The eighth-largest city in Canada, Vancouver has a population of 603,000 – rising to 2.3 million when you include the wider Metro Vancouver region. A model of diversity, almost 50 per cent of the population considers English as its mother tongue, while the most recent census (2011) also revealed that 25 per cent consider Chinese as their first language – Tagalog, Punjabi and Vietnamese were the next most-popular first languages among locals. The census also revealed that the city’s population was almost equally divided between immigrants and non-immigrants. Age-wise, the age groups 20 to 39 and 40 to 64 are tied at 34.5 per cent each of the total population.
Locals work in a wide variety of jobs and while heavy industries have seen a decline in recent years, there has been a sharp rise in new jobs in personal and business services. This includes jobs in areas like computing, law, accounting, management consulting, advertising, architecture and engineering. The number of these jobs has more than doubled in the past 20 years. This city’s major employers include Telus Corporation, Jim Pattison Group, Air Canada and the University of British Columbia.
North America’s third-largest Chinatown (after San Francisco and New York) occupies a handful of blocks around Main, Keefer and Hastings Streets. Strathcona, Vancouver’s oldest residential neighbourhood, butts up against Chinatown and also has a rich history of immigrant settlement, especially in its historic Japantown area. More than 60 per cent of Chinatown’s residents list Cantonese or Mandarin as their mother tongue, which explains why the street signs here are bilingual.
Many of the region’s younger Chinese immigrants shop at the modern Asian malls in Richmond, but the rest of the city comes to the old Chinatown area to check out the displays of barbecued duck, spicy sausages and stores brimming with silk, jade and trinkets. For visitors, soaking up the scents and sounds here, lunching at a traditional dim-sum house, then seeking tranquillity at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden (www.vancouverchinesegarden.com) is an ideal Chinatown day out. In addition, you could time your visit for Chinese New Year, with its popular parade, or the annual Chinatown Festival – see www.vancouver-chinatown.com for information on both events. A true fusion city, Asian culture permeates Vancouver, with strong influences in fashion, art, perfomance and – especially – food: the city’s dining scene is flavoured with taste-tripping Asian influences at all levels, from street food to fine dining.
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Consider a summer story on Chinatown’s bustling weekend night market (May to September, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights). Sample the array of hawker food and putter among the stalls for the best cheap-and-cheerful shopping in town.
The sights and sounds of Chinatown are a major lure. Consider making an audio slideshow combining recorded background sounds with colourful photos. You could focus on the night market or just cover a regular day out in the neighbourhood. For extra authenticity, add a couple of interviews with locals.
Check out the red-painted shack known as the Jimi Hendrix Shrine at Main and Union Streets. It celebrates the spot where Hendrix regularly visited his grand-mother, eating in the restaurant she worked at and playing his guitar in bars around the area.
Asian immigration has steadily swelled in recent decades as an increasing number of people from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam have begun to call Vancouver home. Many have moved to the suburb of Richmond where thriving ethnic businesses have emerged.
Now accessible via the Canada Line, Richmond has several Asian shopping and dining complexes including Aberdeen Centre (www.aberdeencentre.com), Parker Place (www.parkerplace.com) and Richmond Centre (www.richmondcentre.com). Mixing Southeast Asian and East Asian influences, visitors here can find some of the best dining in the region alongside karaoke bars and traditional temples. Among the most popular Richmond attractions is Kuan Yin Temple (www.buddhisttemple.ca), one of Canada’s finest traditional-style Chinese buildings.
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Visit the Powell Street Festival in Oppenheimer Park, held every year in late July around the city’s old Japantown district. A highly popular cultural celebration, it’s a great spot to interact with Vancouver’s historic and contemporary Japanese-Canadian community. Consider shooting some video footage of the dynamic cultural performances and interviewing locals on the event. Make sure you include a focus on the food: it’s one of the most popular aspects of the festival.
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Spend a day in Richmond’s Golden Triangle area, renowned for its dozens of authentic ethnic dining experiences, from Korean barbecue to Japanese cafés and clamorous Chinese dim-sum houses. And if you’re still hungry, nip back to downtown Vancouver for dinner in the city’s traditional Chinatown area.
Interview some chefs and add recipes to your story. And consider Tweeting your food crawl throughout the day.
While Metro Vancouver is home to thousands of Indo-Canadians, Vancouver’s Punjabi Market area – located on Main Street between East 48th and 51st Ave-nues – is the city’s primary East Indian focal point. Fabric and jewellery stores line the area, which is also home to some authentic and well-regarded Indian restaurants. Inexpensive silks, groceries and 22-carat gold jewellery are a big draw for visitors, and there are several colourful festivals in the area. These include November’s Festival of Lights, April’s Vaisakhi Day Parade celebrating Indian New Year and the new Indian Summer Festival, held every July. A few blocks away, the Sikh Temple, at the south foot of Ross Street, is also worth a visit. It was designed by prominent Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson.
