To Market, to market, and to market again. Now more than ever, Vancouver has an incredible selection of markets that range from selling fresh produce to art, crafts, knick knacks, antiques and secondhand goods. Whether you are local or visiting from out of town, there is something truly special to be said about Vancouver’s public markets. Not only do they give you a sense of community but they also provide you with a glimpse into the local culture and the people who make it come alive. And for the savvy shopper, who enjoys the feast and the find, public markets are like banquet meals – there is incredible variety and people always want to go back for more.
Surprisingly, Vancouver didn’t always embrace the public market concept. Market Hall, the first public market of record, appeared in 1889 and lasted nine years. Although the building is long gone, its history is a key part of Vancouver. Having once housed pigs, cows, chickens and local produce, it also became Vancouver’s first city hall in 1897. The market continued in the basement but it appears that it was somewhat distracting to conduct municipal affairs and fancy galas with live stock wandering about. The market closed two years later and it wasn’t until another 80 years that another public market resurfaced.
With support from the federal government, False Creek was transformed from the industrial heart of the city into an urban oasis that mixed housing with public use. While preserving the industrial character of the buildings, Granville Island was designed to be a “key urban amenity.” Granville Island Market was opened in July, 1979 and continues to be one of the most popular and busiest public markets in Canada.
Today, Granville Island Public Market is alive with activity seven days a week from 7am to 9pm. Not only is it one of the best places in town to buy fresh produce, seafood, baked bread and meat, you can also find a variety of specialty foods such local jams and preserves to homemade soups and pastas. And in various shops located within the market, and along the newly developed alleyways that mimic quaint neighbourhoods, you will discover a fine selection of local artisans selling their wares that include whimsical hats, hand made paper products, handcrafted furniture, to locally designed clothing.
For the locals though, Granville Island is all about the food. A popular destination for gourmands, gourmet chefs, and foodies alike, the market is also the perfect place for those who want to learn how to cook. Once you are able to negotiate your way through the maze they call parking and actually find a spot, your senses are immediately put on high alert.
The first sense that is triggered for most people is that of smell. As you walk through the small courtyard you pass the French bakery, La Baguette et L’Echalote. Here you are pleasantly assaulted with the aroma of fresh baked bread and you can’t help but follow where it leads you – inside the bakery. From there you make your way into the main part of the public market, smelling the fresh cut flowers on display at V & J Plant Shop.
As you open the doors and enter, you’ll smile at the countless rows of colourful mounds of fresh produce: red and green apples from the Okanagan, crisp green, orange and yellow vegetables from farms in Langley and Abbotsford, imported yellow bananas, and layers of whole salmon, halibut, and snapper – all caught by local fishermen. The colours are bright and vivid and you are drawn to touch – to feel the freshness that captivates your line of site.
Next comes taste – samples are everywhere from apple wedges to the cut up pieces of perogies from the Perogy Place. It’s all good. But your visit is not complete until you grab a coffee from JJ Bean, taking a moment to enjoy the smell of fresh roasted beans. With coffee in hand, and inspired by the incredible selection of fresh food, you find your way to The Market Kitchen, where you can stock up on all the latest kitchen appliances and gadgets.
But one sense remains – that of sound – for this you need to head outside (grabbing some seeds for the pigeons from The Grainery) and while you feed the birds on the deck by the water, you can listen to some wonderful music or be entertained by local buskers (some better than others). In the background you can also hear the hum of boats nearby and seagulls fighting over seeds left behind for the pigeons. And if you walked on the Island, be prepared to be gently accosted by Dave sitting on an old plastic lawn chair as you leave the Island. Generally there between 3 and 5 most days, he’s on a mission, promoting some cause or another and often selling some strange little gadget. He calls himself a community advocate and is passionate of his cause of the moment, but most people tend to avoid him if they can. He’s harmless enough and talks with authority, but depending on his mood that day, you can never be too sure what to expect.