Yaletown is a well-heeled downtown neighborhood marked with bars, restaurants, and fine hotels and spas that have found homes in converted warehouse spaces. The area’s broad brick walls doubled as projection screens during the inaugural Illuminate Yaletown event.
Vancouver is the location of choice for many film crews, who are drawn by the government’s incentives and once-favorable exchange rate as much as by British Columbia’s variety of nearby terrain — mountains, oceans and bays, urban landscapes, and even deserts. With the studios come the audiovisual technicians, and with Illuminate Yaletown, they’re allowed to show off.
As they walked along the neighborhood’s narrow streets, Vancouverites were treated to lighted ice sculptures, fire dancing, laser shows, flexible light strips bent into whirling shapes, and screens that showed animated human silhouettes in the windows of the area’s buildings. One Mini dealership even turned its showroom stock into a contemporary art show set to music.
For Annette O’Shea, the executive director of the neighborhood business- improvement association and chief organizer of the event, the night was more than a street party — it was a dry run for this year’s festivities, which will take place right smack in the middle of the Olympics — and she took lots of notes. “One thing I can say for sure,” O’Shea said that night, watching as a car slowly navigated past the throngs of light-show gawkers, “next year, we are closing these streets to traffic.”
Most of Vancouver’s downtown neighborhoods are making steady plans to entertain Olympic visitors — Yaletown’s riverfront will have laser and light shows every night and embankments of massive screens showing the games. The ice-skating rink at Robson Square has been reopened, as both a locus of athlete demonstrations and a base for live media coverage. Eclectic Granville Island will be the centerpiece for government and community events. And city officials have declared a “Cultural Olympiad” — 60 days of performance-art displays, dance recitals, photo exhibits, free concerts, and art shows, starting January 21.
There is one cultural celebration that never ends in Vancouver, though: a diverse restaurant culture that seamlessly blends style and/or ethnic cuisines while still relying on locally produced meat, booze, and produce for its fresh, seasonal menus.
“The reason we do not have a tomato salad on the menu year-round is because farm-fresh tomatoes from British Columbia are not available [all] year long, and we won’t substitute with those that are picked green and ripened on the truck, train, or plane,” says Tim Pittman, director of a neighborhood Italian eatery, Campagnolo, located within blocks of Olympic Village on the edge of Chinatown. When he opens a crate of spot prawns from British Columbia–based Organic Ocean, the crustaceans are “sweet, full of flavor, and actually jumping out of the box upon delivery,” he says.
Using BC’s bounty is common among Vancouver restaurateurs, and menus will flatly state which local producer has been hired to purvey ingredients. The blend of environmentalism and delicious indulgence strikes at the twin heart of Vancouver’s mentality: Live well, but live responsibly. And here, diversity is more than a catchphrase; it’s a philosophy that binds the local dining experience.
“I can dine French, Latin, West Coast, Vietnamese, Chinese, Belgium, Italian, [and] Indian, all within a five-minute walk,” says Andrew Wong, owner of Wild Rice, a modern Chinese restaurant just outside of Gastown, a neighborhood named after the long-winded operator of a saloon in 1867. “[And] other [areas] offer that same kind of diversity. When I venture out, it’s like going on vacation in my own city.”