Skip to main content

Downtown Vancouver in Spring: Interesting Sights and Events

Linda Crampton is a writer who lives in Greater Vancouver. She enjoys walking and likes to take photographs of her discoveries.

Canada Place in downtown Vancouver; the mesh at the top of the photo is part of an aerial sculpture erected to coincide with the TED Talks taking place in the area

Canada Place in downtown Vancouver; the mesh at the top of the photo is part of an aerial sculpture erected to coincide with the TED Talks taking place in the area

Spring in Vancouver

I always enjoy walking through downtown Vancouver in British Columbia. Every time I visit the area, I see something new. It's a lovely place to explore and to photograph at any time of the year, but spring has special attractions. New flowers and leaves appear, and cherry blossoms provide a beautiful splash of colour and are celebrated. Interesting events such as the Climb The Wall competition, the Vancouver Sun Run, and the TED conference take place.

This article describes the highlights of my visit to downtown Vancouver on a day close to the spring equinox—the first day of spring. The sky was filled with mixed sun and cloud and there was a cold, penetrating wind, but spring was in the air. I've also included a few photos taken later in spring or in other years in the same time frame. All of the photographs in this article were taken by me.

Spring comes early to the southwest corner of British Columbia. By March 20th or 21st, the usual date of the spring equinox, some birds have started to sing and the first wild flowers of the season are in bloom. The relatively mild climate compared to the rest of Canada allows cultivated plants to thrive in downtown containers and flower beds.

The Waterfront SkyTrain station

The Waterfront SkyTrain station

Starting the Tour

I started my March visit to the downtown area at the Waterfront SkyTrain station on West Cordova Street. SkyTrain is a light rapid transit system. It travels mostly above ground, but in the downtown area it's forced to run below ground level. As its name suggests, the Waterfront station is located beside the water—in this case, Burrard Inlet and the Port of Vancouver. The station's ornate building used to be a Canadian Pacific Railway station.

There is a lot to explore in downtown Vancouver, so a travel plan is useful. On my spring visit I restricted my travels and photographs to Canada Place and Burrard Street, with short diversions from Burrard Street to look at nearby sights of interest. This route goes through the centre of the downtown area.

Canada Place and the Port of Vancouver

Canada Place is the name of a very large building by the waterfront that has an attached pier. It's also the name of the road where the building and its pier are located. The area is located near the SkyTrain station on its western side. Canada Place is useful and interesting for businesses, tourists, and local residents.

A promenade along the pier gives lovely views of Burrard Inlet, Stanley Park, and the mountains. The park is large and a major tourist attraction. A float plant terminus is located near the pier, so planes can often be seen taking off and landing. Cultivated flowers are a common attraction. The promenade has as an exhibition about Canada's history and geography called "The Canadian Trail". Flyover Canada is an attraction that gives people a simulated ride over the country.

The pier is famous for its five, large white sails, which are illuminated at night. It's located next to areas intended for businesses and exhibitions and near luxury hotels. Restaurants and cafes are located on and around the pier, making it easy to get a snack or a meal when needed. Though officially not part of Canada Place, the large digital orca sculpture and the giant Olympic cauldron are located immediately next to it in Jack Poole Plaza.

Special events take place at Canada Place throughout the year. In summer, the cruise ships sailing to and from Alaska dock at the pier and are an added attraction. They create an impressive sight when viewed close-up. A pedestrian and bike path travels from Canada Place to the seawall path in Stanley Park.

TED Talks Come to Vancouver

Scroll to Continue

Read More from WanderWisdom

TED Talks at Canada Place

Downtown Vancouver is a vibrant place. There's often something unexpected to see. On my March visit to Canada Place I discovered that the area was hosting TED Talks. I'm interested in TED and the ideas that its speakers present, so I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't know that this event was happening. I've since discovered that it's an annual event (or it was before the coronavirus made an appearance).

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. The organization says that it's a "nonprofit devoted to the spread of ideas". It believes that by sharing ideas it can change people's attitudes and even their lives. TED's focus has extended beyond the three topics represented by its name into social and global issues.

One way in which the organization tries to accomplish its goals is by asking experts in different areas to give informative and hopefully inspirational talks to the public. Speakers attending one of the week-long Vancouver TED conferences included Bill and Melinda Gates, Larry Page (co-founder of Google), journalist Charlie Rose, Edward Snowdon (via a live video link), Sting, philosopher David Chalmers, and Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut. Tickets for the events were expensive, but live and free feeds were available at places such as libraries and community centres.

Canada Place at Night During the TED Talks

An Aerial Sculpture

To accompany the TED Talks mentioned above, Janet Echelman created a large aerial sculpture made of Spectra, a fibre that resembles fishing net but is fifteen times stronger than steel. The sculpture was entitled "Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks", spanned 745 feet, and was attached to the top of buildings around Canada Place.

During the day, the sculpture changed shape in the breeze. At night, it was lit by lights of different colours, as shown in the videos above. I didn't see the sculpture at night, but according to the TED website the public was able to control the lights shining on the sculpture with their mobile devices. Echelman worked with a Creative Director from Google Creative Lab to achieve this goal.

