I would never have seen the Marine Building if I hadn't been in Vancouver, British Columbia, learning about The Olympics. This art deco wonder across the street from the recently re-done Convention Centre was completed in 1930 and was, at the time, the tallest building in the British Empire.
I had just interviewed volunteer Glen Reid in Visitor Information and he told me about sledge hockey, the Laughing Men sculpture, and, as an afterthought, the Marine Building, one of Vancouver's unheralded gems. He also described the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron on February 12, 2010, but he was not the first to tell me that the week before The Games the city had been unusually quiet. Then the Winter Olympics began.
"People were in the streets singing Oh, Canada at four in the morning," Alex Abdilla told me with a nostalgic smile on his face. Alex and literally everyone else I spoke to fondly recalled what it was like to be in an Olympic City during the games. The town, most reported, went crazy, in a positive way.
Vancouver, one of the most livable and greenest cities in the world, was host to the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games until February 28. And I went there 10 months later to observe their impact on a city that I have visited many times. It's definitely still in after-glow, and having had the Olympics has made Vancouver an even better travel destination.
With a metropolitan area of around 2 million people, Vancouver was one of the largest cities ever to host the Winter Games. It surprised me to learn that it had the warmest average temperatures of any previous winter host. In fact, according to Glen Reid, snow had to be hauled in from Manning Provincial Park for snowboarding and other events. But the estimated 3½ billion TV viewers saw only a sleek, near-perfect host city that will benefit in a number of ways for having bid for Olympic glory.
Vancouver's SkyTrain rapid transit system added The Canada Line in anticipation of need before The Games, and now it inexpensively whisks travellers from the International Airport to downtown in 25 minutes. The expanded Convention Centre mentioned above opened in 2009 to function as a major Olympic broadcast facility, and now it's an A+ meeting and convention destination. Granville Street was widened, sidewalks and new lights were installed, and today it's a glittering after-dark magnet for those out for a night on the town. BC Place, a huge stadium built for Vancouver's 1986 World Expo and used for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, is being vastly improved with the largest cable-supported retractable roof in the world that will look like a massive coronation crown. It will reopen, probably in April 2011, as a venue for festivals, football, and soccer.
Since Whistler, a world-class resort city seventy miles north of Vancouver, shared Olympic duties as the official Alpine skiing venue, the wonderfully named Sea to Sky Highway received a $600 million upgrade, cutting travel time and frustration during the Olympics and for all future travelers.
Vancouver hosted 2,632 athletes and many events -- figure skating, ice hockey, freestyle skiing, long-track speed skating -- in seven venues. The Olympic Village units in Southeast False Creek that were used during The Games are now for sale as part of the Millennium Water development project, a mix of high-end and affordable housing. Sales have been disappointing and the project has become controversial. But its presence is still a thrill to see and remember.
A travel bonus that won't last, Vancouver is a bit less expensive to visit since the pre-Olympic building boom added 5 new hotels to its impressively vertical skyline. The three that opened within a month of The Games -- Pinnacle Hotel at the Pier, Fairmont Pacific Rim and Coast Coal Harbour Hotel -- add more than 700 rooms to Vancouver's hotel stock, so, depending on season and special events, guests at many hotels might find that they pay less for more until the room to visitor ratio evens out.
Over 3.3 million pairs of Vancouver 2010 Olympic mittens have been purchased, and they are still selling and available to anyone who visits the downtown Hudson Bay Company Department Store, or The Bay, at the intersection of Georgia and Granville. A first floor Olympic Shop stocks them along with jackets and other souvenirs and apparel. The plan is to keep the shop opened until the next Olympics, the 2012 Summer Games in London.
Visitors desiring to experience the venues they saw while watching the games on TV can skate at the Richmond Olympic Oval, ski and snowboard on Cypress Mountain, and swim at the Vancouver Olympic Center. They can, and most definitely should, thrill to the enormous glass and steel Olympic Cauldron permanently on display at Jack Poole Plaza adjacent to the expanded Convention Centre. It will be lit again for special occasions. The Oval has been transformed into a public recreation facility with ball courts, multiple skating rinks, and a fitness center opened to the public in fall, 2010.
Inukshuk, the traditional Inuit stone sculpture that became the symbol for both Vancouver and The Games, is on permanent display on English Bay a short drive from city center and an especially scenic spot. Nearby is Vancouver's 1909-11 Biennale A-maze-ing Laughter, commonly called The Laughing Men by locals, which arrived from China to become part of the public sculptures meant to enchant Olympic visitors.
In addition to Vancouver's always-great attractions -- Stanley Park and its Aquarium, the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Gastown to name just a few -- two new must-sees are on the scene. The always-worthwhile, now renovated Museum of Anthropology on the University of British Columbia campus has just reopened, and the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, also on the campus, is earning raves since its October 2010 inauguration.
I make it a habit to visit hosts after The Games -- Sydney, Calgary, and Barcelona, which hopes to become the first city to sponsor both summer and winter events -- and found Vancouver to be my favorite post-Olympic city with an art deco masterpiece, the not-to-be-missed Marine Building.
On the road all of his life, Harold (Hank) Harbaugh has been a travel writer for fifteen years. He contributes to about 20 magazines and newspapers and welcomes visitors to his blog -- roadsrus.wordpress.com -- and comments via email [email protected]
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