Monthly Archives: November 2014

Vancouver – city of five cultures

Although a relatively young city at 125 years old, the coast and area around Vancouver has been a place for meeting, trade and a settlement for thousands of years. The forests teaming with wildlife, beaches with ample supply of seafood and the river that every six months ran with nutritious salmon provided an ideal place for the peoples arriving from Asia. The next wave of visitors were the Spanish as they explored the west coast of North America during the 17th and 18th century. The city’s namesake, Captain George Vancouver, a Royal Navy officer, first sailed through the narrows into Burrard inlet on 13th of June, 1792 naming it after his friend Sir Harry Burrard. The Fraser River, at the mouth of which Vancouver lies is named after the explorer and fur trader Simon Fraser who was looking for an overland route from Eastern Canada.

Hudson’s Bay Company built a trading post on the Fraser River in 1827 named Fort Langley after a company director. In 1832 Fort Langley shipped out over 2,000 beaver pelts with many of the local Kwantlen people having left their winter villages to take up fur trading around the fort. By 1840 the fort had become the largest exporter of salted salmon on the Pacific Coast . Later it was farming which became the major industry around the fort area. In 1858 there were rumours of gold on the Fraser River and within weeks over 25,000 gold rush prospectors had flooded in from over the border.

Vancouver did not become a European settlement until 1862 when the city grew rapidly following the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway along with rumours of gold. With some of the largest trees in the world growing along the coast lumbering became Vancouver’s main industry with timber being used for the masts of sailing ships and a special consignment for the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing.

The area we were staying in is called Gastown, the original town site of Vancouver. A river pilot, John Deighton opened a saloon primarily for the forestry workers in 1867. Due to his verbose nature he was nicknamed ‘Gassy Jack. The saloon became so popular that a community built up around the place and was known as Gassy’s Town and soon shortened to Gastown. Today, as one of the oldest parts of the city much of the original architecture remains giving it a different character from the glass and concrete modern buildings of the rest of Downtown.

Vancouver today has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the world attracted by the quality of life in the city which has been voted one of the very best places in the world to live. They bring with them their cuisines, artwork, heritage and beliefs which have influenced Vancouver culture over the past 125 years. There are five cultures in particular that have had a particular influence on the city: Japanese, Chinese, First Nations, Indian and Italian. Chinatown is  still a thriving community and is the third largest in North America.

Armed with copies of Frommer’s walking guides, a map and my trusty Tom Tom I set off to explore the many faces of this unusual city. From Chinatown with it’s distinctive shops, gate and faces to Gastown with it’s myriad of restaurants and bars as well as modern and original architecture stretching from the Waterfront . Then on to Downtown with it’s five star hotels, shops and business sections (and many homeless who are keen to act as guides for a few dollars) to the West End with a mix of Edwardian and more modern buildings, tree lined streets and hidden gardens stretching to the beaches looking out towards Vancouver Island and the narrows. I know I have only scraped the surface but do feel as if I have a greater understanding of why this city is so special.


So who is Tim?

It is no secret that Canadian’s have an obsession with coffee: from the multitude of coffee shops all over the city, that nearly every person is carrying a coffee and from knowing the habits of my own very dear Canadian friends. When a certain Canadian coffee shop chain arrived in Dubai there was near hysteria from my Canadian friends with samples of coffee and ‘Timbits’ appearing in the staff room regularly. So who is this Tim Horton and why did he start selling coffee?

When in Canada!

When in Canada!

Miles Gilbert ‘Tim’ Horton was a Canadian professional ice hockey player who was very unfortunately killed in a car accident in 1974, aged only 47. Realising that his hockey career would not last forever he looked for ways to make his earnings work. Horton proved to be an entrepreneurial businessman having opened a hamburger restaurant and a car dealership. However, it was the Tim Horton Doughnut Shop which opened in 1964 in Ontario which would be his most successful: by 1967 Tim Horton’s was a multi-million dollar franchise business. Although initially selling only doughnuts and the now legendary special blend coffee the chain’s range of food products expanded with customer tastes. The bit sized doughnuts known as ‘Timbits’ were a phenomenal success when they appeared in 1976 – there are now available in 35 different varieties and as popular as ever.

The Tim Horton chain is now owned by Burger King and as well as having shops in the US has 29 operating in the UAE and other GCC States with plans to expand this market further.

Thanks Tim, great coffee!


Symbols of Liberty, Freedom and Hope

Manhattan was my first experience of America way back in 1995. It was the summer of the OJ Simpson trials, the city was changing under mayor Rudy Giuliani and the city was alive as it was Independence weekend. Along with my travel companion Irene, we walked the streets visiting landmarks and enjoying the ambiance of the celebrations. One landmark we did not visit, probably due to the long queues, was the Statue of Liberty. When a day out in New York from New Jersey was proposed visiting this symbol of America was top of my list. The ferry to the statue and Ellis Island were booked along with access into the statue itself to the pedestal (very limited access to the crown).


A short ride across New York Harbour at the mouth of the Hudson River lies Liberty Island. Frederic Bartholdi’s sculpture of a robed female figure bearing a torch and a tablet was a gift to the United States from France in 1886. Inscribed with the date of the American Declaration of Independence, July 4th 1776 the statue was a symbol of freedom and hope to the millions of immigrants arriving in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

This statue warmed the hearts of those new immigrants but the reality of starting their new lives would hit when they arrived at Ellis Island. This island which previously housed Fort George   was to become the first port of call for over 12 million immigrants as they were processed at America’s busiest immigration inspection station from 1892 when it opened until 1954. Individuals and families were questioned and underwent medical inspections within the building which now houses exhibitions telling their stories. From the many reasons for immigration, the journeys they made and the struggles and challenges which faced them on arrival the audio and visual displays are a fitting tribute to these new citizens.

The day began with a lunch in a typical Manhattan pizza pie parlour and continued with dinner in China Town. Walking through the streets of China Town with offers of fake designer bags and watches and the array of random items in the shops around: I could have been in parts of Dubai or Hong Kong! The day ended with a visit to the razz-ma-razz heart of Manhattan, Time Square. With street performers and the array of flashing lights and images on the buildings on the square and the streets around it was a fitting end to a day of history and local colour.

New York, you have gone through some very difficult times since I saw you last. However, with your spirit of hope and the strength of your people you are bigger, better and continue to be an inspirational place to visit. I will see you again very soon.