When we arrived in Vancouver, we had no idea where we wanted to live, no idea about distances or commuting times, nothing about all the individual cities and municipalities which make up the Greater Vancouver Area. Now we know better – each area has its own unique character and there is a place to suit pretty much everyone. Here is our guide to help you choose your nesting site; you might like to follow along on Google Earth, or the MLS website, http://www.mls.ca.
Let’s start in the south-west. Delta is the flat bit below the Fraser River, with Tsawwassen (pronounced Terwossen) sticking down into the ocean. Here’s a weird thing; the US border runs dead straight most of the way across Canada, then does a bend so that the whole of Vancouver Island is Canadian. That means the capital of British Columbia is actually further south than Bellingham, WA. So what happened when those-who-draw-borders got to Tsawwassen? They couldn’t do the sensible thing and bend it a bit around the bottom of Tsawwassen, could they? So the southernmost point of this area is actually American, and you can only reach it by sea or from Canada – mad.
Delta is divided into North and South; south being Ladner and Tsawwassen. Both of these have a lovely village feel, beaches and marina, ferry terminal to Vancouver Island, parks and great family facilities. You can get a good deal on housing in Tsawwassen – First Nations reserves tend to be much more reasonable, but suffer from a “council estate” type stigma. There is no doubt First Nations have more than their fair share of social difficulties, but this is a good area. South Delta can be isolated; river crossings are the log jams around Vancouver and if you travel from here to downtown, there are 3 to manage. To get to the North Shore skiing, you have to do 3 bridges and a tunnel, and negotiate downtown and Stanley Park. South Delta also lacks the great ethnic mix of most of the areas around Vancouver, being mostly a white population. North Delta is much more suburban, with great schools and sports facilities, a large East Indian population and good shopping. Check out Sunshine Hills properties, above Watershed Park – great area, and when the sea level rises, you can sit on your deck and wait for your boat to come to you from Ladner Marina.
Heading east from Delta, Surrey is huge, sprawling and suburban, but has some lovely rural areas too. White Rock in south Surrey is very popular with families, and has a lovely seaside town character and of course, if you are emigrating from Guildford in Surrey, you are almost obliged to go and live in Guildford, Surrey, BC. Like Delta, it’s a bit of a pig to commute from, but the roads are better. As you’d expect from a big city, however sprawling, Surrey has its own problems with crime, drugs and occasional gang violence, but still less than you’d expect from your average English town.
Here be horses! Big farms, cute little towns, great amazing riding in the Campbell Valley Park – if you want a piece of rural heaven, this is the place. Treat yourself to a day in Fort Langley, with the historical reconstruction of a trading community. Yes, I know, history is a bit of a stretch in a country that thinks 100 years is a long time, but it’s fun and the town is very pretty. As with anywhere south of the Fraser, commuting to Vancouver is feasible, and the roads are getting a lot better, but it’s still something to consider when the weather can get really horrible. Of course, you don’t have to work downtown – there’s plenty of employment opportunities in Surrey or further east in Abbotsford.
Abbotsford is another big conurbation, with lovely countryside around it. It’s got its problems with crime, having been named The Murder Capital of BC, but has a very active Mayor and a very aggressive campaign to change that title as quickly as possible. Abbotsford is probably the most easterly place you’d want to live if you still want access to downtown on a regular basis – as you carry on along Highway 1, the hills start to rise around you, then you are in Chilliwack, then Hope and everyone knows what happens when you find yourself beyond Hope…
MAPLE RIDGE AND PITT MEADOWS
Head north of Abbotsford, over the river to Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. It’s amazing to me how quickly the landscape can change, and here you really know you are near the mountains. From here you are nearly in the Goldenears range, with the real wild right on your doorstep. Property prices are great, and you can have a good piece of land to play with but the weather can be unpredictable this close to the mountains and it can feel a bit cut off.
THE TRICITIES – PORT COQUITLAM, COQUITLAM AND PORT MOODY
Drive along the Lougheed Highway from the Pitt River Bridge and you are heading into the real urban sprawl, the closer you get to Vancouver. The Tricities have been waiting for years for the Evergreen Line, an extension of the Skytrain which will provide better commuting to Vancouver, and it’s finally on its way sometime in the next 3 years. From here you can easily commute on Highway 1, but there are still big properties and great facilities. For us, it’s the easy access to the mountains, either east or on North Shore, that makes this a real Canadian experience. Port Moody is a really pretty place, with the best town park we have seen, and across the water is Belcarra, place of millionaires’ mansions and fabulous waterfront property. From our place on the border of Coquitlam and Burnaby, we can be downtown on the Skytrain in 20 minutes.
Burnaby is home to the fabulous Metropolis at Metrotown, biggest mall in the Lower Mainland, plus 25% of the city is parkland, and the rest is houses and businesses. This is the ethnic melting pot at its best with every language, every cuisine, every colour, religion and culture represented, and the Skytrain links to Downtown are great.
New West is very proud of its heritage as the original capital of BC, and it sits on the banks of the Fraser River (which must, at all times, be referred to as “The Mighty Fraser”). Some of the houses have amazing views of the mountains, with Mount Baker to the south, or the river, but the town itself is actually a bit shabby. There’s plans for rejuvenation at some point in the near future.
Airport, good malls, a few farms and a lot of houses – Richmond is a busy and diverse place, very close to Vancouver and within reach of Delta and the beaches. This is where the Asian population moved to when downtown Vancouver’s China Town became too small, so the restaurants and markets are outstanding. Richmond is also where you find beautiful Steveston (read Here Be Whales!), which has the feel of a small village. It’s reasonably affordable but, apart from Steveston, maybe a bit impersonal.
Vancouver is sub divided into a number of districts, which are described quite adequately in any guide book you can get. Kitsilano is boho-chic (is that still a trend?), UBC is posh, False Creek is trendy and don’t go anywhere near property on East Hastings Street unless you truly believe that urban regeneration is just around the corner. It’s easy enough to get a feel for these areas in a short visit.
NORTH OF THE BURRARD INLET
This piece is quite long enough and if I’m going to do real justice to the fabulous North Shore, I’ll need another page… see Where To Live – North Shore.