Monday, December 3, 2012



Vancouver, Canada's third largest metropolitan area, is one of North America's most beautiful cities.  Its natural harbor, reminiscent of Hong Kong, is ringed by rugged snow-capped mountains.

Vancouver's cosmopolitan atmosphere comes from its unique mixture of European and Oriental people.  Vancouver is the town where a tailor named Dave Marks opened his home for a Passover dinner to a young Chicago vaudevillian named Benny Kubelsky.  Benny, who was playing at the Orpheum Theater at the time, met---and fell in love with---Marks' daughter Sadie. They married and lived happily ever after under their stage names of Jack Benny and Mary Livingston.    

Vancouver is a city of diverse 'towns':  Gastown, Chinatown and Downtown.

Gastown:  Within 24-hours after Jack Deighton's 1867 arrival in Vancouver amid a cluster of sawmills on Burrard Inlet, the thirsty sawmill workers helped Deighton build his frontier saloon.  Out in front, a huge big-leaf maple tree offered shady shelter for the patrons of "Gassy Jack's".  Gastown, named after that tall-tale telling character, soon became the meeting place for early settlers.

The once-lively birthplace of Vancouver, relegated to a skid row in the late sixties, Gastown has been rescued, restored and reborn to preserve the city's heritage.  This redeveloped area is an unique atmosphere of Victorian architecture and cobbled streets.  It is an unhurried people-place for eating, shopping and having fun. 

Today, from atop a bronze barrel of booze at the Carrall and Water Street site of his old watering hole, the eyes of a bronze "Gassy Jack" Deighton are still sparkling.  "After all", he is probably thinking, "how many frontier saloon-keepers are considered the spiritual fathers of cities such as Vancouver, British Columbia?"

Across the street from Gassy Jack's statue is the Hotel Europe, erected in 1882 by an Italian hotelier.  With a shape reminiscent of New York's Flatiron Building, the hotel was the earliest reinforced concrete structure in Vancouver and the first fireproof hotel in Western Canada.       
The Gastown Steam Clock, standing on the corner of Cambie and Water Streets, was designed and built by horologist Raymond L. Saunders who stated that "the world's first steam powered clock has been created for the enjoyment of everyone.  The live steam winds the weights and blows the whistles.      
The four clock dials are highlighted by handmade enameled copper dogwood flowers.  A 24-karat gold plated frame surrounds the dials which glow at night.  The steam manifold for the five whistles sits on top of the dial cube.  The steam is supplied to this two-ton clock by the underground system of Central Heat Distributors Limited.    


Another unique feature of Gastown is its numerous alleyways branching off Water Street.  One such alleyway is Gaoler's (Jailer's) Mews, a quiet little nook in which you will find quaint shops and a  few restaurants.      

Chinatown: Vancouver's bustling Chinatown is the second largest outside of the Far East. (San Francisco is the first).  Here gastronomes can indulge in a myriad of Oriental epicurean delights.  For down-home Chinese authenticity, you must try dim sum.

Dim sum  is like a smorgasbord on wheels.  Pretty Chinese girls continuously wheel rolling carts up to the tables.  A mind-boggling array of goodies are yours for the asking.  At the end of the meal, the bill is totaled by the number of empty serving plates on the table.  A dim sum   brunch or lunch  is fun, inexpensive and satisfying.

While in Chinatown, look for the narrowest building in the world.  It's at the corner of Carrall and Pender Streets.  Built on a bet by a Chinese businessman in 1913, it is only six-feet wide.  This 'Believe It or Not' building, where 14 separate businesses once operated, now houses offices in its long, skinny interior.  You might also like to stroll through the  Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, modeled after a 15th-century Ming Dynasty garden. 

As you make your way through streets brimming with silvery fish and exotic produce, you'll feel as if you're in China rather than North America.  Peek into doorways...stroll into shops.  You'll find all kinds of interesting Chinese customs and souvenirs.  For example, the herbalist mixing up his natural medicines for his customer; the gift shop with every kind of greeting card imaginable; the butcher shop with ducks hanging in the window.   

If ethnic experiences are your thing, you might want to wander around the Punjabi Market area, the heart of the East Indian community on Main Street near 49th.  The spice and sari shops, bakeries and restaurants will immediately transport you to India.  Both of the above cross-cultural neighborhoods will assault your senses.      

Downtown:  A comfortable sophistication and a gentle pace will be found in the clean, cosmopolitan downtown area.  The $170-million library dominates the skyline with its dazzling combination of skyscraper and Greek amphitheater.  Across the street, theater-goers can enjoy current hits at the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts. 

From the observation deck of Harbour Centre you can enjoy a 360-degree view of the city.  At the same time you can read the brass plaques that help you identify and get your bearings.           

Enjoy all the 'towns' of Vancouver, but be sure to leave some time for nature.  Stanley Park, with its 1000-plus acres, is one of the largest city parks in the world.  The land, originally owned by the Royal Navy, was presented to the people of Vancouver by the then-Governor General of Canada, Lord Stanley.            

One can drive around the park in twenty minutes or, if you prefer, walk, cycle or jog through it.  There's a seven-mile seawall around the park, miles of woodsy trails through the native rain forest, and no fewer than four beaches attached to the park itself.  The park also contains a miniature railway, stadium, archery range, restaurant, not-to-be-missed teahouse and one of North America's best aquatic zoos, the Vancouver Aquarium. 
In Vanier Park, the iconic -domed H.R.MacMillan Space Centre shares its space with the Planetarium, Observatory, and the Museum of Vancouver. 

H.R.MacMillan Space Centre

These “towns”, and many diverse neighborhoods, make Vancouver, British Columbia, a neighborly city well worth visiting.  
JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer and a Travel Consultant with THE TRAVEL AUTHORITY in Mariemont, Ohio.

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