Up Close and Personal

This intriguing coastal city reveals its secrets to those who live there

by Colleen Friesen

© Alamy Stock Photo

“Let’s go,” I shout, pushing off from the Village Dock into Vancouver’s False Creek. We’re surrounded by glass towers, and to the east we can see the oversized geodesic dome of Science World at Telus World of Science. I look over at my husband Kevin in his yellow kayak and red vest that pops against the pale sky and navy sea.

The blade of my paddle pulls against the water. I keep my grip loose, let the blades flatten as they take their turns cutting through the air. I feel like a seal as I slip past ducks and geese, fancy boats in the marinas and skyscrapers overhead.

This is a far cry, I think, from the scene that met Capt. George Richards, the largely unsung Royal Navy officer from Cornwall, England who surveyed this place (which would indeed turn out to be a “false” creek) in 1859. He would have seen the fishing nets and weirs of Snauq, a thriving First Nations village that stood on the east side of what is now Kitsilano Point.

The inlet was five times the size it is now, but even so it had been overlooked earlier by captains George Vancouver and Dionisio Alcalá Galiano, British and Spanish explorers who met by coincidence in 1792 near what’s now the city of Vancouver and agreed to share mapping duties.

In the decades since, much of False Creek was filled in to accommodate industry. In fact, filling it in entirely was being seriously considered up until the 1950s.

Fortunately, that plan was abandoned. A gull circles and cries above, flashing white in the sun. I remind myself to drop my shoulders. The low vantage point of the kayak combined with the push-pull action of the paddle creates a soothing sense of balance. It’s in a kayak that I feel most connected with the ocean.

We’ve just passed under the Burrard Street Bridge. We’ve been paddling for about an hour since leaving our home in Olympic Village, zig-zagging past floating homes, boats at anchor, foot ferries and stand-up paddleboarders.

“Do you want to try this beach?” Kevin calls. I nod and we line up for a direct run at the shore of Hadden Park.

The sand and rocks rasp against the hull. I pull my legs out of the cockpit and drag the kayak up the beach. We spread our blanket and picnic among the driftwood logs.
Vancouver is known for a lot of things — Stanley Park, the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, Chinatown and incredible cultural diversity. The city’s metropolitan population is 2.4 million, almost 52 per cent of whom speak an immigrant language at home. Residents know that Vancouver’s truly international population means sublime food, from sushi to sidewalk trucks, taco stands and fancy fusion.

But for me, the perfect meal is a fresh baguette from A Bread Affair spread with Salt Spring Island Cheese Co. goat cheese and fresh basil from my patio garden.

Vancouver is a city immersed in nature. Mountains rise behind the North Shore Towers, and the waters that surround the city are as much a part of Vancouver as its streets and buildings.

Like most locals, I like wandering Commercial Drive or Granville Island. I make time to explore the shops of Crosstown, Gastown and Mount Pleasant. But it’s the natural side of Vancouver that truly feels like home. Vancouverites have a reputation for being environmentally aware and health-conscious — but perhaps that’s a by-product of living close to so much earth, mossy forest, sea and stream.
Once you get to know this one-of-a-kind coastal city and its deep natural connection, you may find it hard to leave.