Granville Island, 1661 Duranleau St, BC

1661 Duranleau St, Vancouver, BC,
4 - South False Creek, Granville Island & Pennyfarthing Area
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Granville Island

New sparkle for a rare jewel: GRANVILLE ISLAND: Change is in the air at this unique Vancouver site, where anxious tenants are being promised it will all be for the good

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1661 Duranleau Street,
2nd Floor
Vancouver, BC V6H 3S3,
Phone: 604 666-6655
Fax: 604 666-7376
Email: [email protected]

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  The Province
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Page: B3
Section: Unwind
Byline: Mike Roberts
Column: Mike Roberts
Source: The Province

Jon Murray, The Province
Grocery shopping will continue to be a key attraction at Granville Island -- there are no plans to curtail vehicle traffic.

Jon Murray, The Province
Joanne Lefebvre of the Stock Market has been plying her trade on the island for 20 'wonderful' years.

Jon Murray, The Province

Granville Island busker Andrew Greenwood, a first-year University of Victoria music student, jazzes the crowd outside the public market. 'I just come out here sometimes,' says the tenor sax player. 'People here stop to listen and they're pretty generous.'

You can't get a Starbuck's coffee on Granville Island. Nor, for that matter, can you buy a pair of khakis from the Gap or order up a Happy Meal from Mickey-D's.

Trivial? Perhaps.

But it is this underlying policy of "made in Vancouver" consumerism -- no franchise chains, nay to the multinationals -- that has, for more than 30 years, provided the cornerstone of the Granville Island experience.

Balanced on this founding philosophy is a vibrant and diverse community of independent shopkeepers, artists, artisans and buskers that sets Granville Island apart as a successful public market unique in North America.

The formula has long appeared bulletproof, drawing 12 million visitors a year to the historic, 16-hectare peninsula in the heart of Vancouver.

Today, however, there is a growing sense of unease on the island.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the federal body that governs Granville Island, is looking to make changes for the first time since taking it over in 1979.

Island Insight -- an exhaustive infrastructure study nearing completion -- will consider improvements to public access, transportation and parking, as well as the 19 buildings, seawalls and docks CMHC owns and manages.

All in time for the influx of visitors expected during the 2010 Olympics.

Many of the island's business and studio owners are nervous. Change is in the wind, and unlike Granville Island's signature scent -- a melange of fresh-cut flowers, fried fat and sun-baked creosote -- many feel there's a bad whiff on the rise.

Joanne and Georges Lefebvre, owners of the bustling Stock Market in the public market, have worked on the island for 20 years. From cramped quarters, the Lefebvres offer 3,000 varieties of soups and stocks.

Joanne describes two decades on the island as "absolutely wonderful."

"In French, we say, 'ludique,'" she says. "Which means 'playful.'"

But Joanne now wonders what the future will hold as Granville Island's keepers plan for the next 20 years.

"They must be vigilant about keeping it small, encouraging the equilibrium of artisans and small business owners," she insists.

"The administration seems quite dynamic and they are being proactive," she adds. "But we will see."

The CMHC's Gloria Loree says the Lefebvres have nothing to fear. Ditto the 2,500 people who work on the island and the thousands of Greater Vancouverites who would say of their beloved Granville Island, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

But Loree says that 30 years on, the crown jewel of Vancouver's tourism industry needs a polish. The island's aging infrastructure -- pylons, planks and cement hardly touched since 1917 -- requires maintenance. And increased visitation -- particularly vehicular visits -- has placed pressures on the island that need to be addressed. It will be a gentle tweak, insists Lore e.

"We know that the sense of pride and ownership by the community for Granville Island is extraordinarily high," she says. "People feel about Granville Island the way they do about their home or their local park."

So what, exactly, is in store for Granville Island?

It's early days, but the CMHC's proposed plans include:

- Widening the island's docks and expanding its ferry services.

- Ongoing maintenance and safety improvements for old industrial buildings.

- Working with the City on linking the island with a proposed False Creek streetcar and/or linking the island by heritage rail with the coming Canada Line.

- Installing bike lock-ups and standardizing parking.

Granville Island artist Hilary Morris says Island Insight will have a "significant impact" on the future of the island.

"It's important that things are looked at," says Morris, also a board member of the Granville Island Business and Community Association. "You can't just rest on your laurels and hope to remain successful."

The artist is confident CMHC will maintain the unique blend of activities on which the island was founded.

"Many have tried and many have failed to create this kind of atmosphere and experience . . . so any sort of tweaking and changing will be viewed with fear," she says.

Gloria Loree says multinationals will never be welcome on the island, while vehicles will never be banned.

"You couldn't cut off vehicle access to the island without some really serious implications to the business life down here," she says. "There's a certain amount of animation that comes from having traffic circulation and a lot of our visitors are coming specifically to buy a lot of groceries."

No, says Loree, the CMHC will instead offer alternatives such as extra ferries, more bike lock-ups and better rail/transit links.

As for that Starbuck's coffee? Not on her watch, says Loree.

"The pressure does not come from the multinationals. It comes from our community, which says keep Granville Island unique, keep the chains off," she says. "There is no intention to move in any other direction."

