By Victor Block
Strolling through the compact setting, I was mesmerized by the graceful pavilions and gazebos topped by intricately sculpted roofs and jade-green reflecting pools. The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden could be located in China, but it's not. It was created halfway around the world in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, by artisans from Suzhou, a city along the Yangtze River. They used traditional materials and design methods from centuries-old gardens there.
Plants provide year-round color, and gardening elements combine a feeling of harmony with a balance of opposites. For example, delicate foliage grows adjacent to large craggy rocks, which represent mountains in China.
The garden, named for the "father of modern China," is among a number of reasons why Vancouver has earned numerous "best city" awards. Another is its location, nestled between towering mountains and the sea.
The diversity of the city's multicultural population adds a kaleidoscopic touch. Many residents trace their ancestry back to Chinese immigrants who were brought there for construction of the Canadian-Pacific Railroad and others to those who arrived during the country's gold rush, both at the end of the 19th century. Many more recent arrivals came from the Philippines, Taiwan and other Southeast Asian countries.
Earlier travelers also left their influence on the local culture. Forebears of present-day indigenous people began to arrive from Asia around 16,000 B.C. Finding abundant seafood in the bays and wildlife roaming the forests, they settled in to stay.
The influence of people of the First Nations, as those original dwellers and their descendants are known, is everywhere. Brightly painted totem poles stand as proud reminders of this heritage. Members of the Squamish Nation continue to practice centuries-old customs such as spear-fishing for salmon.
A good way to encounter reminders of First Nations culture, along with other major sights, is during a sightseeing trolley ride. Passengers may remain on board for the entire two-hour tour or get off at stops along the route, then reboard to continue the journey.
Stanley Park, a major trolley destination, is a Vancouver "must see." Sprawling over 1,000 acres, this retreat is a green oasis surrounded by the city's urban landscape. Miles of hiking paths lead past lovely beaches, important cultural sites and historic landmarks. My hourlong stroll passed through dense woods, skirted marshy ponds and led to fields where some of the 230 species of both resident and migrant birds greeted me with a symphony of song.
Noisier in a different way is Granville Island, a former industrial park that was built during the 1920s. Today the warehouses and corrugated iron buildings house craft shops, artists' studios, clothing stores, and other retail and entertainment establishments.
Much of the action is centered around the public market, a vast covered space with row after row of produce tables and poultry stalls, seafood vendors and specialty shops. Takeout food counters often are jammed with an eclectic crowd of laborers wearing work clothes, business people sporting the latest fashions and women out for a day of shopping.
Here, too, the First Nations culture holds court. Some shops sell blankets, jewelry and small stones adorned with hand-painted crabs, lizards and other animals. I spotted human figures carved out of caribou antler and a foot-long soapstone seal priced at more than $3,000.
A very different atmosphere is found in Yaletown, formerly a rundown industrial neighborhood that has been given a second life. An old railway repair shed has been transformed into a community theater, and warehouses have been restored as artists' lofts, trendy restaurants and nightclubs.
Another district, which bears the unfortunate name Gastown, is inviting for several reasons. First and foremost is the fact that it was Vancouver's birthplace. In 1867 a riverboat captain named John Deighton showed up with a keg of whiskey, threw a plank across two barrels and began selling the libation to workers who toiled in nearby timber mills. Deighton's reputation as a very talkative chap — who on occasion was known to stretch the truth — earned him the nickname "Gassy Jack."
The little community that eventually rose around his place of business came to be known as Gassy's Town, and from that modest beginning a city grew. The area retains its brick sidewalks, cobbled streets and Victorian buildings. Restaurants, bars and boutiques now attract both visitors and locals - yet another reason that makes a visit to Vancouver worthwhile.
WHEN YOU GO
For more information about Vancouver: www.tourismvancouver.com
Victor Block is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, offers a vast range of people and experiences. Photo courtesy of Andrew Dobrzanski/Dreamstime.com.