False Creek, specifically its north shores, has good luck in its soil. For decades it toiled under industry, slinging lumber, aggregate, and fish on and off trains, trucks and ships. But in the 1980’s, “The frog got kissed and became a prince,” as Michael Kluckner says, one of Vancouver’s most ardent archivists. With a shave and a haircut, the shores of North False Creek stood up straight for the 1986 World Exposition (Expo ‘86), and the world saw it in a whole new light.
Dense housing, transportation, beautiful parks and public recreation facilities surround the Erickson, an award-winning luxury residence along North False Creek’s beloved seawall.
One hundred years before, the first trans-Canada train to reach Vancouver made its debut here in False Creek. That day, hundreds of people cheered for CPR’s Engine Number 347 and decorated her with colorful garlands and swags. It was a day that prompted reenactments for decades to come, the day Vancouver became an early version of the city she is now: a portal from North America to Asia and back and a community of pioneering urbanites.
One such pioneer saw huge potential in the entire piece of waterfront from Granville Street to Main Street and points north. Li Ka-shing (and later Concord Pacific development corporation) purchased North False Creek and prepared it to become a master-planned residential community. But concerned residents and the City of Vancouver put up resistance to the unprecedented plan and the south-facing property found itself in the wringer—environmentalism and public access spinning one way, progress and profit spinning the other. But False Creek’s nothing if not tough. It emerged from the friction an ideal community: walkable, livable, active, beautiful, green and diverse. Cities from all over the world strive to emulate False Creek’s combination of parks, walkways, child care and community centers, unique retail, and its residences, both luxurious and low-income.
On the corner of Pacific and Davie Streets, the famous locomotive still looks great thanks to the thousands who paid $19.86 apiece towards its refurbishment in time for Expo ‘86. You can thank them by name, if you’d like, since every one is carved into a brick that rests underfoot. The Roundhouse Community Center on the same corner is where locals go for recreation classes, art, theatre, and sports inside brick walls lovingly preserved from False Creek’s industrial days. The pedestrian bridge beside the Roundhouse that leads from the elementary school to the local grocer once rotated train cars before it became public art.
Historic Engine 347 rests inside False Creek’s lively community center. Go visit; admission is free.
Engine 347 was the first trans-Canada train ever to reach Vancouver and created a crucial link to Asia and to the future.
More than 4,000 bricks immortalize those who helped refurbish the engine in time for Expo ‘86.
When it opened in 1999, Urban Fare grocery store was unlike any other: suave, hip, lit like a boutique. Groceries in hand, you can sit for a light, gourmet meal, an Italian coffee or a glass of wine. “When it first opened, it was a place people would get dressed up for and come to be seen,” remembers Peter Udzenija, Director of Marketing for Concord Pacific and a False Creek resident. Out of the success of this retail laboratory, four more Urban Fares sprung up around Vancouver, other grocers followed the trend, and a new food shopping experience was born in Canada, from right here in this community.
If the grocer is its centre, then the south-facing seawall that travels past parks and marinas is the community’s spine. “It reminds me of my childhood in the South of France, the sunshine, the water,” says Jean-Frances Quaglia, owner and chef at Provence restaurant around the corner from Urban Fare. Eleven years ago, he was the first merchant to set up shop along this seawall. His patio now welcomes 500 customers to brunch on an average sunny weekend and he just renovated a portion of his restaurant to “bring something different to the neighborhood:” a wine bar. Quaglia installed taps from which he serves fine wines out of small kegs, a method he says is going to become more and more popular. “There’s no difference in quality, only now I have no waste,” he said in his lilting French accent.
His wine storage flows the way utilities and internet flow through North False Creek: on the surface, glistening and simple; underneath, thoughtfully designed with the environment and longevity in mind. Add to that 30 acres of public parks very nearby, excellent transportation, a Costco within walking distance, and ferries to transport you across the water. Consider that all of this was masterminded by Vancouverites, their elected leaders and a single developer, Concord Pacific, and it’s easy to see what city planners the world over are trying to emulate.
“We have community housing here, too,” Chef Quaglia says. “Personally, I think its great for everybody to mix, especially kids. It gives people different opportunities. This place is almost like a village. It’s an amazing spot. ”
Urban Fare market started a whole new trend in grocery shopping.
Start your exploration of this neighborhood at the corner of Pacific and Davie Streets in Vancouver.
Jean-Frances Quaglia, owner and chef of False Creek’s popular restaurant, Provence.
Cory Schnieder, goaltender for the Canuck’s hockey team, and his dog, Bella, enjoy living in this neighborhood.
People jog, walk and bike along the seawall and many residents own dogs even though they don’t own backyards. “They get them out for two or three walks a day, down for long, lengthy times,” says Chantalle Chamberland Bosley’s Pet Store District Manager. “Dogs here are more fit here than in the suburbs.” Residents here donate to good causes and adopt animals in need. According to employees at Bosley’s, ‘it’s a kind area and very active area.”
As if on cue, Cory Schnieder, goaltender for the Vancouver Canucks and seawall condo resident, came into the store with his dog Bella for a treat. He chatted with us, signed an autograph and posed for a few photos. Young, kind, active, and an animal lover (he adopted a cat from the store, too), he might be the perfect example of a North False Creek resident.
The transformation from frog to prince is still taking place, especially between the Cambie Street Bridge and Science World. There, in the cracked concrete and older buildings, we can still see the canvas on which Walter Hardwick, UBC professor and False Creek pioneer, imagined “a vibrant waterfront mixed-use community.” With seven to twelve years left before the waterfront completely transforms into into its princely self, North False Creek is a young charmer that already possesses a pedigree and a lot to enjoy.
The seawall around the Quayside Marina is a stunning place for a stroll, day or night.
Photo courtesy of Concord Pacific / Photography by Hugh Zhao / Photo courtesy of Overwaitea Food Group LP / Photo courtesy of Kenny Louie via Wikimedia Commons