Reporting from Vancouver – Under The Scope September 2023

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When people think of Vancouver, they may think of a variety of things.  Because Vancouver overlooks the Pacific, for instance, they may think of seashells and the great opera house in the harbor made of large white clam shells standing upright.  But those people would be mistaken.  That particular opera house is in Sydney, Australia.  

When people think of Vancouver, they may think of its nickname, “City of Glass.”  Vancouver buildings have lots of glass and aluminum exteriors, and they’re all are cubical with flat roofs.  Some describe this style as “modern box,” as if Vancouver architects rebelled against traditional styles of architecture, becoming “boxers” and inciting a “boxer” rebellion.  But nothing could be farther from the truth.  The Boxer Rebellion occurred in China at the turn of the 20th century and had nothing to do with architecture.  

When people think of Vancouver, they may think of a great biopharmaceutical company, like the one that developed the namesake, modern antibiotic Vancomycin.  “Vanco” is a great medicine because it’s effective against methicillin-resistant staph infections.  But those people would be thinking wrong.  Vancomycin was named after its ability to “vanquish” staph, and it was discovered at Eli Lilly Labs in Indianapolis.  

Truth is, people don’t really think about Vancouver much.  I mean, it ain’t DC or NYC, or San Fran or Amsterdam, or the Windy City or the Sinny City.  It’s just Vancouver.  But not thinking of it is a shame because in some aspects it reminds me of home here in PoV Country.  For instance, being coastal, Vancouver often has high humidity.  If that won’t make you homesick, then consider the summer rains that give the city another nickname—Raincouver.  And if that’s not enough, then look to the coast where, just like on our coast, there are lots of squawking seagulls, broadcasting their complaints and criticisms—just like our Twitter feeds.  And, in Vancouver you can smell the sea, just like in Grand Isle without the dead fish smell.  

And, speaking of smelling, one thing you can’t help noticing in Vancouver is that smoking weed is legal to do in public.  As you’re Uber-driven through the roads and highways, you’ll frequently notice cannabis shops—like Cheeky’s, just off of 4th Street.  And speaking of cheeky, some of the nearby clear-water beaches are clothing-optional.  And speaking of cheeky even more, the broiled halibut cheeks at Joe Fortes’ Seafood and Chop House on Thurlow Street are the absolute best cheeks on the Pacific.

And, speaking of streets, if you like Tesla autos, you can find lots of them in Vancouver.  Vancouver’s climate is just temperate enough to avoid freezing temperatures in winter, which would otherwise destroy Tesla batteries.  The cars are also stylish and are more frequently booked as Uber carriers than Honda Civics.  Teslas also have automatic braking systems, which, when combined with the flashing green traffic lights at street crossings, makes it impossible for U.S. riders to predict when the brakes will be slammed on.  That’s almost as exciting as walking the suspension bridge across the Capilano River, 230 feet in the air among the forest tree tips.

Despite the modern feel of Teslas, as well as aluminum and glass buildings, there’s something a bit rustic and nostalgic about Vancouver suburbs.  The eat places are often privately-owned and not part of corporate fast food.  And eating utensils are wooden and not plastic.  Speaking of no plastic, even spring water comes in cans.  Recycling bins are everywhere in Vancouver.  Circle K and IGA stores are common, like the few we still have here.  And, in a big throw-back to the 1960s and early 1970s, “Esso” (not Exxon) is a common brand of gasoline.

These days, Vancouver is the largest city in the province of British Columbia.  My ancestors, like many of those of PoV readers, are from “French Columbia” on the other side of the country.  You might think there would some deep-seated animosity given how our Acadian ancestors suffered land theft and exile at the hands of the British.  But, just like my ancestors did 300 years ago, I remained largely neutral about that.  I only felt anger when I was spending money and forced to calculate exchange rates in my head.  

If indeed people think of Vancouver, they must think of it as a good place for a good conference.  That’s where I found myself earlier this summer, at the large, magnificent University of British Columbia.  As the seagulls would concur, there’s good sushi to be found around campus–all cheekiness aside.