Walking Vancouver—Q&A with author John Lee

Author John Lee on Vancouver's 'best walk for a rainy winter day.'

Credit: Flickr / Kennymatic

Walking Vancouver author John Lee’s favourite local discoveries and why Gastown’s drinking district gets honours for ‘best walk for a rainy winter day’

Travel guides always seem like they gloss the surface—they send you speeding through the highlights of well-known museums, past expensive shops and into crowded restaurants. But with Walking Vancouver, author John Lee has written a different type of guide, one that invites us to slow down and explore all the facets of our city that make it so enjoyable to live here. And he encourages us to do it by foot—how cool is that?

What made you decide to write this book?

I don’t drive and I always walk everywhere, but after living here for 10 years I felt I hadn’t really explored the places, streets and neighbourhoods of Vancouver properly. Talking to friends during the research, I realized this was quite common: We live here but we don’t check it out nearly as much as we should.

So this project was a chance for me to slow down, look up from my rushing feet and actually explore the city with fresh eyes.

Is it intended just for visitors or are you hoping locals will pick up a copy?

There are definitely two audiences. Visitors will like it because most of the 36 walks are quite short and each comes with transit and parking information, very clear directions and a good map. But it’s also the kind of book locals can have on hand for whenever they fancy a leisurely afternoon out in a neighborhood they’d like to explore. Each walk is a chance to slow down and have a little “staycation” in your own city, with plenty of café, shopping and dining spots recommended along the way.

What do you think locals will get out of it?

The book is a license to take the afternoon off once in a while! But it also means you won’t have to go to the same old spots you usually hang out at.

If you usually go to Granville Island for a break, how about trying the indie shops of Main Street, the heritage houses of the West End, the architecture of the Downtown Eastside, the coffee shops of Commercial, the public art of UBC or even the historic Steveston waterfront?

It’s also handy for when you have out-of-town visitors: You can send them out for a few afternoons on their own with this book and they’ll be able to explore Vancouver without getting lost.

What were some of your favourite discoveries while researching the book?

It’s not a history book but I certainly dug up some intriguing and colourful facts along the way. For example, a seaplane was flown under Burrard Bridge on opening day in 1932; Hycroft House hosted the best 1920s New Year’s parties; First Nations families were still living in Stanley Park when it opened in 1888; there was a Depression-era shantytown near Granville Island in the 1930s; and the Marine Building almost became City Hall.

I also discovered my new favourite store (Regional Assembly of Text); my new favourite bar (Alibi Room); and my favourite place for afternoon tea (Steveston’s London Heritage Farm).

Can you recommend the best walk for a rainy winter day?

Definitely the Gastown bar crawl. Formerly not an ideal place for a great night out, this area has recently become Vancouver’s best drinking district with its full menu of cozy, brick-lined watering holes. And since there are so many packed into a small area, you don’t have to brave the elements too much as you weave between them.

Highlights include the Alibi Room, Chill Winston, Irish Heather, Diamond, Black Frog and Steamworks. And if you’re still standing, the walk ends with a sobering uphill stroll to the legendary old-school Railway Club.