TED Talks and reflections at the eastern building of the Vancouver Convention Centre

TED Talks and reflections at the eastern building of the Vancouver Convention Centre

The TED Conference

The TED conference has been held annually in Vancouver since 2014. One was scheduled to take place from April 20th-24th, 2020, but it was turned into a virtual event because of concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The title of the conference was "Uncharted". It included current topics of concern, such as environment threats and gene editing. It was held online from May to July in 2020. TED 2021 was also a modified event. Happily, a normal 2022 event took place in Vancouver between April 10th and April 14th. The TED website often has interesting videos, especially for people unable to visit the conference in person.

Canada Place to West Georgia Street

Burrard Street connects Canada Place to West Georgia Street. The area has some interesting architecture. The Burrard Street SkyTrain station is located in this area and is another good entry point for an exploration of downtown Vancouver.

I like to take photographs of both old and new buildings in the downtown core of Vancouver. The old buildings have character while many of the new buildings reflect the area around them, which I find attractive. Burrard Street has both types of buildings.

One of the old buildings that I enjoy photographing is Christ Church Cathedral. The cathedral is located on the corner of Burrard Street and West Georgia Street and is part of the Anglican Church of Canada. It was built in 1895 and has been extended since then.

Holy Rosary Cathedral is another building that I like to photograph. The ornate and attractive cathedral is part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. It's located in the downtown area at the intersection of Richards Street and Dunsmuir Street. The cathedral has a bell tower that creates a beautiful sound.

For much of its history, Christ Church Cathedral didn't have a bell tower. A recent renovation of the roof and other areas of the cathedral created one. The tower is a vertical structure located outside the church and can be seen in the last photo in the sequence below. The bells ring every day. A bell-ringing schedule is available on the cathedral's website. The website of the Vancouver Society of Change Ringers has a bell-ringing schedule for Holy Rosary Cathedral.

Four custom bronze bells installed in the spire ring at the beginning and end of each work day, on Sundays prior to church services, in celebration of holy days, and to mark the civic events and holidays of our interfaith neighbours.

— Christ Church Cathedral Website

The Vancouver Art Gallery is located on West Georgia Street very near to Christ Church Cathedral. It occupies a building that used to be the law courts. The front of the building has two dignified stone lions guarding steps leading up to the door. The current gallery entrance for the public is at the side of the building, however. The area in front of art gallery steps provides an interesting view of the surrounding buildings. It once contained a large fountain, which I found attractive, but the fountain has now been removed and the area has been converted into a plaza.

When I went downtown to take some of the photos for this article, a movie was being filmed at the art gallery. The fountain was turned off and the area in front of the steps was filled with catering trucks, other vehicles, and a large tent. At first I was unhappy about the lack of access to the area, but then I realized that there could be advantages for someone who wants to capture interesting scenes with their camera. In addition, people could still get close to the beautiful cherry blossoms located in front of the art gallery in order to admire the flowers or take photographs.

A quick search online told me that the movie being filmed at the art gallery was called The Age of Adaline and starred Blake Lively, Harrison Ford, Michiel Huisman, and Ellen Burstyn. The plot of the movie concerns a woman from the early twentieth century who stopped aging after she was involved in an accident. Her life is secretive and lonely until she falls in love with a man from the current time who changes her life.

The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

The Hotel Vancouver is located on West Georgia Street across the road from Christ Church Cathedral. It's one of the grandiose "railway hotels" established by the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It's currently part of the Fairmont chain of hotels.

The present Hotel Vancouver building was opened in 1939. The hotel is famous for its oxidized copper roof, which is green in colour. It's an interesting building that's decorated with mythical figures, including gargoyles and griffins.

The Vancouver Sun Run

Every April, runners, walkers, and wheelchair athletes line up by the Hotel Vancouver, cathedral, art gallery. and beyond for the annual Vancouver Sun Run. This is Canada's largest ten kilometre event and attracts almost 50,000 participants. People begin the event in a wave start, with the faster participants in the first waves. Since I start in a slower wave, I get lots of time to admire the scenery on West Georgia Street.

Perhaps sadly for people who planned to participate in the 2020 event, it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 situation. Based on my experience with the run, I think this decision was wise. Race participants are crammed together waiting for their wave to start. In addition, people in the slower waves often find that some sections of the course are crowded. These are not good situations when social distancing is recommended to prevent the spread of the disease.

Unfortunately, the run wasn't normal in 2021. It was turned into what organizers called a “virtual” event, with participants following a route of their choice. Plans for a normal 2022 event have been announced, though the plans could change.

A view of Burrard Street with the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver in the background

A view of Burrard Street with the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver in the background

The Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre

The Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre is located on Burrard Street past West Georgia Street. It's a forty-eight storey building located in a complex with two smaller skyscrapers.

The wall centre was completed in 2001 and is named after Peter Wall, a Vancouver property developer. The first 30 floors are used as a hotel and a resort while floors 31 to 48 are residences. The rooms in the building have floor-to-ceiling windows.

