We could all use a little confidence as we rev up to get back out into the world. Vancouver local Bianca Bujan recently reconnected with herself on a solo date, following any twists, turns, and detours along the way for a truly spontaneous day out on the town.
I cup my hand over my eyes to block the sun and watch as masked strangers stroll by, hurrying to their next stop. I’m standing in the middle of Triangle Square in Granville Island – my first time visiting the Vancouver vicinage in years. Normally, this spot is a bustling hub of activity – buskers performing and people picnicking on benches as they watch on. But today, as pandemic restrictions remain in place, all is quiet.
Standing in the Square, I remember meeting Princess Diana and Prince Charles 35 years ago in this very spot. I was eight years old, and after I performed a dance routine as part of Expo ‘86, the royals handed me a long-stemmed red rose and thanked me for my performance. Of all my childhood memories in Granville Island, this is my most unforgettable. For visitors to Vancouver, this spot is the starting point for a day full of shopping, snacking, and sightseeing; but for me, this is where my life started—where I grew up.
After a year and a half spent hunkered down at home, giving all of my attention to my three children and a busy work schedule, I’ve decided to go on a spontaneous solo sojourn in my own city to relax, reminisce, and reconnect with myself. And what better way to do so than to explore what’s new in my old ‘hood. This is the place where I began, and the beginning of my day’s journey.
My plan for the day is to visit more of these memorable spots around Granville Island, to see what has changed and what has remained the same. I meander toward the Public Market—the area’s main attraction, and I am taken aback by how much the space conjures up happy memories from my past. It looks more or less the same, but feels different through adult eyes.
Granville Island Public Market
Made up of a series of six industrial buildings that date back to as early as 1917, the Granville Island Public Market was revitalized in 1978 to become a now notable epicenter for culinary enthusiasts. A shopping destination for some of the city’s top chefs, the indoor market delights with a rainbow of local fruits and vegetables on display, and a variety of freshly-caught seafood and rare ingredients sourced both locally and internationally.
As I wander up and down the aisles of fruit stands, meat shops, and candy carts, I smile widely and quicken my stride when I spot a bright yellow-and-green sign. Nothing brought me more joy than a jelly doughnut from Lee’s Doughnuts when I was a kid, and I’m excited to bring home a box of the baked goods to share a taste of my childhood with my own children.
Before I leave the market, I remember an old Mexican spot—La Tortilleria—that I used to visit often during my early teen years. Relieved to see it still standing, I decide to grab lunch to-go: a large chicken taco salad. Remembering the Packable Caryall I have tucked in my purse, I pull it out, and stuff it with my box of doughnuts, lunch, and drink. Pleased by the weather when I step outside, I decide to ditch the outdoor tables at the market, and instead take a detour to a lesser-known spot in the area: a park tucked along the Island’s edge.
Ron Basford Park
Strolling along the wooden boardwalk, I grin as I spot a rolling hill topped with a Canadian flag up ahead. As a child, I would roll down the bumpy bends of this hill with my friends. Today, it’s the site of an outdoor amphitheater, one of many found throughout the island.
Named after former Canadian cabinet minister Ron Basford, who was known as “Mr. Granville Island” for his involvement in the Granville Island redevelopment project back in the 70s, this pristine park is the perfect place for a picnic lunch. Pleased that I’ve packed a picnic blanket, I pull it out and place it on the grassy slope that sits snug against the edge of the seawall.
Soaking in the surrounding water views from this spot at the southeast corner of Granville Island, I stretch out my legs and nosh on my lunch. A family of Canadian geese swim by, and a solo paddler peacefully canoes past my feet. It’s calm, and I realized I haven’t experienced this kind of peacefulness in quite some time. When I’ve finished eating, I decide to extend my stay, pulling out my book for some reading time—a much-needed moment to myself that is long overdue.
