Over the last five years, I’ve looked outside Canada for vacations. Canada is home, and home just doesn’t seem interesting or appealing when you have the chance to escape your comfort zone, does it? But Canada is a big place — almost-10-million-square-kilometres big — so there’s actually quite a bit of room for the novel and different. I was reminded of this fact over Christmas when I visited British Columbia for the first time.
I’m still processing my B.C. experience, but my impressions were varied and generally positive. A few random observations:
– Vancouver is just like any other large North American city, except for the mountains and ocean peeking around seemingly every corner. That’s the draw of this place: the proximity to such natural beauty — an open-invitation to leave the city behind, if only for an hour. I was enchanted. The hiker in me can’t wait to return so I can spend time in those mountains.
– given B.C.’s reputation for being green, I was startled by the number of public recycling bins and garbage receptacles in Vancouver, Langley, and White Rock. This will sound like the set-up for a joke, but it’s not: waste receptacles are everywhere in Toronto. In B.C.’s lower mainland? Not so much. What do people do with trash on the west coast? Stow it in their pockets until they return home? Or are Vancouverites just more adept at those other two Rs — reduce and reuse?
– a lot of people complain about the LCBO’s monopoly on and pricing of alcohol sales in Ontario, but if my unscientific study is any indication, a public-private retail mix may not mean lower prices for consumers. My husband and I made a point of visiting a public and several private liquor stores in Langley, and we discovered that where whisky’s concerned, bottles there command on average $3 to $5 more than they do here in Ontario. And then there were the jaw-dropping exceptions to the rule, like a bottle of The Balvenie DoubleWood — about $90 here in Ontario — going for about $120 in B.C. What B.C.’s public-private mix does seem to guarantee is variety. Expressions that can sometimes be challenging to find at the LCBO — namely Auchentoshan Three Wood and Nikka Whisky from the Barrel — were easier to find at B.C. liquor stores. If one store didn’t have it, there would be another one not too far away that did have it. Perhaps that’s something worth paying more for?
– Chambar. Known for its Belgian beers and seafood, this restaurant was a serendipitous discovery when we had all but given up finding an open bar that wasn’t rammed full of rowdy football-watching patrons. After a rainy Sunday spent walking around Vancouver, my husband and I were both looking to warm up with some whisky. We were returning to our SkyTrain stop after striking out at several Gastown pubs when we noticed Chambar’s large uncovered windows from the courtyard below. With its exposed red brick and amber-coloured tables, it looked chic and inviting and — above all — spacious. We were sold and quickly entered to settle in at the bar. They had a small but good selection of whiskies, including a bottle of the Macallan Amber, which I’ve been meaning to try and would have that day had the damp hours in Stanley Park not whetted my appetite for peat. On this visit, I ordered a dram of my comfort whisky — Ardbeg Uigeadail — but I would love to return to Chambar when we have the time to explore their cocktails and menu more fully. During our short time there, we found the beer and cocktail selection intriguing, the staff friendly, and the ambiance at once sophisticated and unstuffy. An added bonus? I’ve since discovered Chambar is committed to doing business ethically and sustainably. How very Vancouver!