Unique Vancouver Stories

Here’s a selection of quirky angles on the city that appeal to readers looking beyond the usual activities and attractions.

Neon Utopia
In the 1950s, Vancouver was home to the largest neon company in the world and second only to Shanghai in neon per capita: 19,000 neon signs, or one for every 18 residents. At the time, it was considered by pilots to be the best-illuminated city in North America. The largest beacon was the still-in-place BowMac sign on Broadway. While only a few of the original signs remain, neon is making a comeback in downtown’s Granville Street entertainment district, where new businesses are being encouraged to add bold exterior lighting that echoes the area’s neon-lit past. Among the old signs still visible on the city’s streets are the Ovaltine Cafe (251 East Hastings Street); Only Seafoods Café (20 East Hastings Street); and the 2400 Court Motel (2400 Kingsway, Burnaby). Add this angle to your story: when Save-On-Meats (www.saveonmeats.ca) reopened as a cool diner in 2011, its owners spent a fortune refurbishing its landmark neon sign.

Tall Tales
Vancouver’s Shangri-La building became the city’s tallest tower when it opened in 2010, a few blocks from One Wall Centre, which had previously held the accolade. But there’s been a succession of other tall towers around the city since it was founded in 1886. In this story, visit some of Vancouver’s historic towering gems – many of which were the tallest buildings of their day. These include the Sun Tower, Dominion Building, Marine Building and the Harbour Centre’s Vancouver Lookout.

Secret Tunnels
Stories abound about the city’s alleged plethora of secret underground tunnels. Chinatown is supposed to be criss-crossed with them – road crews sometimes unearth them when they’re working in the area. And there’s definitely a tunnel running from the main Canada Post building on West Georgia Street. The dis-used route – it runs under Homer Street and along Cordova Street towards the waterfront – was once used by Canada Post for a Halloween party.

Drinking With Gassy Jack
Vancouver was founded on booze – just ask the jaunty statue of John “Gassy Jack” Leighton, standing atop his whisky barrel in Maple Tree Square. But while Gastown was once a no-go skid row area, a recent renaissance – helped by recognition as a National Historic Site – has seen it become the city’s favourite night spot. Take inspiration from old Gassy and hit the area’s cobbled streets to locate its best bars. Consider a story focused on B.C. craft beers brewed by the likes of Howe Sound Brewing, Phillips Brewing and Vancouver’s very own Storm Brewing.

Oh, Canada!
For more than 25 years at noon each day, a set of horns atop a downtown Vancouver building played the first four notes of Canada’s national anthem, O Canada. The 10 aluminium horns were so powerful they could be heard over much of the city, and those nearby had to plug their ears. When the building converted to a condominium in the mid-90s, the horns were moved to the top of the luxury Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel at Canada Place. Want to hear them? Stop to listen at midday and you won’t be disappointed.

Floating Service Station
Coal Harbour’s Chevron outlet is the city’s only self-service floating gas station. Selling its fuel sans road tax, it offers some of the best deals on gas and diesel in the city – too bad you need a boat to get to it. When the barges were first towed to their spots just off Deadman’s Island in the early 1940s, there were originally five. Now only Chevron remains. In this city of fair-weather sailors, most of the station’s winter business comes from tugs and trawlers, and even the floatplanes that land nearby fuel elsewhere.

Stanley Park's Statue Menagerie
Locals have been erecting statues in Vancouver’s favourite green space almost since it opened to the public in the 1880s. But while the figure of Lord Stanley near Stanley Park’s entrance is well-known, there are many other testaments and memorials that are worth hunting down. See if you can find the large Robert Burns statue; the memorial to US president W.G. Harding; the speedy-looking figure of sprinter Harry Jerome; the Girl in a Wetsuit bronze that recalls a certain Copenhagen statue; and the tiny seawall marker that recognizes James Cunningham, the stonemason who spend 32 years leading the completion of the park’s seawall trail.

Story idea
While the Stanley Park end of Robson Street is now packed with South Asian eateries, it used to be the heart of a different expat community. German immigrants colonized the area during the first half of the last century and, until the 1970s, it was commonly referred to as “Robsonstrasse” by locals. German shops and schnitzel restaurants lined the strip here and it was the best place in town to buy European cakes and chocolates from a host of family-run bakeries and confectioners.