If we scratch beneath the surface does Vancouver really live up to the hype? I don’t feel like wasting too much time on this place so I’ll try to keep it to the point.
The Vancouver area has the mildest climate in Canada: it doesn’t usually get snow or the extreme temperatures of other places, but it has plenty of rain, dismal weather, and months of depressing overcast (hence being dubbed “Gotham”).
It rains an average of 165 days per year, with a little over 50 inches annually. (That’s 45% of the year!)
Keep in mind this is merely the days of rain, it doesn’t include all the days of grey skies and overcast gloom.
The darkness, grey, rain, and overcast become oppressive as they continue for months on end creating a sense of depression and despair for those who aren’t accustomed to it (and even those who are). December averages 1.8 hours of sun a day.
The warmest months are July and August where the temperatures average 22 C (72 F). The sunniest month is July; late spring to early fall gets the nicest weather. The average yearly hours of sunshine: 1940. (That’s roughly 22% of the year.)
Generally the rest of Canada (including Toronto) gets a vicious winter season that lasts half the year with temperatures dropping as low as -30 C (-22 F). As Vancouver is the warmest place in the whole country, people of means flock to the city driving up the price of housing and rentals. This helps explain why its pricing is on par with Toronto despite its metro population being roughly one-third the size.
The average house price is now around $1.1 Million (after declines). A detached two-story home is $1.4 Million; a bungalow is $1.1 Million while a condo is over $600,000.
Despite a downturn due to the pandemic a two-bedroom rental is around $2,636 and a one-bedroom $1,865; this is predicted to rise again in the future. You can add or subtract a few hundred dollars off those prices depending on your location in the metro area.
Only 282,355 people live in a single detached house: around 29% of the entire Vancouver CMA (that includes cities like Burnaby, Richmond, New Westminster, Coquitlam, etc. How many people live in a house in Vancouver proper? Few.) Roughly 60% live in apartments and 53% are in an “other-attached dwelling” (basement suites?).
The population of the Vancouver area is 2,463,431- quite small by international standards, even by Canadian standards it’s only the third largest.
Despite the high cost of living, the average individual income is $33,000. And 18% of adults 18-64 are low-income, which rises to 20% for seniors.
The city is quite diverse but the bulk of immigration is from Asia (70%), followed by various European countries, the Americas, and Africa.
13% of residents are not Canadian citizens.
19% of immigrants are from mainland China, with another 7% from Hong Kong.
Almost 13% are immigrants from India, followed by nearly 10% from the Philippines.
40% of Vancouver area residents are immigrants, having come any time within the last several decades.
As with any large immigration influx, there are resentments among the native locals. Vancouver was so often called ‘Hongcouver’ that it actually became a blog topic with the South China Morning Post newspaper.
Just over 10% of residents are Chinese, and as with any group it’s a mixed bag: some are here to escape the Chinese government, some to launder money and participate in crime; some simply want a new or better life.
“The Triads have infiltrated Canada’s economy so deeply that Australia’s intelligence community has coined a new term for innovative methods of drug trafficking and money laundering now occurring in B.C. It is called the “Vancouver Model” of transnational crime.”
There are the criminals who may live here part-time, full-time or travel often; they may or may not be permanent residents and citizens.
There are many wealthy Chinese (“capital flight”) who do business, dabble in real estate, own summer homes or just want Canadian citizenship as a back up plan.
Many Chinese have no wish to integrate: they keep in their own communities, ignore all others and are bigoted towards non-Chinese. Many are dismissive of Canadians as convenient idiots to be used for their land, economy, and citizenship. (Not too far off the mark.)
Others are first generation and have difficulty integrating so it’s easier to stay within their own group. Many also integrate successfully into the community, co-mingle, have interracial relationships and are standard Vancouver residents.
(Note: the core of these observations can also be substituted onto East Indian immigrants and others.)
Some areas have such a large population that everything is written in Mandarin and you can’t find English signs or speakers.
One notable thing about the Chinese: the lack of vulgar behavior. Chinese men don’t shout at and sexually harass women. You won’t see drunk and drug addled Chinese addicts stumbling around in the street or causing scenes. You don’t see Chinese youth panhandling or begging on corners. They keep to themselves, don’t engage in obnoxious behavior, and if anything will simply ignore you the majority of the time. You won’t feel harassed, threatened, or unsafe in their presence, generally speaking. (This is something Vancouverites should remember and appreciate amidst all the complaining.) At most you will see poor elderly collecting cans and bottles in the early morning hours.
