Sparkling Vancouver

In the evening Vancouver’s Granville St lights up with neon signs. There are many but apparently not as many as there used to be. Before neon lights were considered to represent brothels, bars and bad neighbourhoods, Vancouver could boast as the city with the most neon lights in the world, except from Shanghai – 19.000 in total in the mid 1950’s. But as neon signs went out of favour, more and more businesses tore them down and in the 1960’s a Vancouver bylaw made it illegal to put up any new neon lights. This bylaw was in force until 2003 when Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Winter Olympics. At this point in time Granville Street among others had gone from being the pulse of the city to a wasteland of dodgy shops, bars and clubs. For the Olympics, however, Vancouver city council decided to clean up the street and encourage the re-instalment of neon signs. Today, what was once known as the Great White Way famous for its Theatre Row has received a renaissance where neon lights, old as new, light up the street.

The World according to Sam

This evening I went to Megapizza which flashes neon-lights across from my hostel. Here, I ran into Sam. I was sitting at a table on my own when he came into the pizza joint and bought a beer. After looking around he came to my table and asked if the places around were free. Sam is a tiny guy with hollow cheeks, dark hair and multiple chains and necklaces around his neck, one of which is a golden guitar item, and a black rock band t-shirt. He places his grey cap on the table together with a plastic bag full of homemade cigarettes and the movie ‘SlutWoman’s revenge’. After a while he starts asking me about my accent and my stay in Vancouver and before I know it I am engaged in a one-sided conversation about the world. So here are some of the bits and pieces I gathered from my look into the world of Sam. Earlier Sam had been a methadone addict. Then he was in Victoria but the police who he named as birds, as seagulls, caught him after he had broken into a house. This he did only to get warm, he didn’t steal any. But now he lives in a hotel in Vancouver for six months. Two times has he walked in Stanley Park, once it took 8 and 1/2 hours, second time it took only 3 1/2. But Sam is not just anyone. He know the world. For he is Adam, and though he didn’t have to name any of the animals and birds for al that had been taken care of by God, he had been around for many millions or thousands of years. He controls two dimensions of the world. He used to control four but he lost two of them. I think it was due to the arrest in Victoria. Also he has seen himself and his brother. His brother was a small clay figure with a kilometre long erected penis that grew into the sky and he himself was a moss-green figure. But Sam also knows about Vancouver. Vancouver is a stamp. Everything is straight. Once many millions or thousands of years ago other humans lived here. They had also gone though evolution but they got extinct because they had no oxygen. According to Sam they had sex too much. And that is why present females can only have sex in periods, like three times or once a year. But Vancouver is still like a stamp. I wish all the best for Sam.

Pride

I have never before happened upon a Pride, or sought one out. I always figured it was someone else’s party and though willing to show my support for the rights of gay and lesbians, it just hasn’t been something I have thought much about. But bumping into Pride Week, I couldn’t not enjoy the huge and never ending Parade on the last day. So many great people had dressed up and walked up Robson, then Denman, turning towards English Bay. All forms of businesses and community groups, ngo’s and churches. A huge group of Philippines, the faculty of medicine, grannies and my secret favourite the RCMP – the Royal Canadian Mountain Police. There were young and old, lovers and friends. There were the overly dressed and the naked. There were the lesbian bikers and the transvestites, the second grade teachers and the paramedics. And it made you happy. A pride is not about gays only, but about all of us and about celebrating our diversity and that though we are different we all deserve love in what ever shape it comes. Thank you Vancouver Pride, for showing off a wonderful group of beautiful and happy people.

Missy

But, if anyone should ever ask me what I remember the most about my week in Vancouver, none of the above and neither any of what I mentioned in my previous blog will be the most prominent memory. That award instead goes to Missy. Having grown up with a mum who started hiding behind the couch every time a snake appeared on television, I have never felt very comfortable with such creatures myself. Therefore, I surprised myself when I in Gastown met a man and his snake at a café, and without thinking asked if I could touch it. Well, yes dear! You wanna hold her? ARGHHH!!! Her name is Missy. She is an Albino Redtail Boa and quite young still. And it was such a weird and thrilling feeling to hold her in my hands. Pure muscle and the red tail which slowly and deliberately made its way up my arm and around my wrist. It was not until I saw the pictures afterwards that I realised I had been silently screaming.

