It shows I am different, I am not from here. So it saddens me when I find myself pronouncing words like a Vancouverite. Well, I guess that is a contradiction in terms because what it means to be a Vancouverite is a complex and multifaceted thing.
I’d like to share some facts about the population and structure of Vancouver and what is known as the Lower Mainland:
- The city of Vancouver was founded in the 1880s and was named after Captain George Vancouver
- The city of New Westminster is older and dates back to the 1860s – it was the original (white) settlement and the first capital of the British colony that became the province of British Columbia
- The Lower Mainland is the area around Vancouver, comprising of several different municipalities/cities such as Surrey where I lived when I first came to the West Coast
- Roughly 55% of the population in Vancouver was born outside of Canada
- According to Wikipedia, 52% of city residents and 43% of the LM residents have a first language other than English
- Some of the biggest immigrant populations come from China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Mexico, Ethiopia, Somalia etc.
When I get on the bus, or walk down the street, I am more likely to hear Punjabi or Cantonese, than French or English. There is a reason it is called ‘Hongcouver’… However, what some people (locals included) forget or don’t know, is that many of the so-called immigrant population have been here longer than than many of European descent. (The local First Nations groups are a whole other tale for another time). Much of the railway in the area was constructed by Chinese labourers in the late 1800s and there was also a large wave of immigration from Greece and Italy around the same era.
Although it often gets touted as one of the top three places to live in the world, what people don’t tend to hear too much about is the lack of affordable housing here. Vancouver has some of the most overpriced real estate in the world and a major homelessness problem. There is also a HUGE amount of drug use, particularly in the area known as the Downtown Eastside (DTE). Ironically, the DTE is a block away from the busy and fascinating Chinatown, and the tourist centre of historic Gastown. Much of the downtown core is highly densified and there continues to be a kind of gentrification movement where the homeless or those with low incomes are moved out of Single Occupancy Hotels so that the owners can sell to condo developers.
Marijuana is the second biggest industry next to logging in the Province, though still illegal and untaxed. ‘BC Bud’ is legendary, and you are more likely to smell it on the streets than cigarette smoke. We have weird tiers of provincial, federal and municipal government that I don’t really understand, other than to say our mayor and our premier are clowns. We have a public transit system that is overpriced but generally fairly reliable, though more so in the rich areas than the ‘lower class’ ones. Although there is ‘free’ medical so you can go to a doctor or clinic for free, not everything is covered and God help you if you need an operation. You can wait anything up to a year for one of those. It is also impossible to find a family doctor and there is a health care crisis, despite the fact that there are hundreds of IMDs (International Medical Doctors) willing and able to work who can’t get licenced.
So it is a city, like all others, that has its problems and quirks, but it really is incredibly beautiful, the people are friendly, and although it rains a lot, there is so much to see and do here, so many places to explore, and although I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s the best city in the world (I am from Cape Town, after all), it is pretty damn spectacular.
(For a travel guide that I wrote on Vancouver for my old job, see http://www.wordtravels.com/Cities/British+Columbia/Vancouver)