“We don’t like you very much here.” That’s what a Vancouver, British Columbia local said to me when I told him where I was from.
My visit occurred the same exact day my hometown Chicago Blackhawks finished off the San Jose Sharks to reach their first Stanley Cup Final since 1961. And the wounds of a Stanley Cup Playoff series loss, just one round earlier were still fresh within these Vancouverites.
My response: “You guys got the Gold, we’ll get the Cup.” And a couple weeks later, we sure did. Of course, if you happen to be reading this and your name is Brent Seabrook, Jonathan Toews or Duncan Keith, you obtained both.
But beyond all that smack talk, what I loved most about the city of Vancouver, host to the 2010 Winter Olympics, is a trait also present in my neighborhood back home in Chicago.
That would be the immediate and direct juxtaposition of city and nature; urban and pastoral. It seems contradictory, but it’s not. This seamless transition occurs without having to traverse past the eyesores of suburban sprawl, a landscape dominated by trite big box marts, cliched chain restaurants and cookie-cutter strip malls.
In Vancouver, the skyline is right across the way from the forests and the parks, and the mountains are just over the bridge; all within a few miles on the northern end. Part of the reason I choose to live where I live now is the park and the lake being directly across the street. No mountains though, not in the Midwest prairie.
I began the tour with the icon of the 2010 Winter Olympic games, Inukshuk, designed by Vancouver artist Elena Rivera MacGregor. Its use in this context has been controversial, both among the Inuit and the First Nations of British Columbia. Although the design has been questioned, people believe it pays tribute to the inuksuk that stands at Vancouver’s English Bay Beach.
This contemporary work of art was created by artisan Alvin Kanak of Rankin Inlet, Northwest Territories. It was given as a gift to the city for Expo 86. Friendship and the welcoming of the world are the meanings of both the English Bay structure and the 2010 Winter Olympics emblem.
But there’s so much more to Vancouver (Canada’s Los Angeles, on account of it being one of the nation’s most temperate, the most southwestern in geography, the country’s film producing hub, and also the place to find the largest amount of upscale narcotics) than just Inukshuk and the venues of 2010′s most legendary hockey games- GM Place and B.C. Place.
Start with Stanley Park, their answer to Central Park; or Grant Park. This is where you can see the BEST views of the skyline and the Pacific bay. The best photo-opp occurs at Hallelujah Point.
Here you can plainly see the Convention Center and cruise ship terminal (and no doubt a couple cruise ships). This is the famous building with the “sails” and “waves” on it’s roof, and it served as the backdrop for all the Olympic television reporters when they conducted their stand-ups. Because it also served as the Olympic Media Center. (Signs in Stanley Park denote this.)
When you look to the right from Hallelujah Point, you’ll see a yacht club. On the other, a tourist center and the entrance to a collection of totem poles. Upon taking these in, I had a newfound appreciation for the Vancouver Canucks’ jerseys. But I still think the Sedin twins are punks.
This has some interesting quirks too. I just couldn’t seem to find a left turn lane anywhere in the city limits. You wouldn’t think this would be a big issue, but to quote ’80s cheese metal band Cinderella “don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” And my frustration turned me into Clark W. Griswold when he was in London. “I just cannot get left!” (And what city is he from again?)
And Vancouver geography itself is an amalgam of peninsulas and isthmuses that have confusingly named, and often one-way streets that will quickly lead the visitor to a part of town on the opposite shore from where they’re trying to be. My favorite downtown street sign, and by that I mean an actual posted local government sign, not a commercial billboard is one reading:
City of Vancouver
Nuclear Weapons Free Zone
Although I completely agree with this sign’s message and it’s goals 100%, it seems more like lazy philosophy than civic ordinance to me. Yes, it’s deeper and works on more levels than that lazy slacker “No Parking” sign. Maybe there’s a deeper story behind it; I just don’t know.
And perhaps this is why they hate me so much. Chicago invented the nuclear bomb, with the first controlled atomic reaction at the University of Chicago in 1942. You may have heard of the Manhattan Project? That was performed in Chicago. And the waste from that project is buried in a forest preserve on the outskirts of the Chicago suburbs, about a five minute drive from where I went to high school. Another bizarre coincidence- that high school is named after Amos Alonzo Stagg.
And the name of the Manhattan Project’s location? Stagg Field. I know the history nerdiness is turning you on at this point.
Back to Vancouver and my favorite tourist attraction of all, the Capillano Suspension Bridge.
Entrance fare is not cheap, but trust me it’s worth it. Think “The Goonies” meets the Ewok village in “Return of the Jedi” meets the climactic scene in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
Seriously, this bridge thing is even cooler than the glass floor at the CN Tower Skydeck in Toronto. The picture does not do it justice.
To summarize, I’m shocked that no one has ever written a song about the city of Vancouver! We have like 500 songs about New York, a thousand about California, and Randy Newman (if he’s still alive) or somebody can’t write one about this city?
The seafood, especially the crab legs and chinook salmon, is worth singing about by itself.
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank