I arrived in Vancouver in March of this year, work permit in hand. I was already acquainted with Montreal and Quebec City as well as with their glacial climate. Hailing from Brittany a little rain did not faze me so I decided to settle for a time in the Canadian equivalent of the “left coast.” This large city in the Canadian west is still relatively unknown in France. I quickly felt at ease in the large open spaces and was soon struck by the varied perspectives of scenery and culture. My first thought was of the power of contrasts. Contrasts in nature. Contrasts in culture. Contrasts in structure.
When the rain relents – which to my pleasant surprise happens more frequently than I was led to believe – Vancouver is a very pleasant city in which to stroll.
A pedestrian can grasp the subtleties of the city and better discover and savour the contrasts which make up the whole. He is at ease to stop, observe and to listen.To spy the snow clad peaks beyond a corner of Chinatown, to be inspired by the briny Pacific air at the foot of a soaring glass tower. To be amazed by the starfish glimpsed from a kayak on False Creek and amused by the varied perspective created by the freighters with their mountain backdrop off Kitsilano beach. All natural contrasts that blend together in seductive and unique harmony.
Vancouver also revels in the plurality of its cultures. At once American with its soaring buildings but also a little European with the intimate small cafes of Mount Pleasant or Commercial Drive. Asian as well with its Japadog stands and the dried fish displays of Chinatown. In the end though Vancouver is a truly Canadian city wedged in the wilderness between towering mountains* and the Pacific. The cultural contrasts are reflected in the faces of Vancouver, in the music played by restaurants and cafes, in the bilingual street signs in English and Chinese and in the sidewalk conversations held in many tongues.
Vancouver is also a city of social contrasts. At first glance rich, healthy, energetic. Numberless joggers encountered while on a seawall jaunt, swanky downtown limos on a Friday or Saturday night. Yet the city also holds a darker side hidden from view. Many a Vancouverite will warn you away from infamous East Hastings where the marginalised, the junkies and the homeless have been put aside. As if uncovering this awkward reality would stain the reputation of one of the most pleasant cities in Canada.
So that is Vancouver, an amalgam of many cultures. The layering of many different ethnic and social memories makes for a place of contrasts but one which is unique and authentic for such a young city. That is why it is such a pleasure for me to wander around town. Each neighbourhood, every street can be an opportunity to discover and observe the mix that makes up the whole. The contrasts stand out in Vancouver; they are fused, blended and mirrored in the City of Glass creating a unique urban experience.
Translation Barry Brisebois