Then, I pack up my things and decide to continue my stroll around the seawall, past floating homes, pier 32, and my old dance school, Arts Umbrella, where I spent the majority of my childhood days. As I wind back toward the market, I spot a rainbow-colored Aquabus, and decide to take another detour.
Aquabus Around False Creek
Since 1985, mini ferries have been serving the Granville Island and False Creek areas. I have fond memories of riding the Aquabus across the water to swimming lessons at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre and around the inlet during my younger days. I decide to dally down the dock to see what’s new with the old boats, and make a last-minute decision to hop onto one that has just arrived for a short ride across the water. I’m nervous about the time and hesitate to veer off track, but decide to lean into the spontaneity of the day.
I chat with the young captain as he navigates the ferry through the narrow inlet, and learn that a series of stops have been added to the schedule, taking riders anywhere from a short stopover around the shores of Granville Island, to longer tours that span from Hornby Street in downtown Vancouver to Olympic Village and Science World. Impressed by the growth of the operation that was once a small two-stop ferry in my early days, I hop off and wave goodbye, vowing to revisit again soon with my kids in tow.
Before I head back to my car I spot the newly-rejuvenated Railspur Alley and duck in to explore the shops, galleries, and cafes that now line the European-like lane. There, I pop into an art gallery where I once purchased a print of False Creek nearly ten years ago. I discover a brand new bookstore called Upstart & Crow, which sells books, literary gifts, and artwork, and as I peruse the shelves, I learn of their future plans to host storytelling workshops and writers residencies.
Then, I stop in at Off The Tracks Bistro for a much-needed latte and a sweet slice of carrot cake. As I sit and enjoy my afternoon treats from the orange chairs of the outdoor patio, I watch on as small groups of people pass, chatting amongst each other. I overhear someone talking about a new chocolate shop that has just opened up the road, and I decide to make one last stop before heading home.
Kasama Chocolate is located in a bold blue building found on the eastside of the Island. I’m allergic to chocolate, so this is a surprising stop for me, but I’m lured by my curiosity after learning of this sweet new artisanal addition to the area.
Kasama—a Fillipino word meaning friendship, or togetherness—is a suitable name for the business, which began back in 2015 as a collaboration between four friends (the shop opened in 2021). Their recipes use cacao pods sourced from the Philippines, and vary from vegan chocolate bars to far-out flavours such as the Earl Grey Tea bar and the Durian Chocolate bar, made from a pungent tropical fruit found only in the southern Philippines.
Last year alone, the company won 15 international chocolate awards, including Gold in the 2021 Americas Bean-to-Bar and Chocolatier Competition, and recognition for their non-dairy bar (made of goat’s milk). Intrigued, I pick out a few bars and pack them home in my Packable Carryall—another treat for my family to share when I return home.
As I hop into my car with goodies from my day’s events in tow, I take a deep breath and enjoy one final moment alone. I reflect on my day, and realize that taking the time to explore my favourite place by myself—where I can move at my own pace, take detours, and chat with the new people I meet along the way without having to worry about keeping my family entertained, is something that I have truly missed. While I’ve spent so much time taking care of others’ needs, taking some time to reconnect with myself is something I need to do more often, too.
Bianca Bujan’s Packing List
Perfect for a spontaneous solo adventure.
I keep this waterproof picnic blanket in my car, just in case I decide to veer off track and discover a new spot to sit and enjoy a meal or some time outdoors with family and friends.
This new-to-me hoodie will keep me warm on this overcast day, and its rust orange colour feels vintage and fashion forward even though it’s a more casual item.
In Vancouver you can’t go anywhere without one. The forecast called for rain on my solo adventure day, so I’m covered.
5. Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi
I’ve made it a goal to read (and finish) a book this year, and this engaging novel, written by a Black Canadian author, has me continuously turning the page.
With masks mandatory in all indoor spaces, I bring along my favourite accessory: a vintage striped mask that matches my outfit and keeps me protected while I’m out on the town.