--was officially incorporated. Two months later, the Great Fire of 1886, driven by strong winds, destroyed virtually the entire downtown area in just 20 minutes. That same day, after the smoke had cleared and the ashes brushed off, with just half-a-dozen buildings left standing, the citizens of Vancouver began to rebuild. Buildings put up that year still stand today. One of the most significant changes brought by the fire was the transformation of the town's military reserve into the now famous Stanley Park, the city's beautiful oasis.

The population more than doubled in the next 10 years and things really began to boom in 1901. The first editions of the Hotel Vancouver and the Granville Street Bridge were built, along with the introduction of electric street cars, a board of trade, canneries, refineries, and four daily papers. Growth of the city's port, located in one of the world's finest, natural, year-round harbors, was spurred by the opening of the Panama Canal, which facilitated travel, imports and exports to and from Europe.

Overzealous mayors, two world wars and the Canucks...

By 1928, the Lower Mainland's population had reached more than 150,000. The growing city was governed by many memorable mayors, not the least of whom was Gerry McGreer. McGreer was an enthusiastic politician who came into office in the 1930s with election guns blazing. He promised to eradicate gambling, white slavery, corruption and other issues important to the city's wealthy residents. He promised the impossible, but he did succeed in building the beautiful art-deco Vancouver City Hall in 1936.

The Great Depression took a toll on the city, as it did everywhere else. Breadlines snaked down streets and families were impoverished and hungry. Some growth, however, did occur in the 1930s, including the creation of the Vancouver Art Gallery and opening of a steel plant in Burnaby.

World War Two pulled the city out of its economic lull: shipyards, factories, parts exporting and real estate boomed. Single women came from different parts of the country to take over the jobs of overseas soldiers, and many eventually settled in the city. Human rights also got a positive injection: East Indian and Chinese-Canadians citizens finally got the provincial vote in 1947. Japanese-Canadians and First Nations people, however, had to wait till 1949 for the same right.

The 1950s was an era of rapid growth and prosperity, including the extensive development of suburban Vancouver. The population rose to 800,000 by 1961. The 1960s saw many additions to the city's physical and cultural portfolio: the B.C. Lion's won the Canadian Football League's Grey Cup, the Vancouver Canucksdebuted in the National Hockey League, and Simon Fraser University, the Second Narrows Bridge, 401 Freeway, world-class Whistler Ski Resort, Queen Elizabeth Theatre and Grouse Mountain Skyride were built.

A brief but exciting history for this still-young, gorgeous, cosmopolitan city. Many weird and wonderful events have shaped our urban personality, from the local raiding of the biggest LSD factory in the world to our newfound reputation as Hollywood North. The changes and growth continued rapidly throughout the 20th century, until the city became the third largest in the country, and one that is internationally rated as one of the best places to visit in the world. Ethnic diversity, world class cuisine, all mixed with a spectacular urban setting, make Vancouver an incredible place to experience.

The Weather

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. High 42 46 48 54 61 66 71 71 65 56 48 44
Avg. Low 32 34 36 40 46 51 54 55 50 44 37 34
Mean 37 41 44 48 54 58 64 64 58 50 44 38
Avg. Precip. 5.9 in 4.9 in 4.3 in 3.0 in 2.4 in 1.8 in 1.4 in 1.5 in 2.5 in 4.5 in 6.7 in 7.0 in


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