Written by: Tobin Wait.
We proud Vancouverites have an almost unconscious tendency to take many things for granted about our beautiful city: the climate, the mountains, the ocean, Stanley Park, the ubiquity of coffee shops and yoga spaces. I mean, these things are the reason our city is so damn fine (and so damn expensive!) – we should appreciate them, right? But we are a jaded bunch. A new sprinkling of snow on the North Shore Mountains? Ho Hum. Driving over the Lion’s Gate Bridge as the sun sets to the west? Yawn. Going to the beach in mid-October? Been there; done that. It’s a natural reaction: we are so used to the awesomeness that it all becomes a little less awesome.
Case in point: Granville Island. We all know it’s there. We all talk about it. We’ve all been. But over time, it gets ignored and dismissed: too many annoying tourists, too little parking, too boring after a few visits. While this may in some ways be true, take an objective step back, and you can start to appreciate what an urban marvel Granville Island truly is.
On a mere 37 acres of what was once an industrial wasteland, in one of the world’s best cities, sits this quirky, diverse, paradoxical mini-town. It is like a city within a city. Hotel? Community Centre? Marina? Shopping? Prestigious Art College? Theatre? Cement Factory? Buskers? Enormous Public Market? Distillery? Brewery? Check. And that’s just for the adults.
For the kids, Granville Island can be a veritable wonderland. I mean the kids even have their own market! And water park. And playground. And a duck pond. And Arts Umbrella, an award-winning arts school just for the young ‘uns.
Sometimes, however, the true appeal of Granville Island can be found in the treasures that are just slightly off the beaten path.
Let me ask you this: have you ever visited the bookstore or the library at Emily Carr? I had dropped my daughter off at her Arts Umbrella art class, and I had an hour to “waste.” I wandered over to Emily Carr’s library, where I planned to find a comfy chair and read my book. Instead, I spent the entire hour browsing the book and magazine selection. It blew my mind. I could have spent a whole day there. Magazines and periodicals covering every aspect of art your could imagine. Cool books with cool pictures. And, yes, really comfy chairs. Now I look forward to taking my daughter to her art class. And for my money, their first year student exhibit is the best free event the city has the offer.
Do you like to imbibe? The new kid on the Granville Island block is Liberty Distillery, offering Vancouver’s first handcrafted traditional spirits, using 100% BC grain. Sample the Truth Vodka, made from wheat grown in B.C.’s Peace River region. It’s a clear and clean vodka, with hints of vanilla that I can personally attest to. Or try the Railspur #1 White Whiskey, made from organic B.C.-grown barley. Extremely smooth. The space is cool, the staff are knowledgeable, and there are tours and tastings for those wanting a full experience.
Maybe sake is more your thing? Head up to Railspur Alley and check out Artisan SakeMaker, “Canada’s first locally-produced fresh, premium Sake.” Similar to Liberty, Artisan SakeMaker produces fresh, handcrafted, small batch sake. There is the popular Osake Junmai Nama Genshu, which was voted one of the top wines of 2012 in the Vancouver Magazine International Wine Competition. Or if you are feeling adventurous, there is the Mirai Traditional Method Sparkling Sake, “North America’s Champagne of Sake.” A perfect mix of the traditional and the innovative. Artisan SakeMaker also has tours and tastings. It may change the way you view (and appreciate) sake.
Opened by Charllotte Kwon over 20 years ago, as a way of showcasing exceptional artisans, Maiwa Handprints is a Granville Island institution. Maiwa’s primary focus is textiles: cloth, garments and bedding, all of them handwoven and naturally dyed. Maiwa is also about education. They’re annual Symposium Event features workshops, lectures and events, all geared toward educating people about textiles, dyeing, and all things handwoven. Arisan-focused and enviromentally-friendly, Maiwa is always worth a check out.
And, finally, my last treasure: Oyama Sausage Company. Located in the heart of the public market, Oyama offers up fresh sausage and pates, and cured meats for the true connoisseur. There is a certain fun and whimsy in walking up to the counter, grabbing a number and then yelling your order for Rookwurst, or Miso-Pork Sausage or an aged salami. The quality is superior, the ingredients are natural, and the staff is knowledgeable about each product, offering pairing suggestions. With three-quarters of my family being gluten free, Oyama is also a place where we know we are safe ordering any of their sausages
Having lived in Vancouver for 20 years, I too have taken much of our city for granted, including Granville Island. But I think it is important to remember the unique offerings our city, and Granville Island, has to offer. If you take the time, and you have the nose, treasures can truly be found.