Flowing into Vancouver’s West End, Yaletown is the envy of city planners around the world who would love to emulate the area’s transformation from crumbling industrial district to post-modern trendsetter.
But the Yaletown of today – widely regarded as Vancouver’s ‘little Soho’ – is a far cry from the area’s gritty roots in the 1880s, when the Canadian Pacific Railway housed its rail yards here and manufacturers built warehouses to take advantage of easy access to the network. Thriving as the city’s industrial heart for decades, Yaletown suffered badly in the 1940s, when highways replaced rail as the preferred method for transporting goods. By the 1970s, the area’s few remaining businesses were outnumbered by rough bars and derelict storage space.
When Expo 86 triggered a re-examination of the city’s older neighbourhoods, Yaletown was among the first to be “rediscovered” as a blank canvas with almost unlimited potential. Designated a historic district, the area’s unique industrial look was retained as artists seeking studio space moved in and old bars were replaced by Bohemian coffee shops and galleries. But Yaletown’s real rejuvenation was linked to the rise of the new economy in the early 1990s, when the architects of the information superhighway began moving in to swanky scrubbed down brick offices and converting warehouses into minimalist, high-ceilinged apartments.
Modern-day Yaletown, roughly bounded by Nelson, Homer, Drake and Pacific Streets, is now teeming with cutting-edge stores and amenities, all within easy walking distance. Unique stores abound including small eclectic clothing boutiques, spas galore and any gourmet food lovers paradise, Urban Fare.
Yaletown is also a Vancouver nightlife hotspot, which is definitely gay-friendly, and some superb restaurants which are highlighted each year during Taste of Yaletown each October (in 2009, Taste of Yaletown will take place 15-31 October).
This kind of colourful celebration of the area’s tough history is central to the Yaletown experience: railway tracks remain embedded in the streets here and an old railway repair shed has been restored as the Roundhouse Community Centre, complete with innovative theatre and restored steam locomotive. With the trains long-gone, Yaletown’s modern-day transport options include rollerblading along the nearby seawall and catching a mini Aquabus ferry to Granville Island and beyond.
Perhaps the real coming-of-age of the new Yaletown, though, was the opening of its first hotel in 2002. The Opus Hotel, a contemporary boutique residence with 97 art-filled rooms, has already gained a reputation as one of North America’s finest hotel experiences. Next door, the traditional French brasserie, Elixir, and the swanky lobby bar have quickly become firm favourites with visiting movie stars and hip locals.
Taste of Yaletown
15-31 October 2009
In 2009, Taste of Yaletown will include over twenty Yaletown restaurants offering special three-course tasting menus for set prices of $25, $35 and $45. A portion of the proceeds raised from each participating restaurant will be donated to The Greater Vancouver Food Bank.