Downtown Vancouver Art Walk: a self-guided walking tour of the city’s best galleries

Strong feet and a love of art are all you'll need for this adventure.

Credit: Howe Street Gallery of Fine Art

Discover Vancouver’s art galleries one step at a time

It entered into my head that I needed to do something good: something virtuous and ambitious. A lofty idea, I know.


Since arriving in Vancouver, I’d been meaning to check out some of the art galleries downtown that I’d heard so much about. But alas, other less virtuous things—like eating and shopping—had been monopolizing my time. But no longer! I would finally take in some of the city’s esteemed art.


The logical starting point? Google. There I discovered the Downtown Vancouver Art Walk.


“The best way to discover the rich creativity of this city is to put on your shoes and start walking” it said, and so I obeyed.


Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art

639 Hornby St

The magnificent Bill Reid Gallery (Image: Efford Photography)

My first stop was the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art. The current exhibition is Bill Reid and the Haida Canoe, a series of black and white photographs by Phil Hersee and Robert Semeniuk, along with a number of Reid’s design sketches and other key artifacts that tell the story of the the Lootaas or ‘wave eater’ canoe.


As I browsed the images of the 15-metre-long canoe, which Reid and his workers carved from an enormous cedar log, a woman—Guulangwa, and her young son Sg’aagaa Gahlind’aay—told stories and performed beautiful traditional Haida songs.


I could have stayed for hours and this was just the first stop. Things weren’t looking good for my ambitious plan to get through the walk in one day!


Pendulum Gallery

885 West Georgia (atrium of the HSBC building)

Next up was the Pendulum Gallery, which is set in the giant glass-covered atrium hall of the HSBC building. Showing was the Cascadia Fine Art’s exhibition of prints on paper.


The show boasted an extensive collection of prints by the likes of Andy Warhol, Leon Golum, Donald Sultan, Jack Shadbolt and more. The exhibition was modern and full of colour, with bold, quirky and beautiful prints. It was definitely a worthwhile trip. 


Vancouver Art Gallery

750 Hornby St

There was so much to see at the Vancouver Art Gallery, it was hard to choose! (Image: Flickr  / sevenapril)


The Vancouver Art Gallery is a mainstay on the list, of course. The Downtown Art Walk guide makes specific reference to the impressive Emily Carr Trust Collection, so I decided to check it out.


It really is impressive. You could happily spend a few hours admiring her hundreds of paintings and drawings. When it comes to art, I can be a bit of a snoop, so I particularly loved looking at Carr’s letters and untitled sketches, because it made me feel like I was getting a glimpse at something I wasn’t meant to see.


Howe Street Gallery of Fine Art

555 Howe St

An amazing cross section of local and international art at the Howe Street Gallery. (Image: Howe St Gallery)


After a quick bite, it was on to the Howe Street Gallery of Fine Art, which was full of surprises. This gallery featured paintings and sculptures from local Vancouver artists, as well as artwork from Canada and the rest of the world. 


I was fascinated by Richard L. Minn’s bronze sculptures. I’m not usually attracted to biblical artwork, but I found the sculptures of ‘Samson Slaying the Lion’ and ‘Moses Betrayed’ to be enthralling. I also loved the life-size sculptures by the Professor Cao Chong-en, a renowned sculptor. One of his pieces was a 12-metre-high sculpture of Bruce Lee!

The gallery has a vast collection of paintings: Neil Patterson’s large oil landscapes in bright oranges, golds and reds; the Vancouver Harbour scenes by Senlin Gui; and the semi-abstract landscapes of Xu Man, an incredible artist who spent years painting in secret during the Chinese revolution. Like I said, full of surprises and worth a look for sure!


Dorian Rae Collection: Asian and African Antiques

410 Howe St

A 19th-century wooden reclining Buddha from Northern Thailand is just one of the many gems in the Dorian Rae Collection. (Image: Dorian Rae Gallery)

When I stepped into the Dorian Rae, I immediately felt like I’d entered a museum. The gallery is filled with all kinds of amazing tribal art and artifacts from African and Asian cultures.


There were shell necklaces from Mali, huge boar tusks set in gold from Papua New Guinea and even tribal figures made from wood and bark cloth. I loved the antique gold jewelry and the chunky bead necklaces, bracelets and bangles made from bone and wood.


The gallery is filled with majestic statues, wooden tribal masks and gorgeous textiles. The Dorian Rae Gallery is seriously a treasure trove. Not to be missed.


Vancouver Convention Centre

1055 Canada Place

Douglas Coupland’s Digital Orca poses for a picture. (Image: Lydia Millett)


After all that art I was feeling absolutely exhausted, a tad bit overwhelmed and in need of a little fresh air, so I was happy that my next destination took me to the Vancouver Convention Centre.


I wandered around outside and admired the huge outdoor sculptures that are part of the Vancouver Convention Centre’s Art Project. I loved ‘The Drop’, a giant blue raindrop right on the waterfront. It is totally awesome and so iconic (and ironic) for Vancouver.


The huge lego-like sculpture of an Orca, by Douglas Coupland, reminded me of that awesome ’90s kids’ movie Free Willy, where the Orca jumps over the seawall to freedom. It was a gorgeous, quirky way to end my walk.


Ok, I cheated: there are more galleries on the list, but that is one long day of art and walking! I was feeling ambitious but not superhuman! For those of you who are (superhuman that is), here are the remaining galleries that are on my ‘to do’ list:


Dariusz Bebel, Art Studio (800-525 Seymour Street) 
Art Works Gallery (225 Smithe Street)
Contemporary Art Gallery (555 Nelson Street) 
ArtStarts (808 Richards Street)
The Dance Centre (677 Davie Street)


The Downtown Art Walk is the perfect way to spend a day in Vancouver. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get through all of the galleries in one go (my feet were killing me). Pick five or six from the list and start walking. You won’t be disappointed.