If you have a day to spend on Granville Island

From the building where we stay in Yaletown it’s just a block walk to the Sea Wall, bordering False Creek on the south, to a ramp, then a pier with a shelter that makes a small boat dock. Usually the wait is from nothing to sometimes as much as 15 minutes for the what must be the niftiest public transportation in any city in the world. For soon enough up chugs what can best be described as a semi-ugly duckling, a small canopied boat with wooden bench seats lining both gunwales and prime seats for the kids in the bow or stern for watching the water traffic.

Amidships is a platform for the crewman minding the tiller and the throttle for the diesel engine stored below. Two ferry companies, Aquabus and False Creek Ferries, offer a closely similar service from a series of such docks on both sides of False Creek. The docks are walking distance from downtown. An adult pays usually with my favorite coin in the world – the Canadian Loonie – or the $2 piece (commonly called a Toonie) bearing the Queen’s portrait on a bronze sub-coin in the center with a polar bear on the reverse. That takes me this day to one of my choice destinations: Granville Island. Technically Granville is mostly an island, though it’s reachable by bus or car from the north side where the Granville Island bridge ramp debouches traffic. This is typical city stuff, but the ferry dock on the south is its own vein. It has a steep incline walk that can be tough on the handicapped but fun for the able bodied that leads to a small concrete floored park with benches. Facing the park on the other side is the Granville Island Public Market. Don’t go there just yet, though, except to cut through to the street on the opposite side. To the west is Ocean Cement, a working cement plant that hosts an open house for Vancouver youngsters once a year in late April.

Traffic on the narrow streets is usually thick but the pedestrian has the best of it on the sidewalks. These snake through various shops that sell everything from models to souvenirs or works of British Columbia artists. Part of the best Granville Island flavor is to wander in and out of these shops as the whim arises. A left and a few steps bring into view a splendid site: the Granville Island Brewery. That should wait for the departure mode, for if, as in my case the grandchildren have come along, across the street is a bountiful toy market, two stories and filled with enclaves for ages or interests or even precision models like the Canadian Forces helicopter I bought my grandson. Next and moving to the north is, at the entrance, an inconspicuous park blossoms into the Granville Island Waterpark (May – August) with fountains squirting kids with what seemed to me very cold water and a curving slide. This is carefully monitored by teenagers who make sure the line at the top goes one at a time. It ends at the bottom with a spectacular splash, much screaming, and, again, very cold water – at least to an outlander. There is also a soccer field for classes for the children through the False Creek Community Center. Adults tire of the splashing and games so the next stop on my itinerary is across the street, the showroom of the British Columbia pottery cooperative. Touring here is like a visit to an art gallery and hand-thrown pottery can certainly be an art form. When my wife and I first visited this showroom we bought a clearly hand-crafted cream pitcher in rough brick red and black done without the slip to make it porcelain-like that we still use for special occasions. If it’s painting you want, there is an abstract art gallery a few doors away. By no means are these the only pottery or painting galleries on Granville Island but you get the idea.

By now it’s lunch time. A walk through a park farther north brings a visitor to what amounts to a glorified hot-dog stand called Go Fish. Never mind the rustics, it’s a wonderful fish place that means waiting in line and waiting for the order, then eating at old wooden picnic tables but with superb food. Another choice that appeals to me though is to amble back to the brewery, which should be open now. One side has a good gewgaw shop with brewery-marked T-shirts or pint beer glasses. On the other is the brewery itself with a tap room that offers three or four of what is coming out of the tanks in the business end. Usually there is a seasonal special, like an India Pale Ale, that can be a temptation to spend the rest of the afternoon there. The brewery is a working brewery that supplies Vancouver. At the west end of the island about half a mile away there is the Granville Island Hotel that also has a brew pub on the ground floor that can offer some worthwhile sipping as well. One more must stop is in order, though; the Granville Island Public Market that we passed at the start. A cavernous barn of a place, in barn red, is has shops and stands from one end to the other. Name it: fresh lettuce from the country in season, strawberries or raspberries or blueberries predominantly locally grown depending on timing. Peaches can also turn up if the season is right. Or there are sausage shops with the likes of kielbasa or a clutch of other meats. Bread shops are there that bake their own wonderful loaves. As everyplace else, it can be hard to leave. Such is enough for one day, though there is more, especially Bridges, a nice restaurant that overlooks False Creek and serves Granville Island brewery’s product trundled from just up the street. Back to the ferry but usually with a batch or parcels or at least a sack full of berries from the market. Ferry service is usually quick and it’s only a ten or 15 minute trip home – with a glow still if there’s been a stop at the taproom.

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