GRANVILLE ISLAND, VANCOUVER
Vancouver is the most underrated city, like, ever. North America’s second densest downtown sits next to the continent’s largest urban green space surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and Rocky Mountains. Only makes sense that Greenpeace was born here.
Across a narrow inlet from downtown, Granville Island is filled with restored shipbuilding warehouses. The star attraction is the sprawling Granville Island Public Market filled with every locally produced fruit, veggie, meat, cheese and dark chocolate truffle imaginable. We’re here for a food tour with Julian Bond, program director at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts.
“Butter or margarine?” shouts out Bond as we begin.
The crowd hesitates. Sounds like a trick question.
“Butter, definitely, as long as you get some kind of exercise during the week, butter is healthier,” he says. “There is nasty stuff in margarine, like nickel. Eat more butter!”
I like this guy already. For the next hour, Bond teaches us everything you’ll ever want to know about sustainable meat and seafood. Definitely give Bond a shout when you come to town.
You can bring up to 1,200 attendees to Vancouver Aquarium located in Stanley Park—a 1,001-acre downtown urban forest with a jawdropping beautiful 6-mile seawall biking path encircling it. Everyone should rent a bike and make the loop; there’s no bike ride as pretty as this in North America.
The aquarium is undergoing a $60 million expansion to provide more elbow room for rescued beluga whales, Pacific white dolphins and 70,000 other marine animals. The aquarium’s Ocean Wise program certifies menu and food items at 2,700 locations nationwide. Groups can book private dolphin and beluga shows with marine scientists, explore behind the scenes, and enjoy “Breakfast with the Belugas” inside a viewing room for 120 pax.
“Our mission is marine conservation, education and research and our staff lives by that mission,” says Lila Blair, sales manager. “We’re always excited to tell meeting planners our story.”
At Stanley Park’s entrance, the Vancouver Rowing Club is a 126 year-old institution located inside a charming boat house. Rowing is popular here so this is a great way to think local.
“We offer small, highly focused teambuilding challenges and larger group experiences where the goal is relaxation, connecting outside the box, and enjoyment of our unparalleled outdoor setting,” says Anne Sproull, rowing coordinator.
THE WESTIN BAYSHORE VANCOUVER
Bordering Stanley Park, The Westin Bayshore Vancouver sits on Coal Harbour facing the mountains. The Trailblazers crowd gathered here in the 1,600-sf International Suite, overlooking the most enviable piece of real estate in Western Canada.
“If that doesn’t scream ‘Welcome to Vancouver,’ then I don’t know what does,” laughs Barbara Hill, senior sales manager. She points to the private float plane dock where groups up to 900 can fly over for tea in Victoria. There are three boats on property for receptions and year-round whale watching.
“You can actually see whales from the dock May through September,” says Hill. She adds that a new spa was built and the entire 511-room hotel was renovated in 2010 to host the Int’l Olympic Committee during the Winter Games. Function space tops 71,000 sf, including the Seawall Grill just feet from the sea.
YALETOWN, GASTOWN, DOWNTOWN DINING
The historic, hipster Yaletown warehouse and loft district is located on the other side of downtown from the Park. Try the wild smoked salmon club at AGROCAFE, owned by a 27 year-old who puts pictures on the walls of farmers who he buys Fair Trade coffee from in Kenya and Nicaragua.
Also check out Nelson the Seagull in nearby Gastown. Half of the space sells items like “God Hates Bags” handbags made from recycled plastic bottles. The other half is an open kitchen serving 50/60 people at the long farmer’s table. Very hip.
Trailblazers’ final dinner took place at Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar in Yaletown, which caters 450-pax receptions. The largest of four private rooms seats 80 serving group menu items like: Matjes herring sandwich with crème fraiche, apples, red onions; and smoked sockeye salmon terrine with sake-infused whitefish caviar.
The converted brick and beam warehouse is typical of Yaletown, which is great for dinearounds with so many cool restaurants and bars lining the two main streets near all of the downtown hotels.
For you big spenders, visit the newly restored Rosewood Hotel Georgia. At the 1927 Lobby Lounge, (the year the hotel opened), try a Sbagliato Corretto with Tanqueray, Campari, vermouth and prosecco. For dinner, Hawksworth Restaurant features a gorgeous Art Deco room for 63 pax, serving contemporary Canadian cuisine such as pan-roasted Pacific sablefish with maitake mushrooms and chayote.
Nearby, Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House is a legendary power lunch spot and a member of Ocean Wise. With a kind of Boston-style decor, the place seats 50 on the rooftop patio or 60 on the second floor loft. Say hi to Frenchy, the relaxed maitre d’/partner, who sits with me at lunch as we test drive Joe’s famous raw bar.
The Raspberry Point PEI oysters are soft, silky, creamy. They fall apart in your mouth. The Joe’s Gold B.C. oysters are meaty with a earthy finish. The Shigoku. Wow, firm, salty, good with mignonette sauce.
“We used to have a lot of different seafood but now just local things like salmon and halibut,” says Frenchy. “It’s what our clients want.”