Staring up at the towering western red cedars while raccoons run about his feet, our outdoorsy nine-year-old, Jude, is in his element. “These trees are at least four times taller than you, Dad,” he booms. In fact, they’re probably about 25 times taller. Clearly his sense of scale is off the charts — along with his level of excitement.
We’re in Stanley Park, Vancouver, an evergreen oasis and one of the largest urban parks in the world at around 1,000 acres. We’ve already stumbled across a beaver’s lodge and Jude is hopeful that we might spot a bald eagle. Even though Stanley Park is in the Downtown region of the city, there’s a real possibility he’ll be lucky. We linger for a while in the glade, mesmerised by the giant ‘monument’ trees, then hop back on our bikes — the transport of choice for families in Stanley Park — and head on to the Seawall path.
At five-and-a-half miles long, the Stanley Park Seawall is part of Vancouver’s 17-mile Seaside Greenway, the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path and, unsurprisingly, the most popular recreational spot in the city. The Seawall is a natural sightseeing tour and, either on two wheels or just two feet, we’re drawn back to it every single day of our visit. We marvel at the impressive yachts in Coal Harbour, take in the beaches at English Bay and Kitsilano (worth the trip to see the gargantuan 550ft outdoor Kitsilano Pool — almost three times longer than an Olympic pool — in Kitsilano Beach Park) and make a pit stop at Granville Island Public Market. There are endless opportunities to play outdoors in Vancouver and, in contrast to some cities where you feel you’re moving on the tourist conveyor belt, wherever you go, there’s a pleasant mix of both locals and visitors. Vancouverites certainly enjoy making the most of their beautiful city.
Our eldest son, Louis, 15, and his sister, Olivia, 12, have a few more ideas for their visit to Vancouver; their burgeoning teenage curiosity means they want to see the glitzy skyscrapers and get up close to the cosmopolitan lifestyle. We start in Yaletown, the former warehouse district that’s morphed into a ’hood for the well-heeled. Full of chic boutiques and on-trend restaurants, I can see why Yaletown proves irresistible to any townie sophisticate. We stop for a quick bite in one of the eclectic eateries — with such a diverse population, there’s no shortage of international cuisine in this city — and Louis announces that he’d like to live here one day.
Heading on through the glittering glass high-rises, often punctuated by courtyards with stunning water features, we reach the cascading waterfalls of Robson Square. Forgetting for a while that we’re even in a city, the area is an oasis of calm for locals on their lunch break. We’re surrounded by some real architectural marvels here, too, including the nearby Colosseum-shaped Vancouver Public Library, which has Olivia working over-time to try and capture the ultimate Instagram shot. Eventually, we reach the iconic five-sail Canada Place and the vast, glass-fronted Vancouver Convention Centre, which boasts Canada’s largest living roof and the largest non-industrial living roof in North America; it’s home to some 400,000 native plants and 240,000 bees.
The late-afternoon sun is glistening on the water and rays bounce down from the buildings; the light is almost iridescent. The southernmost peaks of the North Shore Mountains glow with a majestic luminosity across the inlet. It’s a special moment. Vancouver really is a city with a beguiling mix of man-made and natural beauty.
On our last day, we wave the shimmering Downtown goodbye and head across English Bay to the Pacific Spirit Regional Park for a walk in the temperate rainforest. Like most things in this part of the world, it’s vast, covering an area of more than 2,000 acres. With a keen eye for spotting the extraordinary, Josh (aka, tall dad) has his eyes fixed on the lofty heights of a Douglas fir. “Is that a nest up there?” he says, while the rest of us strain to see what he’s looking at. After a few minutes of carefully scanning the canopy, we’re all in agreement that a little fuzzy head popping out from behind a mass of twigs and foliage is undoubtedly a chick. It’s not until we see the mother bird, majestic in her flight and bearing the signatory white head, return to her young, that we realise it’s indeed a bald eaglet.
Jude is over the moon. And, for the whole family, Vancouver — as cosmopolitan as it’s natural — proves a magical modern city.