Vancouver, with 2.5 million inhabitants, is the third largest in Canada and the second largest city on the Pacific Northwest. Because of geography, Vancouver is squished between mountains on one side and ocean on the other, and the city is packed into a narrow river delta. As a result, Vancouver is the most densely populated city in Canada, with 5,249 people per square kilometer. This doesn’t take away from the fact that Vancouver is consistently rated as the single best city in the world to live!
Vancouver sprawls across both banks of the Frasier River, as well as several tributaries, and occupies the mouth of the river delta as it flows out into the Pacific ocean. Downtown Vancouver is located on a large island in the middle of this delta, and a series of bridges, tunnels and ferries take people to the north (North Vancouver), south (Richmond) and east (Burnaby).
Vancouver sprung up around a logging town called “Gastown” (now an historic part of central Vancouver) in 1864. Gastown eventually enlarged to take over the neighboring town of “Granville”, and the growing community was given the name “Vancouver”, after the Captain Vancouver, the British captain who sailed the west coast. By 1870 Vancouver had become the largest shipping port on the Pacific north of San Francisco, and that year the Canadian Pacific Railroad was completed, going from the Vancouver docks to the Halifax port. The railroad brought in a wave of immigrants and the small logging and fishing industries of the area boomed. More than 130 years later, Vancouver has become the largest and busiest shipping port in Canada, and the most diversified in North America, with more than $1 billion in trade passing through each day.
While shipping, logging and commercial fishing remain the largest industries fueling Vancouver, in the past few decades Vancouver has become a hub of the I.T. sector, animation studios and film production. The lower taxes and cheaper costs of doing business in Vancouver has earned the city the nickname “Hollywood North”. The popular X-Files were filmed in Vancouver, as well as:
- The A-Team
- Alien vs Predator
- Along Came A Spider
- Battle in Seattle
- Blade: Trinity
- The Butterfly Effect
- Final Destination 1, 2, 3 & 4
- Godzilla (2014)
- Hot Tub Time Machine
- I, Robot
- Josie and the Pussycats
- Liar, Liar
- Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
- The Never Ending Story
- 21 Jump Street (TV show and movie)
- Battlestar Galactica (TV show)
- The L Word (TV series)
- Smallville (TV show)
With so much filming and producing and creating going on, it’s no wonder that Vancouver has become a magnet for tourism. By 2000 tourism made up the second biggest industry in Vancouver, giving rise to an explosion of restaurants, hotels, galleries, concert venues and other tourist-friendly amenities. The whale-watching industry boomed, as the ocean was one of the Vancouver’s biggest natural attractions.
Vancouver is a mecca for tourism. The large and beautiful Stanley Park, an island adjacent to the downtown core, is free for all and one of the most diverse urban parklands in North America.
The Vancouver Aquarium is another big tourist draw. The largest aquarium on North America’s Pacific coast, the Vancouver Aquarium houses thousands of live species of ocean life. While the aquarium is open to the public, it is also a center of marine science and research. Valuable data about the state of the ocean is studied here, and the aquarium employs the top marine biologists from around the world. The Aquarium also undertakes animal rescue duties for the entire Cascadia region (BC, Oregon and Washington state). Marine mammals that are in distress, injured or diseased are picked up by Vancouver Aquarium personnel and taken back to Vancouver to be treated.
Another of Vancouver’s big draws for tourists and people wishing to emigrate alike is its weather. Snow is a very, very rare occurrence in Vancouver, with winter temperatures hovering around the +7 C mark. Likewise, the heat and humidity of other parts of the world are absent during the summer, with temperatures rarely going above +30 C and cool ocean breezes keeping the humidity at bay. Rain is a problem in Vancouver. The lush sub-tropical rainforests of the area exist for a reason. Vancouver is one of the wettest cities in North America, averaging 1600 mm of rain every year (70 inches). While spring and summer are generally beautiful and dry, autumn and winter can rain for months without letup, creating a seemingly depressing atmosphere.
Nevertheless, despite the months of never-ending rain, Vancouver continues to draw people in from all over the world, and for a decade straight the city was named as the #1 place to live in the world for quality of life (losing out in 2008 but hovering around the #3 position since then) by the United Nations and Forbes Magazine alike! The rankings are based on criteria such as quality of infrastructure, crime and safety, access to education and health care, cost of living, average salaries, corruption levels, environment, parkland, etc etc.
Vancouver’s infrastructure is first class. A lack of snow means roads stay in good shape, and the city has done what it can with controlling traffic, including building a $7 billion elevated rail system, the “SkyTrain” which becomes a subway system in the downtown core. The SkyTrain is under constant expansion, as the transit authority hopes to have it reach all points of the city in the future. Until then, a well-managed bus fleet and even a ferry system convey passengers around the metro area, while several large bridges and a large tunnel under the Frasier River help keep the flow of traffic moving.
One of the biggest problems Vancouver faces today is the price of housing. Housing has soared in past years due to limited availability and overseas speculation. Hundreds of newly-built condos on Vancouver’s skyline sit empty, as their owners live in primarily Hong Kong or Bombay, and purchased the units simply to flip them for a profit. This has created skyrocketing prices, with the average starter bungalow in Vancouver selling for around a million dollars, and a downtown condo going for several million. Vancouver has recently joined the club of the most expensive cities in the world, along with Tokyo, Moscow, New York and London.
This scourge of international speculation has helped to create an alarming homeless problem in Vancouver. While Vancouver has always been a mecca for Canada’s drug addicts and homeless escaping freezing winter temperatures in other cities, the high housing prices has created a new class of homeless, the “working homeless”, or people working in low-income jobs but who can’t find affordable housing. With the prices of purchasing so high, rents are incredibly high as well. Limited land resources means that governments can only offer so much rent-controlled space. This has created a crisis in a small part of downtown Vancouver, called the Lower-East Side (also called “East Van”). This area is a rough part of town, and boarded-up windows, graffiti, prostitutes, homeless and police are regular sites along East Van’s streets.
A relatively new problem that is growing in Vancouver is the presence of Asian gangs and an ongoing gang war. In 2009 Vancouver had the dubious honour of being Canada’s shooting capital, due to a rash of brazen inter-gang shootings. With a fast-growing Asian population, largely from mainland China, violent members of China’s mafias have infiltrated into the population and an epidemic of violent crime, unusual for a Canadian city, has been ongoing in Vancouver for several years.
In 1994 the Vancouver Canucks, the city’s pro-hockey team, made it to the Stanley Cup championships and lost to the New York Rangers. A large riot broke out which burned down several downtown buildings, cars and buses and resulted in several injuries and arrests. In 2011 the Canucks again went to the Stanley Cup, this time against the Boston Bruins, and lost in Game 7. Again, a riot broke out downtown, this one even larger and this time with much more video coverage. The ensuing riots destroyed a large section of the downtown core and resulted in several injuries and one death. As a testament to the love people have for their city, the day after the riot large groups of volunteers, on their own initiative, appeared to clean up the mess.
Despite the poverty of the Lower East Side, the wave of Asian gangs and the occasional hockey riot, Vancouver generally remains a happy and peaceful place to live. With so much to see and do, and only one lifetime to do it all in, it is no wonder that nearly 3 million people call Vancouver “home”!