East Vancouver has been the centre of the city’s colourful Greek community for decades. The area comes alive for Vancouverites and visitors alike in late June when the popular Greek Summer Festival (www.greeksummerfest.com) attracts thousands for a multi-day, family-friendly fiesta of music, performance and great food. All events at the festival are free. In addition, a highly popular food-focused Greek Day (www.greekday.com) is staged every June on Broadway in the Kitsilano neighbourhood.
Just a mile east of the downtown core is Commercial Drive, the bustling East Vancouver thoroughfare where an influx of Italian immigrants created a “Little Italy” neighbourhood in the 1950s. While the Drive has since become even more cosmopolitan, its traditional Italian coffee shops remain and are the backbone of the community. Along with your perfect espresso, you can now dip into natural food eateries, reggae record stores and vintage clothing shops in what is the city’s most bohemian district.
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Consider a coffee crawl on Commercial Drive, ranging from rad hangouts like Café Calabria and Caffé Roma to hipster haunts such as Prado Café. End the day at a poetry slam event with the area’s funky locals at Café Deux Soleils. Include interviews with some of the generations of Italian baristas that still work the Drive.
The Vancouver region has been the ancestral home to dozens of First Nations communities for thousands of years and their influence can be seen throughout the city. From the ornate artworks on display at the airport to the totem poles of Stanley Park and the unique businesses and tour operators founded by First Nations people around the Lower Mainland, the area’s first residents are still much in evidence.
Many travellers are fascinated by this ancient heritage and often make a point of visiting those attractions that incorporate First Nations elements. These include Capilano Suspension Bridge (www.capbridge.com), UBC’s Museum of Anthropology (www.moa.ubc.ca), Museum of Vancouver (www.museumofvancouver.ca), Vancouver Art Gallery (www.vanartgallery.bc.ca) and the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art (www.billreidgallery.ca).
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Consider a story on Takaya Tours (www.takayatours.com), a Coast Salish tour company that takes visitors out on the tranquil waters of Deep Cove in an au-thentic cedar canoe. The First Nations guides sing songs, tell stories and relate the history of their people in the region. Add to your experience by staying at the Listel Hotel (www.thelistelhotel.com) which has many First Nations artworks on display; having dinner at the Salmon and Bannock bistro (www.salmonandbannock.net); and checking out some of the attractions listed above.
By the time Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, Vancouver was al-ready the country’s number one destination for LGBT travellers. Home for many years to a large and vibrant gay community in the West End’s Davie Street Village area, the city’s main lure has always been the warm welcome it offers and the fact that its LGBT community is part of the mainstream rather than an outside subsection of it – as shown by the annual summertime Pride Parade. The biggest Mardi Gras-style event in Vancouver, it attracts as many as 500,000 locals every August as its winds its way though the heart of the West End. For more information on the scene, pick up a free copy of Xtra! newspaper (www.xtra.ca) or visit www.gayvan.com and www.gayvancouver.net.
Vancouver hotels are inclusive, but many have also received an extra “gay friendly” designation from TAG (Travel Alternatives Group). Check their listing of gay friendly hotels in Vancouver.
Vancouver was a pioneer for gay rights in the 1960s, fostering a vibrant gay and lesbian community that echoed those emerging in Portland and San Francisco around the same time. In 1971, the Gay Alliance Toward Equality (GATE) was founded in the city, becoming the first Canadian organization to work for equal gay and lesbian rights under Canadian law. It also launched its own newspaper called Gay Tide in 1977.
Vancouver’s first Pride Week was started by this organization in 1973, with dif-ferent sources stating that the city’s first Pride Parade was launched either in 1978 or 1981. The parade started small – it covered only one side of the street while the route remained open to regular traffic. While GATE was dissolved in 1980, its work continued and the community gradually attained increased rights and mainstream acceptance. This culminated in British Columbia legalizing same-sex marriage in 2003 – and, in 2005, Canada followed suit. Vancouver is now one of the most popular cities in the world for destination gay weddings.
Western Canada’s largest gay population is centered on the West End’s Davie Street area, complete with its pink-painted bus shelters and rainbow-flag window decals. Scattered with gay-friendly cafés, bars and stores, the area is renowned for its nightlife, combining loud and proud pub hangouts with hopping clubs. Along with the West End, East Vancouver’s bohemian Commercial Drive is also a favourite neighbourhood for LGBT residents and has historically been the centre of the city’s lesbian community.
More than 30 years old, Vancouver biggest street parade draws up to half-a-million locals to the streets of the West End every summer. They come for the thumping party vibe, smile-triggering carnivalesque atmosphere and to celebrate the fact that the city’s GLBT community is fully accepted. Organized by the volunteer-run Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) – whose mission is to "bring together members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community, their friends, allies and supporters in celebration of the unique spirit and culture of the community” – the event is only one facet of the Pride Festival, a multi-day extravaganza of parties, galas, club nights and celebrations throughout the city. For more information on the event, see www.vancouverpride.ca.
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Hit the city during Pride Week for a nightlife story on the many galas, parties and nightclub shenanigans. Include interviews with performers in town for the event, from risqué dancers to glamorous drag queens.