Category: vancouver

Thoughts from a new Canuck

Canucks at home
Home of the Canucks

I met a fellow Brit this week. Sarah has been here two months so was a great person to question about first thoughts on life in Canada.

Sarah is from London, so her first thoughts were on the size of Vancouver. She said it is both a big city and small at the same time. We met in the Cambie area, and she told me that it seemed strange to be in a suburban area and yet only be 10 minutes from downtown. All around us were homes, on quiet tree-lined streets, or condos on the main ones. The buses or the Canada line sky trains were an easy way for her to get around.

Sarah found it pretty easy to settle in. She couldn’t believe how easy it was to get her bank account set up. She found it strange that the bank tellers would chat to you about just about anything. She missed some of the things about British bank accounts, like the ease of setting up standing orders and direct debits yourself. [Some online banking here requires you to go into the bank and get the payee set up first.]

Getting her BC driving license was a breeze too. [For those who don’t know British driving licenses can now be exchanged for a BC one without the need of taking a test].  Sarah doesn’t plan to drive regularly and is planning on buying a bicycle instead. She thought Vancouver was a bike friendly city. [Which is good as that is what it is trying to be!]

The size of the cars here was something she’d noticed. Sarah actually thought it was funny that Vancouver prides itself on being green and recycling etc, but most cars on the road are huge. In London cars are small but in Vancouver the majority of vehicles you see are trucks, SUV’s, minivans and plain big cars.

One thing that surprised her was the number of crazies and crack heads that she saw in the downtown Eastside. [This area is notorious for its concentration of down and outs.] For Sarah it was a surprise partly because she is renting in Gastown and so is quite near the downtown Eastside. She did say that it was probably good that these crazies were all in the same place.

I asked Sarah about the cost of living compared to England. She told me that the cost of food was higher than she’d expected. She’d found steak to be cheap and had feasted on steak for a few days before deciding on a better balanced diet. Eating out was definitely cheaper she thought.

Sarah is a fashionable young lady and she was horrified by the lack of fashion sense she’s seen. She was particularly struck by the combination of “fashion” items that she sees. For instance mixing yoga pants with cowboy boots, leather jacket and bling! She said there are outposts of style like the sign she saw in a Gastown shop that said “yoga pants are not pants”.

Sarah was surprised by the city’s obsession with hockey. Seeing the streets full of fans in their hockey jerseys is quite a sight. In London football [soccer] fans may support one of dozens of teams, but in Vancouver it is only the Canucks. [The Canucks say that we are all Canucks and it seems Sarah finds this to be true.]

Sarah recently went up to Whistler for a couple of days. She went with a group of new friends and had her first go at cross-country skiing. Sarah wasn’t sure if she enjoyed it since it was both hard and a bit scary, but she loved being out in the snow. She said it was hard to believe [as we sat outside in the Spring sunshine] that only a couple of hours away you could be skiing.

Like many new arrivals, Sarah is enjoying exploring the area. And she is expecting her parents to come visit this summer. By then she should be ready to give them a guided tour.

[I’d love to hear other people’s experiences of arriving in British Columbia.]

Preparing for the snow


Snow on the deck is rare in Vancouver
Snow on your deck is rare in Vancouver

This advice comes too late if you are here in British Columbia as the snow came down overnight. We woke up to 5cm and it has continued to snow most of the day.

However if you are planning to come to Canada from a country where snow is a rarity then this might help.

You should make sure that you are equipped for snow even if it comes fairly rarely (by Canadian standards coastal B.C. is not a snowy region).

Here is my list of things to do:

  • Fit snow tires if you are going to be relying on getting around in your vehicle
  • Get a good snow shovel, probably a metal one as our snow is wet and heavy
  • Get salt for your driveway and the sidewalks (which you have to keep clear)
  • Good winter gear is worth having too.
  • Get your furnace and fireplaces serviced before winter comes
  • Insulate pipes and winterize any outside taps (faucets) – again before winter!
  • When snow is expected, make any adjustments you might need to your travel plans
  • For example, if your driveway is steep or your road does not get ploughed early on, then consider moving your vehicle to somewhere more accessible
  • Be aware that “snow days” are called when the weather is bad and this might mean your kids don’t need a ride, but they may need someone to look after them.
  • If you are travelling into work then public transit may be your best bet as their routes are kept clear whenever possible
  • Use the highway and traffic cams to check on conditions if you are driving
  • Have an emergency pack in your vehicle. Warm blanket, cell phone, flashlight, candles, snacks, water and a shovel.
  • If the weather is extreme then better stay home

And if you are in B.C. it is very rare for bad weather to last for more than a few days. Our overnight snow is turning to rain even as I write this!