Let us get to the point. All medium to large sized cities have the following: restaurants, clubs, bars, pubs, casinos, stores, shopping malls, movie theatres, museums, concert venues, parks, galleries, little ‘market’ districts, a ‘Little Italy’, a ‘Chinatown’, fancy hotels, golf courses, Quay by river/seaside (coastal city), walking trails, gardens, red-light district (legal or illegal), drug areas, strip clubs, criminal underground … what am I forgetting? Point is: all of these things can be found in pretty much any city you point to on a map.
What actually makes Vancouver truly stand out? What makes it unique? Does it even have a culture? Short answer: nothing and no.
That question guarantees three responses: 1) the mountains, 2) the ocean, 3) no snow. (This is going by Canadian standards.)
If you look at the U.S. alone, you’ve got many cities along the west coast which have: the ocean, mountains, beautiful landscapes; where you can sail, ski, see world renowned parks, go to resorts, and do outdoor activities (without snow or cold winters). Many parts of the Pacific Northwest have the same topography and climate as Vancouver and also have First Nations people and large scale Chinese immigration (Seattle for instance).
Vancouver is only ‘special’ by Canadian standards, but even so it’s still pretty uninspiring. Your “experience” will vary according to your financial status.
One thing everyone can enjoy is the lack of cold snowy winters. Aside from that, enjoying the ‘mountains’ and ‘ocean’ depends on where you live, how much rent you pay, and if you have a car. Accessing all the “nature” may be a 40-60 minute bus commute or 30+ minute car ride away – if you don’t live in the downtown core or a nicer area. How much time, energy and money you’ve got to enjoy “nature” will also depend on your job hours, commute, traffic, salary, etc. It’s a myth that everyone in Vancouver lives by beautiful natural scenery and can access all the things tourists enjoy on a regular basis. (The only truth is they can all view the distant mountaintops.)
Besides this is all geography, what about CULTURE? Toronto and Montreal are the major cultural hubs of Canada. Vancouver has a lot of film industry (as do those cities), pretty standard art and music scenes, and “Asian culture” – which in Van lingo means: sushi, lots of Chinese immigrants, Chinese signs, and a Chinese New Year parade. That might also include: Indian food, Indian immigrants, and the Vaisakhi parade.
Ask a non-Asian to speak one of their languages? Can’t. Expound on Chinese history? Can’t. Explain the difference between Sikhs and Hindus? Can’t. Know any of the major religious texts? Nope. Watched a Chinese or Indian film recently? Nope. Living beside people you barely interact with, know nothing about, consider yourself superior to and whose food you sometimes enjoy is not a “culture” Vancouverites! Culture is something you actively participate in. People mostly live grouped together in various places but their lives don’t intersect in any meaningful way. Moving on …
Indigenous people (First Nations, Metis, Inuit) make up around 2% or less of Vancouver’s population. They overwhelmingly represent the poorest in the worst areas and also live on reserves – most of which are pretty damn depressing. There are some totem poles and Haida art sprinkled around the city for tourists, with a few museums or galleries. You can also attend a ‘Pow Wow’ in the summer, which feels like an opportunity for white people to gawp at them while buying trinkets and salmon.
Again, Vancouverites couldn’t tell you a damn thing about them. Ask someone to name four Coast Salish Bands … and keep waiting. You’ll basically hear some variation of: reserves, residential schools, totem pole, drug addicts, and maybe referencing Haida art or a Pow Wow. They know almost nothing, have no interest, and many resent them because of land disputes, treaties, and considering them spongers, etc.
Let’s round this off by looking at the Black population: pretty much non-existent at 1% in B.C. (failing miserably next to Ontario) and the same in Vancouver. There are no real Black enclaves (ex: Chinese in Richmond/ Indians in Surrey) and very little Black history. To put it bluntly: you never see them, you don’t know they’re there, nobody cares and it helps explain Vancouver’s lack of culture and soul.
Since Seattle is the ‘American edition’ of Vancouver, let’s take a look at its cultural contributions: rock, grunge (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, etc); birthplace of Jimi Hendrix; coffee culture (spawning Starbucks); bohemian and hippy subcultures, etc. While Vancouverites were rioting over the Canucks’ loss in 1994, Seattle rioted over the WTO in 1999 – the stark difference shows right there. Even comparing Vancouver to its American carbon copy, it still comes up empty, stale, hollow and second place. Vancouver has in no way contributed culturally to Canada the way Seattle has to the United States.
Let’s move on, this could go on forever…
DTES (Downtown East Side)
Of course we couldn’t go on ignoring the elephant-sitting-on-a-syringe in the room now could we? Welcome to the cold sore of Vancouver: it’s there, you can’t ignore it – the more you try, the more it’s all you can see!
