Five Ways to Experience Vancouver’s Local History

As a large port city on Canada’s west coast, Vancouver has a long and curious history. Luckily, locals and visitors alike can immerse themselves in the city’s colourful past through walking tours, museums, kayak trips, and more!

Roedde House Museum (1415 Barclay St.) in Vancouver’s West End neighbourhood was inhabited by the family of Gustav Roedde, one of the city’s first bookbinders, from 1893 to 1925. The heritage house’s Queen Anne revival-style architecture features downstairs verandas and a cupola, and guests are guided through the restored home on 45-minute tours lead by knowledgeable docents, and are welcome to handle some artefacts with care.

When you visit, celebrate the Roedde family’s love of music in the restored Victorian parlour during the monthly Jazz and Classical concert series. The newest exhibit, “Tasting History: the Travelling Tales of Tea” (September 2017 – March 2018) details the tumultuous relationship between tea, politics and history, partnered with stories from Vancouver’s modern day tea community.

Talaysay Tours (334 Skawshen Rd., West Vancouver) has brought authentic Aboriginal owned and lead cultural and eco experiences to visitors around Vancouver, Squamish and the Sunshine Coast since 2002. On the Spoken Treasures Tour through Stanley Park, Indigenous Cultural Ambassadors lead guests through a 1.1 km walk along the seawall, ending at the famous totem poles, sharing stories, history and lore from an Indigenous perspective.

On the First Nations Interpretive Paddle, guests spend 3.5 hours exploring Vancouver’s Northshore while First Nations guides share Indigenous stories, ways of living, history and legends. Check the website for full itineraries and what to bring when you visit.

Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site (12138 4th Ave, Richmond) is a historic cannery building located in the Steveston fishing village on the Fraser River, featuring exhibits and tours detailing the many fishermen who toiled to can salmon in this “monster cannery” from 1894 to 1902. As a Parks Canada site, admission is free in 2017 to celebrate Canada 150.

The Cannery’s feature exhibit, “Pull of the Net” (on display until 2019), focuses on the people and places of commercial fishing across Canada in an interactive display. Following the “make it, bake it, grow it, catch it” philosophy, the Cannery Farmers’ Market (October 2017 – April 2018) features local food and handcraft vendors on Sundays throughout the winter.

The Cannery is open daily 10am-5pm, except on statutory holidays between October through January.

Explore Vancouver’s dark and curious history with Forbidden Vancouver’s walking tours, held from March through November. From Cathedral Square to Maple Tree Square in Gastown, the Prohibition City tour explores the stories of Vancouver’s old saloons, opium dens, bootlegged liquor and mob bosses.

The Lost Souls of Gastown tour features tales of ferry captain Gassy Jack, “Klondike Kate” Rockwell and the gruesome murder of John Bray. With the 2.5 hour Secrets of Stanley Park tour, learn more about the park’s interior, former crime scenes, secret cemeteries and shipwrecks.

Returning September 2017 is Secrets of the Penthouse with the club’s owner, Danny Filippone, as your guide, and starting in 2018 you can also explore Vancouver’s Art Deco history every first Thursday of the month, free of charge. Visit the website for a full tour schedule and pricing.

Built in 1986 by 53 Chinese master craftsman, Dr. Sun-Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden (578 Carrall St.) is named one of the world’s top city gardens by National Geographic. The Garden is open year round, featuring koi fish, miniature trees, pavilions and covered walkways, built using 14th century methods (no power tools, glue, or screws).

Check the website for the full tour schedule, led by experienced docents. Upcoming special events include the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival (October 6), where you can learn about four arts of ancient Chinese scholars (calligraphy, painting, music, and the weiqi board game); the Winter Solstice Lantern Festival (December 21), which will include hundreds of hand-made lanterns; and the Vancouver Tea Festival (November 4-5), presented in conjunction with the Vancouver Tea Society.

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