(British Columbia Magazine, Spring 2016)

Did you know that the steam clock in Gastown was built to cover a manhole, or that the Woodward’s Centre was once Vancouver’s shopping hub? I didn’t, until taking a “Tours by Locals” walk, and I’ve been a local for decades. I also took a Vancouver Photo Walks tour and saw Stanley Park from a new perspective.

As a tourist I’ve found that a walking tour is the best way to discover a place. With an entertaining and knowledgeable tour guide you discover a city with more character. It’s a great way to meet locals and like-minded travellers who’ll likely recommend that fabulous restaurant you won’t find on TripAdvisor. And you don’t pound the pavement for hours. No need for hiking boots or walking poles on these tours: Go at your own pace and–depending upon your itinerary– bring an appetite.

Tours by Locals

Every itinerary with a local guide like Jenn Potter depends on how long, what and where you visit. I took Potter’s advice and skipped breakfast after telling her that I’m a food lover. If you want to explore like a local,  choose “Happening Hoods”.

We met at Woodward’s in Gastown. Potter provided cultural and historical snippets as we made our way to  Revolver Coffee, which elevates the beverage to an art form, as does the graffiti in the alleyway.  In the same block is “Meat and Bread” that goboozy.milkshaket me salivating before seeing people line up for roast meat sandwiches. We slid into a banquette at Save On Meats with a “boozy” milkshake, breakfast sandwich, and a sandwich token. Potter explained that you can give the token to someone in need who can redeem it for a free meal. Save On Meats is also part of the Socially Responsible Tour, now on my “to do” list.  

There was more to the tour than food. We passed the Dominion Building, once the tallest building in the British Empire and supposedly haunted, to The Window, a gift shop that also offers sewing lessons. We popped into Skwachàys Lodge, a charming aboriginal boutique hotel and gallery that I never knew existed, strolled through International Village to the Sam Lee (thinnest) building and braked at Dr Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden.  “If you don’t get the fish you point to, it’s bad luck,” said Potter as we gazed at the live fish tank in T&T supermarket. “Locals and tourists alike are fascinated with the variety of Asian foods here.”

Next up, we took the Sky Train to Main Street and toured “The Flats”, Vancouver’s newest arts district. And a flight of beers at Brassneck Brewery was a perfect ending. Three hours flew by.

Vancouver Photo Walks

Guided by a professional photographer, you learn a new point of view. Part walking tour and part outdoor photography class,  in just two hours Barbara Till  taught our group basic photography techniques and creative composition tips. “Whether you want to learn more about your camera or learn more about a neighbourhood, we have the tour for you,” said owner Suzanne Rushton.

I joined our group in Stanley Park. Anna Janowicz was visiting from Whitehorse and wanted to learn more about her Canon DSLR. ” The walk provided me with some good technical aspects of taking a photo such as aperture, ISO and shutter speed,” said Janowicz. “Barbara gave me great advice to use in my upcoming travels.”

Someone else brought her mobile phone. “It’s fun to walk around with your iphone, not worrying about aperture or shutter speed, and focus on composition and creativity,” said Rushton.

Till showed as panning–how to shoot a moving subject-and we readied our cameras for passing cyclists. It worked! Next up, we experimented with the zoom burst technique on a cedar branch. Amazing!  Lastly, we meandered over to the totem poles and photographed their reflections in the water. I can hardly wait for another photo tour–perhaps Granville Island at night, or the bird sanctuary…totem.1

For more information and to book a tour: