Vancouver is a well-planned, logically ordered city. It is unofficially organized into roughly four areas: the North Shore (West and North Vancouver), the Downtown (including the Westend and Yaletown), Westside Vancouver, and East Vancouver. The greater metro area also encompasses Burnaby, New Westminster, the Tri-Cities, Pitt Meadows, Richmond, Delta, Surrey, White Rock, Langley, and Maple Ridge.
The North Shore comprises the prosperous City of West Vancouver, the Village of Lions Bay, the City of North Vancouver, and the District of North Vancouver (separate municipalities). To live on the North Shore can mean commuting across one of two bridges each day into the city; either the Lions Gate Bridge spanning the Burrard Inlet between Stanley Park and West Vancouver, or the Second Narrows/Ironworkers Memorial Bridge—also spanning the Burrard Inlet but further east—which closes the gap between East Vancouver and North Vancouver. Traffic can be fairly heavy on these bridges during rush hour (7:30-9:30 in the morning and 4:30-6:30 in the afternoon) so it is wise to consider the different aspects of living on the North Shore, as, chances are, one might work either in the downtown or elsewhere in Vancouver. Homes are pricey on this side of the water, but rental housing is available and West Vancouver and North Vancouver are both desirable places to live. The views are magnificent, and the woodsy, alpine atmosphere combined with expansive waterfront is just right for some.
Located in Howe Sound—a network of fjords with an opening to the Strait of Georgia—Bowen Island is the most populated of the Howe Sound islands, and lies closest to Vancouver, just across from Horseshoe Bay. It is accessed by ferry from the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal, as well as by water taxi from Horseshoe Bay and also from Granville Island. About 3,500 people make their home on Bowen Island, with roughly 700 commuters traveling to Vancouver on a daily basis. The island is a popular vacation retreat for many people, with its easy access to hiking, swimming beaches, cycling trails, and more.
The City of Vancouver comprises Downtown Vancouver, the Westside, and East Vancouver. Downtown Vancouver is a mix of neighborhoods, both new and old. Here it is possible to live at the height of luxury, or very simply, depending on one’s preference, and, more importantly, one’s budget. There are mostly high-rise condos to be found in and around the business district. These condos range from ultra-lux to box-like, with prices equally disparate. The Westend is the oldest neighborhood in the downtown area, and has both single-family homes and low-rise condos, although there seem to be far more condo buildings than actual houses, nowadays. There are plenty of green spaces here, and although the population density is rather high, it is tucked away from the business district and maintains the feeling of an old-fashioned neighborhood with room to raise a small family. Yaletown has been called Vancouver’s “Little Soho” and is Vancouver’s most modish neighborhood. Uber-hip and ultra-chic, Yaletown is a city of glass and steel skyscrapers, most of which are premium condo buildings. And many of these are available to rent, if you don’t mind paying a bit more for the privilege. Coal Harbour is across the downtown on the eastern side, closer to Stanley Park. The luxury condos here have a superb view of the Burrard Inlet. If well-appointed surroundings are desired, this is the place to live. Gastown is a historic neighborhood bordering the Downtown Eastside (DTES), and is a popular tourist destination. Up-and-coming is the name of the game here, and if one doesn’t mind rubbing elbows with the down-and-out, trendy digs are to be had for a comparable price. Last but not least, Granville Island, a small, man-made island in False Creek (not connected to the downtown and not technically an island—Granville Island began as a lowly sandbar) and most famous for its renowned indoor public market, is a place where one can buy fresh-cut flowers, farm-fresh produce, gourmet cheeses and meats, and all kinds of sweets and pastries. Living here is a more limited option, as houseboats are one of the few housing choices offered (there are also a few condo buildings, some of which are co-ops), and it would be rare to find one for rent.