It’s extremely brutal and depressing so I’ll try and keep it short.
The DTES is a chunk of downtown Vancouver that houses the poorest and worst off in the city: it’s skid row. It’s a place where roughly 7000 people wander, sleep, live … as they shoot up or smoke crack pipes on the street (beside you) and in alleyways. It has to be seen to be believed … a modern horror.
What’s interesting about the DTES is how prominent it is. Every city has a skid row but usually it’s located somewhere on the fringes or in poor districts where it can be ignored and mentally avoided. The DTES is literally smack downtown in one of the oldest areas on the waterfront, by expensive districts, tourist hotspots and pricey shopping streets.
The whole mess started when the Japanese were interned (never returned there), and the area gradually became poorer. Eventually occupants of the cheap motels nearby were kicked out for tourists; crime and drug use conglomerated there making it worse. The mental hospitals were closed down so the ill could “integrate into society”. Essentially dumped and left to fend for themselves, schizophrenics and other psychiatric patients became homeless and all began living there, wandering around untreated.
Things festered and decayed: by the late 1990s the HIV/AIDS epidemic was so bad it made international news and was declared an emergency. Rates of infection were worse than anywhere outside sub-Saharan Africa! So the city started providing clean needles for shooting up, gradually leading to ‘safe injection’ sites where people could shoot up, and now there’s talk of providing free, clean, ‘safe’ drugs to addicts.
Despite pouring money into shelters and programs little has changed or improved in the last 20-30 years, other than HIV rates declining.
Let’s get straight to the point: there is no will power to fix it because there’s no money to be made by fixing it and it will cost more than they already spend. They would have to reopen mental hospitals, provide free rehab (multiple stays), have live-in facilities and other things that would cost major dollars.
So people will tsk and cluck on the subject but avoid doing anything constructive. Gracious souls will continue to volunteer and work there with the downtrodden; they are the kind minority who care and do it without fanfare. Everyone else is content to walk around the problem (figuratively and literally) letting these people continue dying because they’re addicts, Indigenous, poor, sex workers and ultimately seen as disposable even though no one says it aloud.
Now, with that being said …
Is there anything good?
The summers are decent when the weather is nice and you can enjoy the outdoor activities. The aquarium and art gallery are OK. The anthropology museum is cool. Stanley Park is great. There are a lot of nice hiking trails or camping spots. If you have the cash you can go to Whistler.
Gastown, Granville Island, and Kitsilano are overrated but still fine for a day of wandering and shopping. If you have the cash and inclination you can go whale watching or take a trip to Vancouver Island for more nature.
I mean honestly that’s about it. Of course there are plenty of restaurants, malls, kitschy overpriced tours, etc. These are essentially the best things and on all the “to do” lists; they don’t take up a whole year though, and is doing them yearly worth $30-$40k rent, plus other expenses? Hell no! Skip the grief, do it all in a summer and save your financial and mental wellbeing.
Aside from that, what have we got? If you’re single there are loads of beautiful Chinese women. The rain is miserable but won’t kill you – so if you wind up homeless you should survive the winters (unlike in the east). Quite convenient if you’re becoming a realtor, into organized crime, and need any or all drugs. And unlike the ONT/QC regions, you won’t see women walking around in burkas – that’s a big plus. There is the average city crime and violence but the worst of it is gang and drug-related, so if you’re not involved in those you should be fine.
Overhyped. Overblown. A waste of time.
People rave about it because they’re delusional and desperate. Vancouver is the Canadian version of Seattle: only crappier, with less culture and social-conscience.
Immigrants and criminals come here because they can’t get into the United States and this is the ‘warmest’ place in Canada (which isn’t filled with ugly 70s-era concrete infrastructure).
Canadians come here because it’s the ‘warmest’ place in Canada and they’ve got nowhere else to go. They can trade snow for rain and pretend they’re cosmopolitan. They may have tried other places and this is the only one left; some may be here for work or because of family.
Everyone else? They don’t bother. They live in real world class cities but might come here for a visit, vacation, to film a movie, to play a concert, for business, for criminal enterprises, their fifth home, etc.
Vancouver is a waste of money, time, and life. Don’t come, don’t stay, don’t bother.
But Vancouverites have to continue claiming it’s “world class” because this is the “best” Canada can do; they have to justify the million dollar bungalow, low wages, half year of rain, constant gloom, Gotham-atmosphere, drug crisis, no culture, no community, average city amenities, with a few months of sun, a nice landscape and ever-rising prices.
To finish, have you ever heard the expression “you can’t turn a hoe into a housewife?” Don’t commit to Vancouver – the biggest hoe of Canada!