Granville Island: Success and Good Company

Along the southwest edge of downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, tucked underneath bridges and freeways, bisecting what the locals named “False Creek,” is the peninsula and shopping district of Granville Island.

I first set eyes on Granville as an adult, just last year, on a birthday trip with my friend, Asaf. He insisted we do something special, something with traveling involved; and I chose Vancouver. Granville Island is home to over 275 businesses, art galleries, a community center, the working marina, and an expansive public market.

Granville is in its 37th year of operation—according to the Canadian newspaper, Globe and Mail. The site is still home to a university, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, focal point for about 2,000 students, until the school moves to a larger location on Great Northern Way reportedly later this year. The market draws tourists and sightseers, plus the occasional street performer. And the marina keeps berth for hundreds of boats, including the odd kayak one can rent for an hourly paddle into the Bay, or two ferry companies which shuttle passersby who’d rather not catch a bus over to downtown proper.

Asaf and I went to Granville our first full morning to kayak, at least for starters. We took two kayaks from a berth out into Vancouver Bay—to explore, to exert ourselves a little, to get a view of the city. We crossed the inlet to the downtown-side, hugging the shoreline toward Stanley Park’s Siwash Rock. $39 got us two hours, barely enough time to (nearly) reach the rock and then circle back. The marina itself is quite active, and the ferries are constantly shuttling locals and tourists (mostly) across the inlet. We got a little wet, too, from the wake of passing boats and our own ill-done paddling. But it was sunny, and warm, with a light sea breeze drying us and halting any sweat from too much exertion. We talked about life and upheavals, friendship, of course about boys. The island was boisterous when we returned: busy, vibrant, a center of culture and tourism and commerce.

In that same Globe and Mail article in 2014, journalist Wendy Stueck had this to say about Granville: “[our series, for which this article was a part,] takes a look at businesses, services and infrastructure that are not often heralded because, well, they actually work well.” What Stueck describes is a daily bustle that, if you’re a coastal city-dweller or used to sharing your city with tourists, may sound familiar to you.

Here is what Stueck sees in Granville:

It is often crowded, parking can be a headache and prices for food and goods are not what most people would think of as a bargain. Yet 35 years after it opened, Granville Island continues to charm. Its mix of artisans, shops and restaurants draws an estimated 10.5-million visitors a year. It is also home to industry: Ocean Concrete is the longest-established tenant on the island, having set up shop there in 1917. The company’s six silos this year became a giant mural as part of Vancouver Biennale. There is a theatre and a distillery, painters and glass-blowers, restaurants and buskers. A 14-hectare chunk of federally owned land in the midst of a city, Granville Island has been called a national treasure and has become a benchmark for urban vitality.

What’s striking to me about this, is to whom Canadians attribute Granville’s successes: the federal government. Granville is co-managed by CMHC and Port Metro Vancouver, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Vancouver Fraser Port Authority respectively. Bo