Thanks to Missy, Sam, Jessica and all the other new and old inhabitants of Vancouver for making my stay so great.

Zofka

Wacky Vancouver

Welcome to Vancouver!

This city can boast of 120 Starbucks, reaching 300 within the entire metropolitan area. According to trustworthy sources there are only 2 Second Cups. Instead of Second Cup Vancouver’s Canadian competition here is Blenz. And then off course there are the unavoidable and ever popular Tim Hortons.

Also, as a little piece of useless information, the Starbucks at Waterfront Station was the first Starbucks outside of the US.

source: Jessica from Tourguys.ca

It seems that once again I have come to a city that is wholly and completely different from what I imagined. I had an idea that Vancouver was just a Downtown of tall glass skyscrapers. And well it is. But it is so much more. With only 120 years worth of history, Vancouver has a surprisingly rich and quirky history and several beautiful old buildings and areas to prove it.

Yes Vancouver is special, no doubt about it. One of the first things that strikes you when arriving in Vancouver is access to the Downtown. Driving you might curse that there is no direct freeway Downtown, while as a pedestrian you will enjoy the fact that you can walk everywhere without the ugliness of a big dominating freeway. Unlike in any other West Coast North American city, there is no direct major freeway going to Vancouver centre. But how come Vancouver can’t boast with a polluting and ugly freeway? Well it was supposed to. The Project 200 was a 1960’s plan to construct a freeway through central parts of Vancouver, building concrete skyscrapers along the way. For the projects realisation it was planned that several areas of the city, including Gastown, Chinatown and parts of Strathcona should be demolished, and replaced by concrete-monsters of the Soviet-style. However, within weeks of the planned demolition of the beautiful Waterfront Station activist started to ring bells in all affected neighbourhoods, telling people what would be the effect of these grotesque plans. Moreover, students living in the areas began offering free tours to citizens who previously had never been in the ‘dirty’ neighbourhoods of Gastown and Chinatown. In the end, the protest grew so huge that the plans were stopped and the government of Vancouver decided to revitalise the central and historical area of Gastown instead of tearing it down. And thanks for that, because this is truly a charming and historically fascinating neighbourhood. Today fortunately all that is left of this disaster of a plan is Granville Square. Yet, before activist groups began developing throughout the city both the black and Punjabi neighbourhoods were torn down.

Gastown

But what exactly was it that was so important about Gastown? In my ears Gastown sounds like the name of an industrial part of the city. Smoke-filled, dirty and far from human. Perhaps Gastown was build on natural resources such as natural gas, or coal or something like that. No. Far from it in fact.

The name derives from the nickname of the first settler/bar owner in the area, John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton. Gassy Jack was something of a personality and the first to ever settle in the area. It is told that after noticing how the men working up at Hastings Mill had to walk for miles to get a pint of beer or whiskey on their evenings off, he decided to open up a saloon near the mill. He came down with his native wife, her mother and two barrels of beer and offered the men at Hastings Mill all the whiskey they could drink in one sitting if they helped erect the saloon. It was build within 24 hours on what today are the corners of Waters and Carrall.

To be gassy in those days meant to talk a lot, to led out a lot of gas, a lot of tales. So Gastown is named after a bar owner who were known for talking a lot. As a contemporary of Gassy Jack wrote to The Vancouver News Advertiser in 1888:

At some future day when Vancouver becomes the emporium of the Pacific shores, the name of the first permanent settler will be sought out by historians and given a name as great as that for which many thousands have ventured limbs, lives and fortunes. Yet the already-locally famous Gassy Jack never sought for fame, nor had he the least atom of hero about him.

Vancouver is full of history and the wonderful and free tourguys.ca are surely to provide the more quirky stories. After a guided tour with them through one of Vancouver’s many rich neighbourhoods, the city truly comes to feel alive.

Zofka