April 6, 2018
Neighbourhoods: North Vancouver
Discover mountains and markets, hiking and halal in a community in the midst of a housing boom
By Joanne Sasvari
It’s not the North Vancouver you think you know.
“North Vancouver is such an amazing place to live. It has changed over time, but it’s been planned change,” says North Vancouver City Mayor Darrell Mussatto. “It has the services of a bigger city, but it still has that community feel, a smaller town feel.”
Linked to Vancouver by the graceful 1938 Lions Gate suspension bridge and the austere 1960 Ironworkers Memorial Bridge, North Van sprawls from the industrial waterfront up the rugged, forested North Shore Mountains. It comprises two municipalities—the urban City of North Vancouver and the largely residential District of North Vancouver surrounding it—as well as two First Nations, the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh.
For many years, North Van was considered mainly a blue-collar suburb and a day trip for hiking, skiing and enjoying the Yukon breakfast at Tomahawk Barbecue. But these days, it is a desirable and forward-thinking home for young families, downsizers, creative professionals and anyone who loves the outdoors.
The city was the first to evolve, especially in the Lower Lonsdale area, which used to be a slightly dodgy neighbourhood of pubs, nightclubs and surface parking lots. Today, the area is home to to a wealth of new housing. And, Mussatto says: “The public spaces in Lower Lonsdale are some of the greatest spaces in the city. The Friday night markets at the Shipyards are such a great success we had to hire traffic crossing guards for the SeaBus.”
Mussatto emphasizes that any development in his city has to be sustainable, both energy efficient and accessible to renters and homeowners. It also has to have access to outdoor spaces, shopping, restaurants, transit, walking trails and bike paths. “All these little things add up,” he says.
The city may have a shiny new look, but the biggest changes are, perhaps, occurring in the district.
Years ago, the District of North Vancouver identified that there was a “missing generation” in the community—kids would leave after high school and never return because they could not afford to buy in an area of
single-family homes. “They identified that they needed to densify around certain hubs,” says Nick Askew, president and owner of Pacesetter Marketing, which, among other things, works with developers to determine trends.
Those hubs include Upper Lynn Valley, the SeyLynn area near the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge, the Maplewood development east of it, and what is becoming known as the Lions Gate neighbourhood on Capilano Road. This massive development will create a whole new community of luxury condo towers, rental apartments and townhomes as well as grocery and other retail, daycare and community centres, a large park and even a new convention centre on the east side of Capilano Road.
“And there will be all these greenways that will go to Cap River, and the trail network will be intensified,” Askew says. “It’s so close to Park Royal, so close to downtown, so close to the trails along Capilano River, everything that makes living on the North Shore so appealing. I’m very enthused about it being a whole new kind of community.”
Transportation—which is often a contentious issue on the North Shore—was also a key consideration for the new neighbourhood. “One of the best things is that you’re going to be first on, first off the Lions Gate Bridge,” Askew says, noting that from here it’s easy to walk or cycle to Park Royal, Stanley Park and downtown Vancouver. “We know that traffic is a major concern, but affordability is a bigger concern.”
Mussatto agrees. “The biggest challenge we have, aside from affordable housing, is transit,” he says. That’s why the three North Shore mayors are working with the provincial and federal governments, as well as TransLink, to create a master plan including rapid transit, which will be announced in June.
After all, Mussatto says: “We’ve got a vibrant community that people want to live in. We are a model for all of B.C.”
There are a reported 44 new home developments in North Vancouver, including 26 condo and 14 townhouse developments. Some of the most dynamic areas of growth are around Lower Lonsdale Avenue, Upper Lynn Valley and farther east toward the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge, although the massive new 2,000-unit project at Capilano Road and Marine Drive—which will be known as Lions Gate Village—is sure to be a game changer for the community.
The big commute used to be from the North Shore to jobs in Vancouver; these days the commute goes both ways. The port, with its massive Seaspan shipbuilding operation and container terminals, is a major draw for workers, but so are many construction jobs, as well as employers such as Capilano University and Lions Gate Hospital.
North Van was once best known for its lively pub culture. But while the Rusty Gull, Queen’s Cross, Sailor Hagar’s and the like are still pulling pints and serving wings, the city is as well known for its chain eateries and Persian kabob houses. Those in the know, though, head to The Portly Chef for modern bistro fare, Two Rivers Meats for flame-grilled burgers, Thomas Haas for fine patisserie and Smoke and Bones for award-winning southern barbecue. There is also a growing number of craft breweries, as well as distillery tasting rooms such as Sons of Vancouver and The Woods.
North Van is a shopping destination for outdoor wear at places like the Arc’teryx factory store, as well as MEC and numerous ski, board, swim and other sports shops. The industrial area south of Marine Drive is home to a variety of outlet stores and businesses catering to home design companies, as well as Johnstone Barbecues, a mecca for the grillin’ and smokin’ set. Puccini’s Deli on Central Lonsdale offers a vast selection of olive oils and Italian foods, while the surrounding Persian markets offer great value on fresh produce, flat breads and halal meats. Lower Lonsdale is home to a variety of funky boutiques.
North Vancouver is famous for its hiking, biking, snowshoeing and skiing in the forested North Shore Mountains. The energetic hike the Grouse Grind up Grouse Mountain; the rest take the Skyride to the top to enjoy sweeping city views. Swaying suspension bridges straddle the popular tourist destination of Capilano Canyon and the only-for-those-in-the-know Lynn Canyon, which is at the heart of a park crisscrossed with hiking trails. Near the SeaBus ferry terminal, Lonsdale Quay features a busy market, the new Polygon Gallery and a number of restaurants as well as the historic Shipyards with their popular Friday night market.