Let’s face it, you can celebrate Canada Day anywhere but there are few better places to do it than in the country’s prettiest western city: Vancouver.
The festival takes place each year on 1st July and celebrates, well, Canada. This fine country famed for its modern day human rights record didn’t win its identity and independence through war and revolution but rather through a series of treaties and negotiations, some for the better, others for the worse.
Technically, then, Canada Day is a federal statutory holiday that celebrates the signing of the British North America Act in 1867 (now called the Constitution Act) that united three colonies into a single country (and yes, that country would be Canada.)
But away from the legalities and treaties, Canada Day celebrates all that Canadians love about being Canadian.
Vancouver spills red and white maple leaf flags across streets, cafes and cheeks in the form of face paint.
Bands perform all day long in the aptly named Canada Place and vendors rustle up pancake breakfasts galore over on atmospheric Granville Island.
It’s all a family friendly affair that can develop into harder partying in only a few spots around town.
Canada Day is an experience you can easily dip and out of through Vancouver’s straightforward public transport system and compact downtown area.
And the highlight for many involves the fireworks that scatter across the sky at the end of a maple leaf day.
Ah, and one final piece of advice? You don’t need to be Canadian to join in.
I’d heard in advance that Vancouver was a beautiful city, but I hadn’t realised just how beautiful it was until the plane came into land.
This vibrant, cosmopolitan port city on the west coast of British Colombia shimmers amid deep green mountains and a sparkling coastline that leads to the Pacific.
And some of the best ways to get an overview of the city involve tackling either the water or the earthy green land.
Zodiac tours from Sea Vancouver race around the shoreline, while for a steadier sightseeing trip you can hire a bike and tackle the slopes of local’s favourite Stanley Park.
In fact, this is a city made for outdoor adventure with sunny days seeing cyclists, sailors and paddle boarders making their move around the clean and gridlike streets and waterways.
Other Canadians may dub Vancouver the “no fun” city because people tend to head home early at night but that doesn’t make the place sterile, that’s for sure.
One way to peer into Vancouver’s murky past is to take a walking tour through the Prohibition era landmarks with Forbidden Vancouver. Expect to hear tales about burlesque shows and speakeasies and how the suffragette movement actually helped to bring an end to the dry nature of BC.
The tour finishes near the historic Gastown and Chinatown neighbourhoods where cocktail bars and scarlet arches hint at the city’s changing populations over the years.
But it’s important to remember First Nation history, too, particularly since it’s a living breathing tradition that’s finally beginning to receive the respect it deserves.
I stayed in Skwachays Lodge, an art gallery and self-catered apartments in one, that houses not only foreign visitors but also resident First Nations artists.
The rooms mirror the gallery below, with aboriginal art that encompasses both nature and nurture through leaping salmon and bright totem poles.
Not that this is the only place to find such art, though. Check out the Coastal Peoples Fine Art Galleries, Hill’s Native Art and the Inuit Gallery of Vancouver to understand more about this rich and interesting art form.
All told, Vancouver is a world class city with spectacular scenery, heritage, history and plenty of innovation to make sure the place never grows stale.
For a glimpse at how new things are done, for example, dine at Big Trouble Vancouver. You’ll never look at beetroot the same way again.
Money Saving Tips
Pack some comfy shoes and walk around the Downtown area. From Stanley Park to Chinatown and Gastown is possible with a bit of effort.
Visit the beach, the park, the waterfront… In Vancouver, really, some of the best things in life are free.
Did You Know?
A short drive from the city can see you on the ski slopes. Check out Grouse Mountain, Cypress Mountain and Mount Seymour.
Vancouver has the highest real estate prices in Canada. Probably because everyone wants to live here.
Greenpeace was founded in this city.
The view from the air as you come in to land…the ground awash in deep lush green mountains and clouds like sails on the high sea. This is surely the most beautiful entrance to any major city in the world.