There are three bridges and two viaducts connecting the downtown to the Vancouver mainland: the Burrard Street Bridge, the Granville Street Bridge, the Cambie Street Bridge, and the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts. The viaducts connect to Main Street, just over the line on Vancouver’s Eastside, while the bridges connect to Vancouver’s Westside, which encompasses UBC (which, together with the university endowment lands, takes up the entire western end of Vancouver’s mainland) and the neighborhoods of West Point Grey, Dunbar-Southlands, Kitsilano, Arbutus Ridge, Kerrisdale, South Granville, Cambie Village/South Cambie, Fairview, Shaughnessy, Oakridge, Marpole, Mount Pleasant (spans Westside and East Van), and South Main/Riley Park/Little Mountain (spans Westside and East Van). UBC is a city unto itself, with housing, shopping, leisure activities, and its very own beaches. If one is relocating for the purpose of studying at UBC, living on campus is a somewhat viable, though more expensive, option (there is usually a wait list). The stately mansions of West Point Grey line the waterfront on the northern side of the mainland. These homes are in the multi-million dollar range, but there are sometimes suites available to rent in some of the other houses in the area set back from the water. If one’s goal is to live on the beach, it’s hard to get much closer than this. Kitsilano, or Kits, as the locals call it, is an arty neighborhood sharing the coastline with West Point Grey, to the east. Kits is famous for its eclectic mix of free-spirited and quirky inhabitants combined with younger professionals. One of the hippest neighborhoods in town, it isn’t at all easy to find a rental here, and condos/suites don’t stay vacant for long. To the southwest, Kerrisdale is a well-established, family-oriented neighborhood with graceful homes and fashionable shops. If one prefers a quieter, more staid atmosphere, one can usually find a suite for rent here. The neighborhood of South Granville is built around elegant South Granville Street, an area with chic clothing and house-ware boutiques, gourmet markets, bookstores, fashionable condos, and other appurtenances necessary to stylish living. Further east, Cambie Village is an area that has been revitalized by the advent of the new Skytrain line, the Canada Line. Around this corridor has sprung a lively mix of new and old businesses, with the new Crossroads project, a juxtaposition of retail outlets, offices, and residences at Broadway and Cambie, a major focal point of the area. South Main, or SoMa, as it is sometimes known to locals, is home to an eclectic mix of urban-trendy cafes, offbeat boutiques, eateries, and antique-slash-thrift stores, and is part of a larger neighborhood triad—Mount Pleasant, Little Mountain, and Riley Park. Rental suites in heritage homes are the typical lodging of choice here (for those looking to rent, not buy), although the odd townhome or condo for rent can sometimes pop up here and there.
East Vancouver is less affluent than the Westside, yet remains a vital part of the city with important cultural links. Commercial Drive is one of Vancouver’s most famous neighborhoods with its multi-ethnic, multi-cultural eateries, cafes, art galleries, and hole-in-the-wall hangouts, and is known for its more-than-slightly bizarre, avant-garde and neo-hippy flavour. Here one may buy anything from hemp and coffee, eccentric art and music, to organic food and ethnic treasures. The Drive is a must-see cultural gem, and rentals are sometimes to be had in this part of town. West of Commercial Drive, closer to the downtown and bordering South Main, is a historical neighborhood known as Strathcona. Somewhat shabby and run-down, this area was home to the working class population in the 19th and 20th centuries. Moving east again, the area known as Hastings-Sunrise boasts the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE). The Fair at the PNE opens at the end of summer each year, and is an annual event Vancouverites don’t miss. Playland, a local amusement park also at the PNE, attracts a loyal following each season. The flavor of the neighborhood is coarse yet unapologetic, and the area is dotted with noteworthy gems here and there. Rentals here are mostly suites or rooms in private homes, but this area can be a viable option, particularly for SFU students, as it is on direct transit lines to the university. To the west, Chinatown is one of Vancouver’s most colorful and historical neighborhoods located on the fringe of the Downtown Eastside (DTES), and bordering Strathcona. Partly because of its close proximity to the DTES, Chinatown is itself in a metamorphic process of gentrification. Glossy new condo developments are springing up here and there, yet, the microcosmic flavor of this neighborhood is untouched. Chinatown is home to the famous Night Market in the summertime, a yearly event not to be missed. Other East Van neighborhoods include: Grandview-Woodland, Kensington-Cedar Cottage, Sunset, Victoria-Fraserview, Renfrew-Collingwood, and Killarney.
