Vancouver’s Granville Island is a place about which it is impossible not to use the word “melting pot” – so I won’t try. This former industrial area, in the shadow of a huge grid-like road bridge spanning False Creek, has been transformed into a foodie’s paradise with a busy market and shore-side dining.
Visitors and locals mingle in a lovely setting that is unmistakably in the city yet also somehow feels apart from it. The island is larger than it looks, and a walk around finds me stumbling on zany art workshops and quirky souvenir shops. This is the place to find a pirate’s chest or a hand-carved totem pole.
From Granville Island, I take one of the rainbow-colored Aquabus ferry boats for a tour from the water. The service cruises False Creek, picking up and dropping commuters, other locals and visitors alike. I use it like a hop-on, hop-off tour bus, visiting sights such as the tiny but fascinating Maritime Museum.
Still in museum mode, I visit the Central Art Gallery of Vancouver where there is a large art exhibition by Canadian author Douglas Coupland, he of Generation X. In it, he has tried to define what it means to be Canadian and one exhibit is simply a grab-bag of brand names and things: Tim Horton, an ice hockey puck and face mask, a narwhale horn and a bag of Robin Hood floor. Another uses a repeated series of identical Lego houses to highlight the contrast between the Canadian mythology of endless wilderness and the reality of life in the suburbs of cities such as Vancouver.
I leave possibly no surer of what it is that makes someone a Canadian, or a Vancouverite, but more certain there is such an identity. Part of it is just those secret code words that every culture enjoys using to define itself as separate from “others”, down to the brand names of food unique to the place – from Ouma Rusks in South Africa to Anzac biscuits in Australia and New Zealand. These are ties that bind deeper than we might first think.
In many ways, Vancouver is Generation X come to life: a city of people who in one sense could be from anywhere – as most are. But the city that has taken them in has also molded them together in a very positive way. It has given them a character they may not know themselves, a distinct one of tolerance and optimism, perhaps driven by the oft-met promise of a better life, that I fall more in love with every time I visit.
Ready to jump into the melting pot and looking for a place to stay? Check out this great hotel right between Downtown and West End!