Out & About in British Columbia: Whistler and Vancouver, Canada

by Lawrence Ferber

Whistler Pride includes daily guided skiing and snowboarding groups, après ski sessions, an indoor pool party, dances, entertainment, and a jubilant rainbow flag-waving march down the slopes and through Whistler village.

Lawrence Ferber

The next day I couldn’t wait to get on a bicycle and explore nearby False Creek and the city. This has nothing to do with fitness, mind you, but rather the city’s 279 miles’ worth of bike routes, including protected lanes and scenic public parks and seawall trails. Bike rental company Spokes (1798 Georgia St. W. Tel: (604) 688-5141. www.spokesbicyclerentals.com) is a well-oiled machine, guaranteed to always have an array of models available (they stock about 700 bikes), plus helmets (it’s the law) and locks. It’s located just near an entrance to the seawall trail and must-do Stanley Park route. You can also rent from downtown’s Cycle City Tours (648 Hornby St. Tel: (604) 618-8826. www.cyclevancouver.com/tours), which includes a fleet of e-bikes and conducts guided tours.

Jeff Savage Prepares A Cocktail At Botanist

Some notable LGBTQ-friendly hotels offer complimentary bike rentals for guests during daylight hours: The Loden (1177 Melville St. Tel: (604) 669-5060. www.theloden.com), OPUS Vancouver (322 Davie St. Tel: (604) 642-6787. www.vancouver.opushotel.com), and Fairmont Pacific Rim (1038 Canada Place. Tel: (604) 695-5300. www.fairmont.com/pacific-rim-vancouver).

Last year, Fairmont recruited Vancouver drag personality Kendall Gender (www.instagram.com/kendallgender) as its Pride ambassador. Quite the local star, Kendall appears on Thursdays at gay bar and restaurant, The Junction (1138 Davie St. Tel:(604) 669-2013. www.junctionpub.com). The Junction is located in Vancouver’s gayborhood, Davie Village, the history of
which is literally traversed during Forbidden Vancouver’s Really Gay History Tour (www.forbiddenvancouver.ca/really-gay-history-tour).

July 2018 the saw launch of this new walking tour, led by erstwhile Edmonton native, Glenn Tkach. “Forbidden Vancouver deals with histories not included in the history books like prohibition,” Tkach told me, “and I thought the city’s queer history was a perfect candidate for this treatment and I created this tour.” Tkach conducts the tour in a hard-to-miss pink fedora and delves deep, drawing from research and conversations with people who lived through and witnessed significant chapters in Vancouver’s LGBTQ history.

“It covers a broad spectrum of history, from before Vancouver was here, the fur trade, to the present day,” Tkach elaborated. “It’s almost entirely history you wouldn’t otherwise know, including the bombings in the 1980s along Davie. The queer bookstore Little Sisters opened in 1983, just off Davie, and it was bombed multiple times and the perpetrators
were never caught or identified. This started in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and the store was also targeted by customs (officials) in Canada. The only queer bookstore in West Canada! They fought back through the courts, and the store is still there.”

Jeff Savage Prepares A Cocktail At Botanist

Little Sisters (1238 Davie St. Tel: (604) 669-1753. www.littlesisters.ca) is a stop on the tour, plus early clandestine gay cruising spots, bars (aka “beer parlours”), a church, and First Nations “two-spirit” culture is also discussed. “I do the tour in head to toe in pink!” he added. “It’s pretty clear some kind of queer event is going on and people don’t bat an eye.”

One district that isn’t included during the downtown and village-focused walk, but Tkach recommends to LGBTQ visitors, is Commercial Drive, which he describes as “a secondary or shadow gay village.” “It’s very lesbian friendly,” he shared. “It’s not really a ‘gay village’ because it doesn’t have gay bars, but it’s where lesbians found themselves congregating in the 1970s onward, and it was built more on the basis of community, backyard parties and barbecues, and it still remains so. There’s no need to be as underground, and there’s a more visible lesbian presence.”

Kendall Gender – Fairmont Waterfront

Tourism Vancouver (www.tourismvancouver.com/plan-yourtrip/gay-friendly-vancouver) launched a “meet the locals” campaign last year that spotlights its impressive breadth of LGBTQ diversity represented via its denizens, including First Nations two-spirit fashion designer and dancer Tyler Alan Jacobs; former Syrian refugee and author Danny Ramadan; non-binary artist and Out On Screen (www.outonscreen.com) film festival program coordinator Gavin Kade Somers; and longtime couple and Gayvan.com co-founders Angus Praught and Daichon Nakagawa.

I’m already planning to return this summer for Vancouver Pride (www.vancouverpride.ca)—the parade is scheduled for August 4—and to check out “Alternative Pride” from Vancouver Art and Leisure (www.vanartleisure.com), which produces a five-day, artist-run event divorced from corporate sponsors and commerciality. While at it, I’ll get my hands on the Royal Canadian Mint’s newly issued one-dollar coin, aka loonie, commemorating the 1969 decriminalization of homosexuality.

Also worth adding to your short list for a Vancouver visit: the 202- room EXchange Hotel Vancouver (475 Howe St. Tel: (604) 563-4693. www.exchangehotelvan.com). It opened in late 2018 in the former stock exchange building and is the city’s first LEED Platinum Heritage Conversion project.

While in Vancouver, make sure to stop by the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel and dine at its destination-worthy restaurant, Botanist (1038 Canada Place. Tel: (604) 695-5500. www.botanistrestaurant.com). Here you will enjoy vibrant flavors and textures from Chef Hector Laguna Pacific Northwest-centric menu and pastry guru Jeffry Kahl’s addictive breads, plus an experimental cocktail lab.

Over in Gastown, you’ll find buzzy seafood spot Coquille (181 Carrall St. Tel: (604) 559-6009. www.coquillefineseafood.com), courtesy L’Abbatoir’s Lee Cooper and Jack Chen. The room is just colorful and casual
enough, with a menu ranging from raw bar and seafood platters featuring BC and Prince Edward Island-sourced oysters, to grilled fish and pasta plates to fish and chips.

False Creek, Vancouver

Incoming foodies should make reservations, like now, for Chinatown’s Italian-meets-Japanese Kissa Tanto (263 E. Pender St. Tel: (778) 379-8078. www.kissatanto.com); and the Kitsilano neighborhood’s Cacao Vancouver (898 West 1st St. Tel: (604) 731-5370. www.cacaovancouver.com), where passionate Venezuela-born chef Jefferson Alvarez concocts one-of-a-kind, nobody-else-is-doing-this-here Latin American spins on Pacific Northwest ingredients. The adventurous can play guinea pig on “Test Kitchen Tuesdays,” when a 10-course tasting menu of new and experimental plates costs just $49.
It’s like a culinary thrill ride…with no turbulence!

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