Granville Island's history at a glance

- 1850s: Local First Nations use the two sandbars that would become Granville Island as a natural salmon trap

- 1890s: Three early entrepreneurs stake a claim to the sand bars hoping to build booming grounds and a sawmill; Canadian Pacific Railway scares them off with a legal suit, launching a 20-year-long squabble

- 1915: The new Vancouver Harbour Commission gives Ottawa $1 for the mudflats and approves a $342,000 reclamation; 760,000 cubic metres of mud are sucked up and poured into wooden frames to form the walls of a 14.5-hectare, three-metre-high island

- 1916: Industrial Island opens for business, boasting 80 lots with annual rents of $1,200 to $3,700 per hectare; the locals called it Granville Island after the bridge above.

- 1930: 1,200 people are working in the island's plants and factories, servicing B.C.'s booming forestry and mining industries, when the Depression hits, turning boom to bust

- 1939: Prime Minister Mackenzie King takes Canada to war and Granville Island is remobilized for the war effort, with around-the-clock production of a wide range of military-industrial machinery

- 1946: The island's biggest tenants move out, lured by cheaper lands and cheaper transport -- and leave behind oily, toxic firetraps. The island is in serious decline

- 1950: Officials decide to fill in the rest of False Creek to create more industrial land accessible by truck, but the plan is halted by its $50 million price tag; another 21/2 hectares are eventually reclaimed and Granville Island becomes, technically, a peninsula

- 1970s: Tertiary industry limps along on the island until future-thinking city officials decide to lobby Ottawa to help transform it into a people-friendly area

- 1973: Senior cabinet minister Ron Basford, whose riding includes Granville Island, shifts responsibility for the island to his ministry; Ottawa grants $25 million for the island's revival and public markets across North America are studied for the right mix of shops, boutiques, food stalls and arts spaces for the island.

- 1979: The Granville Island we know today opens its doors to instant success.

-- Sources: Granville Island Administration and The Greater Vancouver Book

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Granville Island , huddled under the Granville Street Bridge south of downtown, is the city's most enticing "people's place" - the title it likes for itself - and pretty much lives up to its claim to be the "heart of Vancouver". Friendly, easy-going and popular, its shops, markets, galleries, marina and open spaces are juxtaposed with a light-industrial setting whose faint whiff of warehouse squalor saves the area from accusations of pretentiousness. The island was reclaimed from swampland in 1917 as an ironworks and shipbuilding centre, but by the 1960s the yards were derelict and the place had become a rat-infested dumping ground for the city's rubbish. In 1972 the federal government agreed to bankroll a programme of residential, commercial and industrial redevelopment that retained the old false-fronted buildings, tin-shack homes, sea wall and rail sidings. The best part of the job had been finished by 1979 - and was immediately successful - but work continues unobtrusively today, the various building projects only adding to the area's sense of change and dynamism. Most people come here during the day, but there are some good restaurants, bars and the Arts Club Theatre, which are all enough to keep the place buzzing at night.

The most direct approach is to take bus #50 from Gastown or Granville Street. The walk down Granville Street and across the bridge is deceptively long, not terribly salubrious, and so probably only worthwhile on a fine day when you need the exercise. Alternatively and more fun, private ferries ($2, pay on board) ply back and forth almost continuously between the island and little quays at the foot of Hornby Street or the Aquatic Centre at the foot of Thurlow Street . They also connect from Granville Island to Science World (hourly) and, more significantly, to Vanier Park (half-hourly), a much nicer way than bus to get to the park's Vancouver Museum, Maritime Museum and Space Centre . A logical and satisfying day's itinerary from downtown, therefore, would take you to Granville Island, to the museums and back by ferry. You might also choose to walk from the island along the False Creek sea wall (east) or west to Vanier Park and Kits Beach.

There's a good infocentre at the heart of the island for Island-related information only (tel 666-5784), with a foreign exchange facility in the same building and ATM machines on the wall outside. Stamps are available from the LottoCentre inside the Public Market Building. Note that many of the island's shops and businesses close on Mondays, and that if you want a bus back to downtown you should not take the #51 from the stop opposite the infocentre (it will take you in the wrong direction): walk out of the island complex's only road entrance, and at the junction the #50 stop is immediately on your right.

Virtually the first building you see on the island walking from the bus stop augurs well: the Granville Island Brewery , 1441 Cartwright St (tours only June-Sept Mon-Fri on the hour noon-5pm, Sat & Sun on the half-hour 11.30am-5pm; $7; tel 687-2739), a small but interesting concern which offers guided tours that include tastings of its additive-free beers. Dominant amongst the maze of shops, galleries and businesses, the Granville Island Public Market (daily 9am-6pm; closed Mon in winter) is the undisputed highlight of the area. On summer weekends it's where people go to see and be seen and it throngs with arts-and-crafts types, and a phalanx of dreadful, but harmless buskers. The quality and variety of food is staggering, with dozens of kiosks and cafés selling ready-made titbits and potential picnic ingredients. Parks, patios and walkways nearby provide lively areas to eat and take everything in. Other spots to look out for include Blackberry Books, the Water Park and Kids Only Market (a kids-only playground with hoses to repel intruders) and the bright-yellow Bridges pub/restaurant/wine bar, which has a nice outdoor drinking and eating area. You can also rent canoes for safe and straightforward paddling in False Creek and English Bay from Ecomarine Ocean Kayak on the island at 1688 Duranleau St (tel 689-7575; from $25 for two hours).

The island also has a trio of small, linked museums almost opposite the brewery at 1502 Duranleau St (all daily 10am-5.30pm; $6.50; tel 683-1939, ): these are the self-explanatory Granville Island Model Trains Museum, Model Ships Museum and Sport Fishing museum. These will probably appeal only to children and to model or fishing enthusiasts. The Model Trains Museum claims to contain the largest collection of toy trains in the world on public display.