Boundary Road marks the dividing line between Vancouver and the City of Burnaby, the area immediately to the east of Vancouver. West-central Burnaby is the geographical center of Metro Vancouver, and is home to a diverse population of different cultures and traditions. It continues to be a rapidly expanding area fast becoming urbanized with shifting characteristics—from rural to suburban to busy metro area. Yet Burnaby has maintained and protected its green spaces, which include Burnaby Lake Regional Nature Park (the lake was formed by a glacier 12,000 years ago), Deer Lake Park, Barnet Marine Park (with a natural beach along the Burrard Inlet), Burnaby Fraser Foreshore Park (on the Fraser River), Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area (366 m), and Central Park. Housing in Burnaby includes single family detached homes, townhomes, and both high and low-rise condos. Burnaby Heights in North Burnaby is a prestigious old neighborhood from the early part of the 20th century, and features a variety of charming heritage homes. Government Road, around Burnaby Lake Park, features striking multi-million dollar mansions and stately homes. Tall high-rise condos come together in a development known as City in the Park in the area around Edmonds SkyTrain Station. Housing in Burnaby is as diverse as its inhabitants.
The City of New Westminster is located southeast of Burnaby, on the Lower Mainland, and includes the neighborhood of Queensborough located on the easternmost tip of Lulu Island (Richmond) in the Fraser River. The city is a charming collection of heritage homes, historical buildings, an appealing waterfront, and modern high-rise condo buildings. New West (as the locals say) was once the site of the original and largest Chinatown in Metro Vancouver, but most of it burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1898, and was only ever partly rebuilt. Sadly, it doesn’t exist today, due to demolition and rebuilding over old Chinese sites. Westminster Quay (pronounced “key”) is situated on New West’s waterfront on the Fraser River, which was one time an unattractive assortment of industrial buildings, warehouses, fish plants, shipping, and freighters. Nowadays it is an appealing and busy hub of activity with the public market, walkways, flowers and plants, shops, restaurants, boats, museums, and parks. The River Market offers 70,000 square feet of space in which one can shop, eat, and play. Unfortunately New West has, in the past, developed a reputation for shabbiness and run-down, unsafe areas, especially around the SkyTrain stations, but this is slowly changing, with new developments around these areas in the planning.
The Tri-Cities refers to the Cities of Coquitlam, Port Moody, and Port Coquitlam, and the Villages of Belcarra and Anmore on Port Moody’s north shore. Much of Port Moody is forested and natural, while Coquitlam is more built up. Port Coquitlam is a mixture of residential, industrial, and green spaces. The Tri-Cities area is attractive to buyers because of its lower housing prices, but this is rapidly changing. Because the focus in Metro Vancouver real estate is shifting east, these areas are now rapidly expanding in terms of housing development, with rising prices to match. Still, prices are lower than that of the City of Vancouver (although not for long) and a property with a house can be had here for under $1 million, while most properties with or without a house in Vancouver are now over $1 million. With the 2014 intended completion of the new SkyTrain Evergreen Line—connecting Port Moody and Coquitlam with the Millennium Line running through Burnaby—these areas will see an even greater increase in housing costs, population levels, and possibly industrial development. For now, they remain an attractive alternative to the high cost of living in Vancouver (not only high housing prices but also high property tax).
The City of Pitt Meadows is one of Metro Vancouver’s most outlying areas, and is located to the east of the tri-city area, about a 45-minute drive from Vancouver. The city has a population of around 17,400 people, most of whom commute to other areas in Metro Vancouver for work and school. Pitt Meadows is bordered on the west by the Pitt River, running from the Pitt Lake, the largest tidal lake in North America, and on the south by the Fraser River. Access to Langley and Surrey is reached via the new Golden Ears Bridge spanning the Fraser River. The area offers plenty of leisure activities such as bird-watching, boating, horseback riding, skydiving, and hiking in the Golden Ears Provincial Park.
The District of Maple Ridge is the northeastern-most municipality in Metro Vancouver and borders its sister community, Pitt Meadows, to the west. Over 68,000 people make their home here, making Maple Ridge one of the larger bedroom communities. The area is known for rural charm and beautiful countryside.
