Granville Island is a walk through Vancouver's cultural oasis
Granville Island in summer is a treat for the senses. The sights, the smells and the sounds draw tourists and locals alike to a place that many refer to as an oasis in the heart of the city.
“It’s like Vancouver’s backyard,” says Scott Fraser, marketing and communications officer for Granville Island. “It’s where Vancouverites go to relax and talk with their neighbours. They come here to interact with visitors from other parts of the world, get some great food or just kick back with a coffee.”
There is a slower pace on the island. Visitors stroll along Railspur Alley, wandering in and out of the locally-owned artisan shops. Women try on fine felt hats and scarves at Funk Shui while their husbands watch a skilled craftsman at work making hand-made leather accessories at Hartman Leather.
“A lot of people, I think they’re still coming to terms with the place. They’re like, ‘Whoa there’s no chain-stores here, where am I?’” says Sean Dwen, a street-performer from New Zealand.
The lack of chain-stores means there is more room for the boutique shops that can be found on Granville Island.
A visit to Canada’s first artisan sake maker Masa Shiroki for a sample of the rice-based Japanese wine will give you a taste of just how unique things are on the island.
Even the cement trucks from one of the last remaining factories on the island, the Ocean Heidelberg Cement Group, have become part of the culture. Over the last 13 years, several of the trucks have been transformed into works of art. The trucks sport rotating mixer-drums cleverly painted to look like giant strawberries or bushels of asparagus.
“It is one of the only times in real life where I have seen somebody’s jaw drop,” says Fraser. “For some reason Japanese tourists have such a fascination with this that they will chase the truck into the yard, which isn’t a place the public is supposed to be, but they need to take a picture of that.”
The Public Market is the hub of Granville Island
The Public Market on Granville Island provides visitors with great food, sights and sounds.
The ‘downtown’ of Granville Island presents visitors with even more unique experiences.
Steady streams of shoppers move from window to window at the Net Loft. They stop to marvel at the colourful glass ‘Raygunz’ created by local artist Jeff Burnette, or laugh at each other as they try on the hats at the famous Edie Hats.
People shuffle along the crowded aisles of the Public Market, cameras drawn, snapping photos of the foot-high cherry and strawberry pyramids. Children press their faces up against display cases—a thin piece of glass is all that separates them from a colourful array of hand-made fudge, lollypops and Belgian chocolates.
The confectioners behind the counters will happily share their wisdom about the proper way to make fudge, or how chocolate should sit at room temperature before it’s eaten. The smell of freshly baked breads, spiced meats and smoked salmon are intoxicating and turn many visits to the Public Market into journeys into Vancouver’s food culture.
Buskers are the soul of the Granville Island
Les Finnigan, an award-winning local guitarist, performs regularly for visitors to Granville Island.
The sound of buskers draws the crowds out of the market and stores and into the island’s Triangle Square, where performers entertain crowds with juggling acts, unicycle riding and comedy routines.
There is a vibrant, street-performer culture on Granville Island, run by the Granville Island Cultural Society. It is so popular that every morning the society has to hold a draw to decide which buskers get to perform at a given location and time, says Fraser.
The buskers seem to love Granville Island as much as the tourists.
“I like performing here, the people are excellent,” says Dwen, whose act involves riding a unicycle while shooting basketballs and cracking jokes about shooting bubbles out of his behind. “That’s the great thing about Granville Island—they expect to see something different. That’s what the whole island is about.”
Daniel Zimmer, a 22-year-old busker who grew up in Vancouver, shares a similar sentiment.
“I think it’s an oasis for arts and culture in the city, it’s a great place to hang out with the family, or tourists, or a date, whatever. It’s gorgeous,” says Zimmer, who closes his flame-juggling comedy act by telling the crowd that he takes credit cards but just doesn’t give them back.
Ferry rides on False Creek, whale watching tours to see resident Orcas in the Georgia Strait, or even kayak rentals are just a few of the more adventurous things to do. Even the new fad of stand-up paddle boarding has found a home in the water surrounding Granville Island.
Jordan Specht, from Longliner Seafood, shows off a spring salmon that draws the attention of many passing tourists and their cameras.
Here are a few of the upcoming highlights for Granville Island this summer.
- The Granville Island Farmers Market runs every Thursday until October 27 and features local produce and crafts.
- The TD International Jazz Festival returns June 24 to July 4, featuring jazz, blues, funk, Latin, fusion, electronica and world music.
- Canada Day at Granville Island on July 1 features four stages with free music, a parade and many other festivities around the island
- Witness maritime acrobats with the Voiliers Spectacle from June 30 to July 10. These French acrobats travel the world on their sailboat performing in the rigging of the sails. They offer two nightly shows at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
For more information, visit Granville Island.