Vancouver-inspired recipes, virtual experiences, streaming options, and more to get you excited for a trip to British Columbia’s biggest and most diverse city.
I’ve never met anyone who didn’t have good things to say about Vancouver, in Canada’s westernmost state of British Columbia. Fanatics praise the city’s walkability, its proximity to nature, the food scene (particularly the Asian cuisine, thanks to the fact that 43% of Vancouver residents are of Asian descent). You’ve got the ocean, the mountains, the city—plus those perpetually friendly locals. It sounds lovely.
I had a trip planned to Vancouver earlier this year that was unfortunately postponed due to COVID-19. But there’s one silver lining in this delay that I’m chasing: lately in the whirl of work and life and travel, I don’t have as much time to properly research a destination before I get on a plane. Which is a shame, because I’ve found that the more books I read, movies I watch, or phrases I learn ahead of a trip, the more tickled I am to discover those things really exist when I’m on the ground.
I’m using this newfound time to soak in all this information, so that when I touch down in Vancouver I’ll have all the context to fully appreciate the dim sum, the Gastown neighborhood, or the sounds of Carly Rae Jepsen.
Here, the best books to read, podcasts to listen to, movies to watch and more to amp you up for a vacation in Vancouver, Canada.
Take in Some Nature (From Inside Your Home)
Tofino, on Vancouver island is well-known for its surfing, and while you can’t take a lesson from the all-female Surf Sister program, you can still watch the waves roll in via their 24-hour surf-cam. For more aquatic fun, take a tour of the Vancouver Aquarium with their Live Cams, which are trained on the otters, penguins, and jelly fish tanks. Up on Grouse Mountain, take a peek at the bear den cam to watch Grinder and Coola hibernating (recommend hitting the time lapse button for some real action). The Greenhouse Treewalk at UBC’s Botanical Garden looks epic (definitely adding to our itinerary), but until we can visit in person there’s something very soothing about a video taken from up in the trees, even it’s digital.
An exhibit from Iranian photographer Gohar Dashti, titled “Dissonance,” was meant to be showing at the West Vancouver Art Museum right now, but in the absence of IRL visits, the museum has staged the exhibit online. Hear from the guest curator, and watch a behind the scenes video of the making of the exhibit, which examines the relationship that refugees have with the meaning of home. Wander the halls of the Vancouver Art Gallery courtesy of Google Arts and Culture (and head to their Vimeo account for archival lectures, panels, and performances). The Vancouver International Film Festival has been postponed, but they’ve teamed up with independent distributors to make the films available for online streaming (highly recommended watching Alice).
There’s a high probability that the salmon you purchased at your local grocery store came from the Pacific Northwest, and specifically Vancouver. British Columnia exported $524 million worth of salmon in 2016, and dungeness crab, hake, and herring are also shipped all around the globe in sky high quantities. While we can’t wait to enjoy those offerings fresh from the source, in the meantime make your own hot smoked salmon sandwiches, a West Canadian speciality, with maple mustard coleslaw and spicy Sriracha mayo.
Canada has the sixth largest Japanese community in the world outside of Japan, and the majority of this population lives in Vancouver. There are supposedly more than 600 sushi restaurants in the metropolitan area, and rumor has it that Chef Hidekazu Tojo invented the ubiquitous California roll here. We’ve bookmarked Miku and Blue Water Cafe to get our sushi fix on the ground, but until then why not try rolling sushi yourself? We have plenty of time on our hands after all…
Vancouver provides a plethora of noodle options: udon, rice, ramen, pho…. It rains 161 days of the year here on average, so a cozy meal makes sense. You can find a solid breakdown of the types of noodles to look out for in Vancouver courtesy of the Vancouver Sun, or try your hand at making ramen (a fan favorite) at home, with the help of Harvest Community Foods.
Vancouver’s Richmond neighborhood is home to a large Cantonese population, and nearly a third of the 800 restaurants here are Chinese. People have been known to say Richmond is home to the best dim sum you’ll find in North America, so you’ll definitely want to add it to your draft Vancouver itinerary. Until then, scour the web for dim sum recipes you can make at home.