The City of Richmond is the city in the delta—the Fraser River Delta, to be more specific. Around 10,000 years ago, the land that Richmond sits on was nothing more than the mouth of the Fraser River. Over time, sediments collected and built up to form Sea Island (site of YVR), Lulu Island (site of Richmond center), Annacis Island (although part of Delta, not Richmond), and several other small islands that together make up the municipality of Richmond. Thus, as you can imagine, much of Richmond’s landmass sits below the water table, and almost no homes in the area have basements, consequently. Also, a system of dykes is necessary to keep the river from flooding its banks (an annual occurrence) and thereby washing away the houses and buildings of Richmond (or, at the very least, causing structural damage). Unfortunately, although the dykes are necessary for anyone to live and work here, they are serving a negative purpose as well. Because they keep the river from flooding, they also help to keep the sediments that are needed to replenish the eroding delta front from depositing their load where it is most needed. Also, the shipping channels of the river are dredged to keep the sand from building up, and this only adds to the problem of erosion. Despite all this, Richmond is a busily thriving center of industry, business, residence, and even some small-scale farming. There are many nice residential areas, and the old fishing village of Steveston is appealing for its quaint character and quiet charm. Many people live in Steveston for this reason, although it is also a popular tourist attraction. Because Richmond is built on river delta, the land is very fertile, and there is quite a lot of farmland around the Steveston area and also in eastern Richmond. Richmond also has a large Asian population, and housing here is substantially less expensive than Vancouver or Burnaby.
The Corporation of Delta lies on the piece of land directly below Richmond, and the two are connected by the George Massey Tunnel (routing vehicle traffic underneath the Fraser River). Delta is home to farmland, bogs (Burns Bog, a famous local landmark), and industry with its Tsawwassen Ferry Port—largest ferry terminal in North American—and Roberts Bank Superport—a twin terminal servicing both coal export and shipping container industries. There is also a busy airport for small aircraft in south Delta—Boundary Bay Airport. Burns Bog is an important eco-resource that helps in controlling greenhouse gases, helps to improve the quality of the water in Metro Vancouver by absorbing and filtering a large quantity of rain, and provides a natural habitat for rare and endangered species of fauna and flora native to the area, among other things. Delta also comprises the communities of Ladner and Tsawwassen (part of Tsawwassen is Coast Salish reserve land), and is home to around 100,000 people.
The City of Surrey occupies a vast landmass just east of Richmond. It is bordered on the north by the Fraser River and on the south by the United States. Historically, the area was heavily forested with blackberry brambles and cranberry bogs. Settlement began in the late 1800’s; in the 1980’s and 1990’s the area saw a period of rapid growth and development. Surrey continues to be somewhat of a bedroom community, although this is becoming less-so as the area continues to expand and develop with light industry, business, and commercial development. The population is diverse, as with the rest of Metro Vancouver, but with an especially high percentage of South Asians. Housing in Surrey is currently undergoing a period of rapid growth and expansion, with more new developments cropping up each year. Because housing here is the most reasonably priced out of all the cities incorporated in Metro Vancouver, the area has attracted many families and immigrants, and tends to appeal to lower to mid-income inhabitants. SkyTrain connects Surrey to New West, Burnaby, and Vancouver, and a system of bridges and roads make it easily accessible. Surrey has over 6,000 acres of parkland, with one-third of the total landmass devoted to agriculture. Some area farms offer U-Pick in season, as in Richmond. Guilford Town Centre and Central City Mall are both large shopping centres offering everything in the way of shopping, entertainment, and dining. Rental housing is readily available, as well as available properties for purchase.
The City of White Rock is a more upscale community of around 18,250 people, located in southwestern Surrey and bordered by Semiahmoo Bay. White Rock features eight kilometers of sandy beach as well as the distinction of being located a mere five minutes away from the U.S./Canada border (Peace Arch Crossing). The community also has a moderate climate and is known to stay sunny and warm while the rest of Metro Vancouver is cloudy and cool.
Just east of Surrey lies the Township of Langley, with the smaller City of Langley (a separate political entity) located on its west-central edge. Langley is bounded on the north by the Fraser River, on the south by the United States, and has a population of over 100,000. The City of Langley’s feature attraction is a large annual car-show called the “Langley Cruise-In.” One of the Township of Langley’s primary attractions is the historic Fort Langley, built by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1827. Langley is primarily a bedroom community, and maintains a rural, agricultural feel.
Metro Vancouver’s cities and neighborhoods are as diverse as the people inhabiting them; no matter your style, a new home is waiting in some corner of the region.