How to enjoy the country in safety

Snow is pretty and dangerous too
Snow is pretty and dangerous too

I was reading the local paper this Sunday. The North Shore News is actually a pretty good paper which covers community news from North and West Vancouver (the North Shore). The article this Sunday covered tips that could save your life in the backcountry.

We live on edge of wilderness here in Vancouver. There is not much to the north of us except mountains, bears and snow. Sadly people, both tourists and locals, don’t always prepare properly. And sometimes this has tragic results.

Last week Peter Holmes, a recent immigrant from the UK and a well-known triathlon competitor, died while snowshoeing on Goat Mountain, behind Grouse Mountain. He slipped to his death in a closed area of the park because he was not properly equipped for the terrain.

Most of us are not likely to venture out of bounds, however it is well worth reading the article and taking note of its advice. Take care.

Can you stand the rain?

Rain clouds over Vancouver
Rain clouds over Vancouver

Someone (Neal) emailed me recently and asked me to write about the rain. He said this was the elephant in the room. The topic that we don’t talk about, but is on our mind anyway.

By chance Neal’s email was well timed, arriving just before a major winter storm. As I write this we are in the lull between storms – the next one is due in the next day or so. You could say we have water on the brain just now.
I will agree with Neal and say that Vancouver does have a rep for being rainy. The rep is justified if you look at the rainfall figures. 
When I first got Neal’s email I thought that he was not right. My feeling was that we did have rain but it was not that much. So I had a look at the figures so I could tell him that compared to the UK we were not much different. Turns out I was wrong. We do get more rain. Maybe twice as much.
But wait. Why did I think that our rainfall wasn’t so bad? I don’t know. Really. Maybe I am not that observant. Maybe the rain comes down really hard and then clears up – rather than having light rain all day, we have downpours.
I think Vancouverites are kind of proud of the rain. We have restaurants like Raincity Grill which celebrate our reputation (and local produce). I have seen various t-shirts with Vancouver, rain and umbrellas in the design.
The pride in our rain also comes from the fact that our sea level winter temperatures are still mild. So rain that falls does not need to be shovelled. It is rarely an inconvenience. And for the winter sports fan, rain here means snow on the local mountains or in Whistler. Snow on the mountains where you can play in it, not on the street where you need to shovel it. A neat arrangement.
Rain is a fact of life here as elsewhere. If you really hate rain or think it could be a problem, then definitely plan a trip here in the winter. See for yourself. Play on the mountains whilst you are here, but walk around in the rain. See how Vancouverites cope. Maybe you will be able to make friends with the elephant in the room.

Have you heard about the Winter Olympics?

Grouse - not an Olympic venue
Grouse - not an Olympic venue

Anyone in Vancouver is probably heartily sick of hearing about the Winter Olympics. It has been a hot topic ever since we won the bid to host the 2010 winter games. There have been debates about all sorts of things. Mostly cost of course. The cost of the construction of the Olympic venues, the cost of the Athletes Village, the cost of the bailout of the same by the City, the cost of tickets – if you can get them. The cost of hotel rooms or furnished rentals – again if you can get them.

While we have been worrying about the cost, we have also assumed that we will benefit from the Games. Some people think real estate prices will go up as Vancouver and Whistler see increased demand. Those renting out their rooms will be able to charge big bucks to overseas visitors. And all of the people coming here will be a huge bonanza in terms of tourist dollars spent.

Behind all this is the assumption that people actually know and care about the Olympics. Our experience has been that people don’t know about the Games. And hey, we deal with people who presumably actually know about Canada, can find it on the map and may even have been here – several times.

From Vancouver’s point of view it is sad that so many of the people we’ve been talking with recently are surprised when we say “don’t come in February because of the Olympics”. Vancouver thinks that the eyes of the world are on us, but I really doubt that. If hardly anyone who is hoping to move to Canada knows about it, then Vancouver has simply fallen into the trap of believing its own publicity.

I really hope that the Games prove to be worth it for us all, since we are spending a lot and being put to a lot of trouble for this. Let’s get the word out to the rest of the world!

So as a reminder to all, here are the dates to avoid when thinking of coming to Vancouver (unless you have a room arranged and tickets for the events):

Winter Games: February 12 to 28, 2010

Paralympic Winter Games: March 12 to 21, 2010

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