Bannock is a type of fried bread, which originated in Scotland but was adopted by the First Nations people of Canada. The generational recipe has found its way into many Vancouver restaurants, including Salmon n’ Bannock Bistro, Mr. Bannock food truck. Find a bannock recipe here.
The Bodies Remember When the World Broke Open
This independent film shot over five days in East Vancouver features two indigenous women who meet one afternoon after one of them experiences domestic abuse. The film premiered at the Berlin INternational Film Festival and was acquired by Ava Duvernay’s distribution company ARRAY. Watch it on Netflix.
Though the majority of this German fantasy film was shot at the Bavaria Studios in Munich, all street scenes were shot in Vancouver. The famous Gastown Vancouver Steam Clock can be seen in the chase scene at the end of the film as three bullies are chased down Cambie Street. Rent Neverending Story on YouTube.
Rumble in the Bronx
Vancouver has a strong TV and film industry, using the city as a makeshift backdrop for far-flung locales. One of the most iconic examples of this Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx. Recognizable scenery includes the neighborhood of Yaletown and mountains in the background. The crew put up fake graffiti during the day and took it down during the evening, in an effort to replicate New York City. Rent Rumble in the Bronx on iTunes.
Shoot to Kill
Made in 1988 with Sidney Poitier, Shoot to Kill is rare in that Vancouver actually plays Vancouver, with a chase scene going from the ferry terminal leading directly to Robson Square. Watch Shoot to Kill on YouTube.
Vancouver-Based TV Shows
The west coast version of Degrassi (which was set in Toronto), Edgemont ran from 2001 to 2005, and followed a group of teenagers through their suburban lives in Vancouver. The show garnered praise fo its exploration of social issues such as racism and homosexuality. Rent Edgemont on Amazone Prime.
Though panned critically, The Beachcombers is one of the most successful Canadian television series of all time, running for 387 episodes over 18 seasons from 1972 to 1990. The adventure series, about a log salvager and his partner, was named one of Canada’s all-time best television series in a 2017 poll conducted by the Toronto International Film Festival. Watch The Beachcombers on Amazon Prime.
This award-winning series aired from 2012 to 2016, and centers on Detective Kiera Cameron, a cop from the year 2077 who’s trapped in present-day Vancouver, along with a group of deadly criminals called Liber8. Cameron is tasked with stopping Liber8 before it can take down the corporations which will one day rule the world, effectively saving her 2077 home. Rent Continuum on iTunes.
Podcasts from Vancouver
Vancouver’s top comedy podcast, Graham Clark and Dave Shumka have been interviewing other comedians since 2008.
Interviews with Vancouver-based creatives, from comedians to artists, writers, and musicians. Hosted by Pamela Rounis, designer and co-publisher of SAD Mag (an acronym for Stories. Art. Design.), which was founded in 2009 to public local emerging artists.
A weekly podcast on the intersection of feminism and pop culture, topics covered aren’t specific to Canada, but hosts Lisa Christiansen (broadcaster, journalist and longtime metal head) and Andrea Warner (music critic, author and former horoscopes columnist) are based in Vancouver and record at the the Vancouver Public Library’s digital media Inspiration Lab. It’s hard to put your finger on it but they feel approachable in the way that Canadians do.
The Curve of Time by M. Wylie Blanche
Wylie Blanchet’s memoir chronicles her husband’s death in 1927, and her decision to move her five young children onto a twenty-five-foot boat each summer to explore the coastal waters of British Columbia.
The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy
Set in the 1930s and 40s in Vancouver’s Chinatown, Wayson Choy’s first novel centers on three young children of an immigrant Chinese family, and their first-person grapplings with identity, family, history, and poverty. The Jade Peony was selected by the Literary Review of Canada as one of the “100 Most Important Books in Canadian History” in 2005. It was also an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year in 1998, and was the winner of the 1995 Trillium Award (shared with one Margaret Atwood).
