It’s a city where simple outdoorsy fun is revered… Where every other person has a kayak or a boat and whose idea of fun is a grueling trek to Grouse Mountain. It’s a city that loves to eat healthy...Where people like organic food, artisanal cheeses, local wines and Ocean wise seafood that is sustainable. This is a health- conscious city…from the joggers and bikers to the iconic Lulu lemon Athletica with its yoga apparel (which leaves me a hundred dollars poorer) and the tandem cycles with fathers and sons. There is the tang of the salt in the air merging with the scent of the fir trees and the sound track of buzzing seaplanes and the foghorns of ships. In Vancouver, Canada, nature is always at hand …
I feel like I am on a giant trampoline...The first Capilano Suspension Bridge dated back to 1889; many bridges later, it is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world at 450 feet. A Scottish civil engineer purchased 6000 acres of dense forest on either side of the Capilano River, and built a cabin and bridge on the edge of the canyon wall. This became a popular destination for him and his adventurous friends. We walk cautiously on the cedar planks set on steel cables, for an adrenalin high, bobbing and swaying our way to the opposite side. We hear a voice on the loudspeaker chastising tourists for shaking the bridge on purpose! On the other side are ancient Douglas Firs, hemlock and cedar trees.
There’s a Treetops adventure with ropes and boardwalks linking eight gargantuan Douglas fir trees, a hundred feet above the forest floor. What I enjoy are the story centres everywhere with photo murals, and informative flip books. On the forest floor are rotting ‘nurse logs’ and bug boxes detailing what creepy crawlies are found there. The Douglas firs have needle like leaves and a cone with a three ended bract above each scale. Tom Ryan, our friend and guide, tells us a Native American story. Long ago, there was a forest fire and the mice escaped from the forest fires in to the sanctuary of the Douglas fir trees. Looking closely at the cones, the bract really looks like the tail and the tiny legs of mice hiding inside the scales! There is the Red cedar tree called the ‘Tree of Life’ by the First nation’s people (the poetic Canadian word for the first settlers). Tom equates this tree to the ‘supermarket’ of the First Nations. This was the source of their clothing, food, medicine, tools and shelter!
The latest attraction is the ‘Cliff walk’ where we walk on a series of walkways, bridges and stairs with stainless steel mesh on the sides and glass bottomed platforms on the edge of the cliff, which makes us believe that we are cantilevered in mid-air! All along the trail there are informative signs about the importance of water and natural vegetation. The east bank is the Heritage section where there are ‘First nations’ Totem poles and a Trading Post Gift shop. Each vibrant totem pole has its own story carved on it. Representing different families and tribes and telling a real or mythical story, they are pieces of history. Rhodenderons and azaleas bloom and people sit on benches feasting on the home-made fudge sold here.
There are no freeways inside this city; you can use the Sea Bus ferries, sky trains and the extensive bike trails. After all this was the city where Greenpeace was formed, and it has a great passion for ecological conservation. We spend some time in Stanley Park, an urban oasis of more than a thousand acres wrapped with a 10 km sea wall filled with roller bladders, cyclists and joggers. There’s the statue of Stanley (after whom the Stanley cup for ice hockey was named) decorated with a blue jersey and a trophy in his hands. The city is in the throes of the Stanley cup and everyone is decked in the blue Vancouver Cannucks jerseys!
Grouse Mountain is reached by a gondola carrying funkily dressed youth with ski boards, mothers with children in prams and tourists. The latest attraction on Grouse Mountain is the Eye of the Needle; a large wind turbine with its own observation tower 20 storey’s tall encased in glass, and the best place to get a bird’s eye view of the city. We see five great mountain ranges surrounding the city, the forests, the glistening ocean as well as the gargantuan blades each weighing a whopping 5530 kg! The other interesting stop on Grouse Mountain is the Refuge for endangered animals which is home to two orphaned grizzlies, called Coola and Grinder- they were recovered from a highway and a logging road and they give us great photo-ops by peering over their shelter.
Vancouver is not just about communing with nature. You can blow out your wallet, shopping on Robson Street rising on a gentle hill, packed with boutiques, cafes, designer stores and hip people with pets in tow. We enjoy pub- hopping in neighbourhoods like historic Gastown: an area where the city began, once a down-in the-dumps seedy area now home to hip bars, restaurants and galleries. Swish Yale town is where we see Pretty Young Things with a latte in one hand and walking a pet with the other. There is Granville Island, an erstwhile warehouse area, converted in to a buzzing scene with restaurants, crafts, buskers, open- air cafes and a huge food market with pyramids of luscious fruits, vegetables and the delicious local fudge. And by the end of my stay, I am not surprised that this city has come out tops in all quality- of -life surveys and has been voted as the most liveable city year after year…
Published in The Hindu Business Line,2011