Granville Island in Vancouver is home to one of the North American continent’s great public markets: visitors love British Columbia’s progressive, green capital, which boasts an eclectic, multi-cultural dining scene. For regional produce and other edibles, Granville Island is a must-visit.
Granville Island was settled in the late 19th century, along with the rest of Vancouver (which was originally known as Granville). By the 1970s, Granville Island had become, according to its official tourism website, “a declining 37-acre industrial wasteland” of former sawmills, factories, and shantytowns. Its location on False Creek didn’t help, and typhoid and sewage issues further contributed to the island’s decline.
Fortunately, city officials had the foresight to reclaim the polluted land and creek, and turn it into a public space with parkland, housing, and public exhibition space.
Today, the island has been restored and renovated. There are cobbled streets, renovated factories, performance spaces, galleries, boutiques, restaurants, a lovely hotel, boat tours and a ferry dock, and the Public Market, which was built in 1979. The market is full of rotating “day vendors” selling edibles and crafts, as well as permanent eateries, and there’s a Thursday farmer’s market, that runs from June to October.
Image: Dominic Schaefer
I’ve long been obsessed with public markets, and have been fortunate enough to help open two of America’s best: the San Francisco Ferry Building, and Seattle’s Melrose Market. Yet I’d never been to Granville Island. On a recent layover, I decided to spend the time scouring the market to stock up for a 20-hour journey I was making on VIA Rail Canada. I love nothing more than hitting a farmers or public market, bakery, or regional grocery store before departing on a trip, so I can try the local cuisine in transit.
I arrived at the market ravenous from my flight, and the first place I visited was Siegel’s Bagels. For years, I’d heard about Montreal bagels and smoked meat (similar to pastrami), but never having been to Quebec, I hadn’t had the opportunity to try them. The owner of Siegel’s is a Montréalais, hence the focus on his native cuisine. And now, after eating a chewy bagel stuffed with the juicy, tender, lightly smoked meat, I understand what all the fuss is about.
Image: Dominic Schaefer
Other stalls worth checking out include Benton’s Fine Cheese, where you’ll find a case full of French and Canadian cheeses. At The Lobster Man, get Dungeness crab and lobster cooked to order; Longliner Seafoods has BC salmon and halibut. There are delis with stuffed saucisson, and various produce stands (don’t miss Okanagan Valley fruit: depending upon season, berries, stonefruit,or apples or pears are available. I sprang for two pints of luscious raspberries). At South China Seas Trading Co, you’ll find everything from fresh wasabi and shiso leaves to dim sum wrappers. Don’t forget to pick up some pastry (like the decadent caramel bars) at Stuart’s Bakery, and smoked or candied salmon at the Salmon Shop.
Image: Granville Island
For souvenirs, lunch, or dinner, check out Edible Canada’s bistro and retail shop, across from the market. There, I scored some Noble Bourbon-barrel-aged maple syrup and maple sugar candy, but there’s also a jewel-like array of preserves, oils, and vinegars. Before you leave the island, drop by Liberty Wine Merchants for some spectacular BC Wines (I’m loving Blasted Church Vineyards’ Hatfield’s Fuse).
Granville Island is easily accessible by taxi, bike, boat, foot, or the #50 False Creek bus from downtown Vancouver, and is approximately 20 minutes on public transit from Vancouver International Airport.
Tours of the Granville Island Public Market can be arranged through Edible BC.
Top image: Granville Island
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