The Lost Ones by Sheena Kamal
The Lost Ones follows Nora Watts, an Indigenous woman living in the Downtown Eastside, as the daughter she gave up for adoption 15 years earlier goes missing. Author Sheena Kamal touches on several persistent issues for British Columbia: mining, foreign investment, the disparity of wealth, and the disappearance and murder of Indigenous women.
The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee
The first novel from Chinese Canadian broadcaster and novelist Jen Sookfong Lee follows Sammy Chan as she returns to Vancouver to care for her aging mother. Stuck in a city she resents and without a job, she slowly begins to unpack her family’s history, following stories that began in 1913, when her grandfather first came to Canada at age 18.
One Hundred Days of Rain by Carellin Brooks
In this story of a woman going through a divorce with a small son in Vancouver, rain is a character in and of itself—much like it is a constant companion to the city.
Carly Rae Jepsen
After attending the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Victoria, BC, the queen of pop Carly Rae Jepsen moved to Vancouver and later placed third on the fifth season of Canadian Idol in 2007. The next year, she released her debut studio album Tug of War in Canada. But it wasn’t until 2012, when “Call Me Maybe” took over the London Olympics that she started gaining international popularity. Canada’s crown jewel has since released two more albums, sold over 25 million records worldwide, and collected a variety of accolades.
The New Pornographers
This indie rock band formed in 1997, and has released eight studio albums since. A kind of musical collective of singer-songwriters and musicians from many different Vancouver-based bands and projects, The New Pornographers has garnered critical acclaim for their use of multiple vocalists and elements of power pop.
The man behind some of your favorite karaoke songs, including “Summer of ‘69,” “Heaven” and “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You,” Bryan Adams has been releasing 80s synth pop and love ballads since 1980. His music may not be for you, but you can’t really argue his impact—he’s won 20 Juno Awards (for Canadian musical artists), 15 Grammys, plus he’s been nominated five times for Golden Globe Awards and three times for Academy Awards for his songwriting for films.
Said the Whale
Vancouver based indie rock band Said the Whale was founded in 2007, and have six studio albums under their belts. Trio Tyler Bancroft (vocals/guitar), Ben Worcester (vocals/guitar) and Jaycelyn Brown (keyboards) have been playing together for over a decade, drawing inspiration directly from their surroundings. They describe their music as “pure West Coast,” pulling from California pop and Pacific Northwest indie rock, and with lyrics inspired by water and mountains of their hometown.
The real life story of 6th grade friends who started a band and have stayed a band for over a decade. Hey Oceans! is known for its West Coast pop and energetic live performances. For awhile, they ran their own music label (alongside friends from Said the Whale), before signing with Universal Music Canada.
Grimes (née Claire Elise Boucher) was born in Vancouver and attended MacGill in Montreal, where she studied neuroscience and Russian, before dropping out to pursue music full-time. Her unique genre-fluid synth/art pop sound has yielded five albums, six international headlining tours, and numerous award nominations. Her refusal to be boxed in has made her a favorite among the fashion crowd.
An icon before such a thing even existed, Emily Carr (1871-1945) is known for her paintings of the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast and for being one of the first painters in Canada to adopt the Post-Impressionist painting style. The Vancouver Art Gallery is a major curator of Carr’s work (so add to your list when you make your visit), and her nomenclature is now used for schools, universities, and libraries in Vancouver, Toronto, and London.
A self-taught painter who explores themes of decadence and wealth, Andy Dixon turned to fine arts after years as a professional musician (he was best known as a member of North Vancouver punk rock band d.b.s.) His colorful, opulent work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in galleries and art fairs internationally including Beers in London; Pulse Miami, and at Wilding Cran, Los Angeles, where he now lives.
One of Canada’s most respected artists, Ian Wallace played a key role in the development of what is informally known as the “Vancouver School” of photoconceptualism, which brings together painting and photography into an entirely new medium—what the artist has called “pictorialism.” His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally since 1965, at institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the National Gallery of Canada.
Vancouver-native Justine Andrew applies the bright, bold lines of pop artists like Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein to everyday life: the human form, architecture, and nature. She paints with latex acrylic on wood, and plays with the concept of negative space in her work.