This is a little out of sequence, but I wanted to get my thoughts on the Vancouver visit in as soon as I could get them worked out.
I’m not exactly sure what it means to be nice, but by any definition I can think of, the folks in Vancouver have it down. We booked a hotel on-line before coming up, and Max made some suggestions as to places we might want to go. He realized as he was doing so that his tastes are not ours at this point in our lives, so he stuck mainly to museums and Stanley Park. He did say that the hotel was located in the gay neighborhood. Little did I know at the time that this is an official distinction in the city, clearly marked by the pink trash receptacles on the streets that have heart-shaped openings. It is a great place to stay. The Sunset Inn and Suites is staffed by the nicest people, has the best rooms and is reasonable- no, it’s cheap. In an expensive city, a $130 suite is unheard of. On Trip Advisor I booked this one for $111 a night. Its location, on the west end of downtown, makes it perfect for walking, public transport, quick in or out of the city drives, etc. The place is great, and the gay neighborhood is the place to be. Lively, convenient and very much a living neighborhood, it has a warm, welcoming feel to it– restaurants and shops all along Davies Street and an instant shift to quiet/residential as you leave Davies. If you hit Vancouver, I couldn’t urge you more to make this your home ground. The walk along False Creek with a quick water taxi across to Granville Island and its markets can take up a whole weekend.
It was in wonderful Stanley Park, however, that we came to feel that the people of Vancouver have some claim to being among the most welcoming people in the world. First there was the mother of Esmay (Ismay?) whose name we never caught, though Esmay took great pains to make sure we got his, as only a three (and three-quarter) year-old will do. She asked to look at our map of the park and realized that we had not purchased a parking permit yet because the meter we had stopped in front of was broken. She immediately whipped out her phone, purchased a day’s parking for us (“anywhere in the park- they have your license number now”) and would allow us to pay her for it. “It’s only $5 and yesterday somebody paid for mine- this is just passing it along.”
Then there was Dave, an elderly architect (technical architect, he stressed, though the distinction is lost on me) who stopped on his bicycle to discuss photography, his understanding of the best lenses ever made and his beloved city. The conversation went a bit long for Lena, but he was nice about it and wished us a good visit.
After a long walk around the lost lagoon, a drive around the seawall and two or three long walks at various stops, we ran into Steve, who works for the Vancouver City Parks and Recreation Dept. and loves New England. His daughter lives in Shrewsbury and he had just gotten back from a trip east. He will, he says, probably retire near there, though he has yet to figure out the health care part of it all. He would have to go back to Canada every 6 months to keep his pension and to be legal in the states. (“I’ve two lads what live here, but they’re lads- they don’t want me around!”) Steve came to Vancouver from York, England some thirty years ago and has only marginally changed his accent.
Stanley Park deserves a few words its own. The largest city park in N. America, if not the world, it has an amazing array of habitats, (seaside to genuine temperate rain forest) walkways, attractions and opportunities for walking and biking. Most of the seaside in Vancouver is traced with a public walkway and bikeway, and in most of that, the two are kept distinct through signage and a raised curb.
Believe me, when there are as many bicyclists as we saw in Vancouver, it’s wonderful to know that most of them will not be racing by you on the pavement but will be on their own pathway- most of which is one-way around the park. Of course there are always yahoos, even in Canada, and the occasional biker zips by just a bit to close, but this doesn’t seem to happen much–at least it didn’t to us, and then it was someone lost, a first timer on that trail, or the big-city, big-bucks folk from down on False Creek (apartments- 1 million to start, in the ads I saw).
And this, perhaps, is a good way back to my original statement, that Vancouverites are nice. There seems to be a much stronger and more generally accepted social contract in this city- an understanding that civility, and helpful, reasonable behavior are ways to insure that living here is kept as hassle-free as possible. It’s not a law, it’s what you do. Like the English of my time in Sussex, who would queue up for everything without any real command to do so, as if getting in line quietly assured fairness, and fairness was a thing to be desired by everyone, all the time, the Canadians I know seem to truly care that everyone have a good time is any exchange. People in shops, people on the bus, people on the street– all went out of their way to say hello, to help us find our way and to wish us a good visit. We couldn’t stop in front of a city map or a bus schedule without someone offering assistance.
The folks in Vancouver will say that Americans are nice too, that they have just as many selfish people as anywhere else, but it doesn’t seem that way. Look, there are a lot of idiots in the world, and it stands to reason that some of them are Canadian, but I think there are fewer than statistics would predict. I think the western ethic, the more open, more engaging way that folks interact with strangers, has a lot to do with how this plays out in BC.
Vancouver is a city of great variety, with a huge Asian population (wonderful Chinese Cultural center with the Sun Yet Sen house and Garden), immigrants from central and eastern Europe in larger numbers than in any US city I know and a sizable presence of First Nation Communities, native Canadians who are much more in evidence than comparable Native American communities in US cities.Totems in Stanley Park
Canada is a bi-lingual commonwealth nation, with as much diversity of lifestyles and income as the US, but less evident strife about it all. There isn’t a lot of bad-mouthing the other guy, the tactic that is so much in evidence in this election year south of the border. There is tension, especially in the east, I think, but those in BC seem to take it in stride. Welcoming, generally happy with their lot and happy to have you know it, they put this visitor at ease very quickly. A Canadian I met later in this trip said that the thing to remember is that Canadians are passionate about mediocrity. I think he’s wrong. They seem passionate about the middle ground, not mediocrity, and that makes them easier to get along with.