Immediately south of downtown Vancouver lies Granville Island. The fact that this is actually a peninsula gives me room to think that locals have a thing for giving the wrong names to places, a suspicion that is confirmed by the fact that the stretch of water separating the “island” from downtown is called False Creek.
Early Vancouverites may have been the world’s most impulsive explorers, at least as far as names go, but they had clear ideas about Granville Island: from the very beginning, indeed, this was designed to be an industrial estate. These were the days when Vancouver hadn’t become latte-land yet but relied, instead, on the timber industry, steelworks and many other factories turning Canada’s riches into industrial goods needed mostly by its powerful southern neighbour.
When the 1929 Depression’s shockwaves started to be felt in BC as well, a continent away from where it all started, Granville island became a shantytown. This earned the place a reputation for roughness, something that the island lived up to as the years passed. By the 1970s it was an eyesore: a collection of decrepit industrial buildings, overshadowed by a gargantuan bridge and inhabitated by a population of unsavoury characters.
Finally the government stepped in, starting a requalification project that paved the way for many others in every corner of the industrialised world: from a rusting bucketful of warehouses and sweatshops a new district was born, this time inhabited by artists. With time a university, a community centre, bars, shops and – obviously – Granville island market popped up and flourished.
I step out of the water bus on the island’s jetty with an uneasy feeling. I have good reasons for being anxious, for Granville was the forerunner of the tendency that’s now all the rage in London’s East End and in every hipster town all around the world. I’m talking of those places where Where’s-Waldo-lookalikes on fixed wheel bikes crowd around so-called “farmers’ markets” that happen only to sell free-range eggs, Stilton cheese and overpriced sausages. Albeit better than having rows upon rows of McDonald’s and Starbucks such markets are a blatant con, a half-arsed copy of the real markets in places where food culture still exists. Granville was, admittedly, the grandaddy of them all: would I like it, or would I despise it?
I’ll spare you the suspence: I liked it a lot. And I decided to dedicate the rest of this post to the pictures I’ve taken. Please bear with me, they were all snapped with a Nokia smartphone in conditions of light that asked for more professional equipment and a better photographer.
Granville waterfront, looking a lot less tame than the more refined northern shore of the False Creek.
Once grisly murders were commited here; now the biggest thing to fear are seagulls dive-bombing on your pulled pork sandwich.
Most of the warehouses are still those erected in the heyday of the timber industry, before Wall Street crashed down and everything else followed on its trail.
Granville market is no match for its East End offspring. To start with, there’s real fruit and veggies there: tomatoes aren’t orange and don’t look like squeezie-balls.
Another hint that this market is a real deal: by the time I showed up, most of the meat traders – such as this one – had already called it a day. That’s how markets are meant to be: food is to be bought in the morning, not at three in the afternoon after you wake up in your squat after a warehouse party.
Even here, though, there was no escaping the organic tea vendor, or the Spanish paella guy. But at least they were in a corner.
At Granville you won’t only find stuff to fulfil your five-a-day requirements with; goods that’ll clog your arteries are plentiful too.
I love looking at market sellers: as with many other places they are a mixture of members of communities arrived in town in recent times or people that look like they have actually caught the salmon they’re selling you.
No matter how real deal Granville might be, sometimes there’s no escaping the hipster crowd.
Finally, my tour over, I come to rest to a pint at a bar nearby. The other customers seem happy with themselves, with no apparent traces of that need to appear cool and fashionable that is the curse of where I lived and live in Europe. If only this pub had Molson on tap though…