There is a lovely plaza at the front of the complex with seats, flowers, and fountains. However, the wall centre's main claim to fame as far as I'm concerned is the annual "Climb The Wall" event. In February or March of a normal year, people run or walk up the stairs that climb the 48 stories of the wall centre in a competitive event. The climb raises money for the British Columbia Lung Association. A recent event had over 300 participants, including firefighters who climbed in full gear.

History of the Wall Centre

Until 2013, the wall centre had a surface of dark, reflective glass up to floor 30 and light glass on its upper levels. Therein lies a story. When Peter Wall was fighting to get the centre built, he wanted the windows on every floor to have dark, reflective glass. City officials objected, saying that the dark building would look like Darth Vader or the Death Star.

Wall managed to get the bottom half of the centre built with the glass that he wanted. Then the city intervened. They insisted that the rest of the building be built with light glass. The result was a two-toned building.

In 2011, the residents in the upper levels filed a lawsuit. They said that the glass used in the windows of the residences leaked air and moisture, which caused them to fog up. In addition, the light glass didn't block the sun's rays adequately, causing the rooms to become very hot.

In July 2013, work began to replace each of the upper windows with dark glass, finally fulfilling Wall's vision. The cost was around seven million dollars. However, the original maker of the dark glass used to make the windows had gone out of business, so Wall was forced to use a different company to supply the glass. Today the building has a uniformly reflective appearance, but in some lights it still looks two-toned.

On a cloudy day, the two-toned appearance of the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre can be seen.

On a cloudy day, the two-toned appearance of the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre can be seen.

The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival

Spring is an enjoyable time in downtown Vancouver because of the appearance of new plants and flowers, including cherry blossoms. According to Tourism Vancouver, the city of Vancouver has 40,000 cherry trees.

Every year, the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival is held in March and/or April. Attractions and activities at the festival include concerts, dances, food, a haiku competition, painting sessions, talks by guest speakers, a Japan fair, and a Sakura illumination event. "Sakura" is the Japanese name for cherry blossom.

Parks are especially good places to see the cherry flowers of the Vancouver area, but they can also be seen downtown and on streets in nearby communities. The downtown cherry flower buds have already begun to open in March. I always look forward to the appearance of the beautiful blossoms in Vancouver and near my home just outside Vancouver.

Cherry blossoms in downtown Vancouver

Cherry blossoms in downtown Vancouver

Travelling to and Through the Downtown Area

I usually travel to downtown Vancouver by public transit. Vancouver is well served by buses and SkyTrain. One SkyTrain line travels from the Vancouver International Airport to the downtown area. Two additional lines travel from neighbouring communities into Vancouver.

Greater Vancouver's public transit system is run by an organization called TransLink. TransLink's website has lots of useful information, including fare information, maps, schedules, and a handy trip planner. The trip planner tells a person how to get to their destination by public transit once they enter their starting and ending points.

There are plenty of parking lots downtown for people who prefer to drive into the city, although as might be expected the parking fees are considerably more expensive than the cost of public transit.

Cycling is another transportation option. Vancouver and the surrounding cities have a network of reasonably quiet roads for cyclists as well as off-road bike paths. In the downtown Vancouver area, cyclists do sometimes travel along main roads, but these roads have green, cyclists-only lanes. Some downtown bike lanes have barriers separating them from vehicles.

A downtown scene with a green bicycle lane in the foreground

A downtown scene with a green bicycle lane in the foreground

Downtown and Beyond

The downtown attractions in Vancouver are within walking distance from SkyTrain stations and bus stops for someone with normal mobility. I think that walking is the best way to explore the city. I enjoy looking at my surroundings as I walk and pausing to take photographs periodically. There are also great destinations to explore in the area surrounding the downtown core of Vancouver. Most of these can be visited by using public transit.

I visit the downtown area of Vancouver and parks and botanical gardens in other parts of the city throughout the year. There are interesting things to see in every season. Spring is my favourite time for a visit to Vancouver, however. I love the appearance of new plants and the other attractions associated with the season. It's a wonderful time for a walk.

Questions & Answers

Question: In what part of Vancouver is the Cherry Blossom Festival held?

Answer: Official events that celebrate the Cherry Blossom Festival take place in multiple areas and communities in Vancouver. The event’s website says that Vancouver contains 43,000 flowering cherry trees and 54 cultivars. The public greatly admires them.

Some examples of community events that are often part of the festival include informational tours of blooming cherry trees, a group walk or a group bicycle ride through an area with blossoms, a social media photo event which enables people to share their photographs of cherry blossoms, a Haiku competition, musical performances, events with illumination, and picnics and/or other meals emphasizing Japanese food.

There’s usually a special event or events at John Hendry Park, Queen Elizabeth Park, the VanDusen Botanical Garden, and Stanley Park, which are all located in Vancouver. Other parks and the downtown area of Vancouver may also hold special events. Christ Church Cathedral was involved in the 2018 celebration.

A highlight of each year’s festival is the Sakura Days Japan Fair. The event celebrates many aspects of Japanese culture, including food, music, dance, haiku, art, and crafts. A popular lantern parade is part of the fair. A ticket must be purchased to see the event, which is generally held at the VanDusen Botanical Garden.

© 2014 Linda Crampton

Related Articles