Vancouver may not be the biggest or oldest city in the world, but it does have plenty of secrets that even some locals may not have discovered yet. From quirky bits of history, you walk past every day
Located on the south side of False Creek and connecting Market Hill to Millbank, Leg-In-Boot Square has possibly the weirdest street name in Vancouver. Now a concrete shopping plaza it was once the location of a police precinct office.
One day in 1887, half of a human leg, complete with the boot, washed up on the shore of False Creek. The leg was taken to the precinct off, under the assumption the police might want to investigate. The police took one look and instead of considering the possibility of a brutal murder, or at least a savage assault they decided it would be best treated a lost property issue.
They took the leg and stuck it on a spike in the square in front of the precinct office and waited for the owner to hop on over and claim their missing limb. Unsurprisingly no one turned up and after two, presumably quite smelly weeks the leg was taken down and ‘disposed of.’
Movies at the Morgue
Sticking with the Vancouver police, but this time at the Vancouver Police Museum, how about a nice sit-down, some popcorn, and a movie in the old Vancouver city morgue? For $10 a ticket you can spend a couple of hours in the room where Vancouverites were taken to be cut up after their deaths right up until 1980.
“Movies at the Morgue” invites you to bring along your blankets and cushions and snuggle up among the autopsy equipment for an evening of film fun. The room still has the steel tables where bodies were dissected, a wall full of body part samples in specimen trays, and the screen is set up on an open corpse storage drawer.
This year the program has a theme – Vancouver Noir, and you can come along and watch Taxi Driver in March and Chinatown in April. See here for more details, if you dare.
Just a few blocks away from the police museum is Salmagundi West. I cannot count the number of times I have passed this store and assumed it is just another antique shop – how wrong could I be?
Imagine if your crazy grandma and a mad scientist got together and put all of their stuff in an attic and you had the chance to rummage through it. That is the essence of Salmagundi West.
Not only do they have the most eclectic collection of oddities you are ever likely to see under one roof, but they also have resident ghosts and a staff that is more than happy to spend their time chatting.
Storm Crow Tavern
If you are feeling peckish, fancy a quick drink, and want to play a game of Cards Against Humanity while you’re at it, then the Stormcrow is the spot for you. Opening in 2011 this quirky place on Commercial Drive sold itself as Vancouver’s first nerd bar, but to think of it as ‘just a nerd bar’ is to sell this hidden gem short.
Game of Thrones nights are hugely popular and what could be better than to watch the latest episode and see who George has killed off this week in a bar packed full of your fellow GoT fans? If that is not your thing the Crow is packed full of board and card games, never show sports on the TV and have a rolling menu with weekly specials. Oh, and Nerdin’ Trivia Tuesdays, and all of your favorite sci-fi weapons lovingly recreated and goblets.
Four blocks from Main Street, on West Hastings, tucked away behind an innocuous storefront is the Academie Duello, a museum, a store, and the place to the art of swordplay all under one roof.
Academie Duello is the largest sword fighting school in the world and has been teaching Historical Swordplay in Vancouver since 2004 to participants aged eight years and up.
You can learn defense arts with a rapier, a longsword, sword and shield, polearms, ‘walking stick and umbrella self-defense, mounted combat, and archery. Beginners need nothing other than enthusiasm to learn, and the Academie provides all weapons (which are unsharpened and have blunt tips!).
There are even a kids “Knights Camp” for 8 to 14-year-olds which teach, among other things, Obedience & Nobility, Courage & Humility, Integrity & Valour, longsword, and staff, The camp culminates in a Knights Tournament, which is open to parents to watch.
The Regional Assembly of Text
Two years after graduating Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design Rebecca Dolen & Brandy Fedoruk opened The Regional Assembly of Text. This tiny store features all kinds of items designed and built by the talented pair with a focus on text as their theme. All things are made onsite by the couple who are helped out by the resident cat.
As well as the beautiful stationery, cards, gift boxes, chalkboards, t-shirts, and more in the store there is a reading room called the lowercase. Previously a storage closet, this nine by 3 feet space has a cozy little seating area and houses hundreds of zines and self-published books, and you can ask to have your book there too.
Located at 3934 Main Street, they also host a monthly letter writing club. Open to everyone, there is no need to register, just turn up at 7 pm, and all supplies are provided!
The Shameful Tiki Room
No windows, super quiet background music and decor imported from California, Tonga, and Fiji, the Shameful Tiki Room is a throwback to a forgotten era. Designed so people can talk to each other over shared plates of food and exotic vintage cocktails, they host old movie nights, cocktail nights, and a variety of live surf bands.
Perhaps you would like to join their Rum Club? Members get a passport, and when you have tasted rum from 50 countries around the world, you receive a members-only T-Shirt, and a commemorative plaque is put up on the Tiki Room wall so everyone can share in your achievement.
If you want to enjoy the evening among pufferfish lamps, recaptured artwork from a historic Vancouver hotel, and, of course, plenty of Tiki carvings, hula on over to the Shameful Tiki Room on Main Street and escape to Polynesia for the night.
The CRAB in CRAB Park has nothing to do with tasty crustaceans; it is an acronym which stands for the name of the neighbourhood park committee which lobbied the Park Board for a new park. The committee was called Create A Real Beach, hence “CRAB Park.”
Tucked away at the northern end of Main Street this 2.5 hectares of green space and beach is a quiet oasis from the hectic bustle of Gastown and the DTES. A crescent shore looks across to the docks, and you can watch the cranes at work, and the container ships come and go. This may not sound fun but it is surprisingly tranquil here, and the city is beautifully framed from this spot. Along with the monuments and sculptures, there are two playgrounds, a water spray park, washrooms, and an off-leash area, so there is something here for everyone.
If an escape room and a scavenger hunt got together and had a baby, you would get “Vancouver Mysteries. After you choose your adventure, you will receive a rendezvous point and game kit then you hit the streets of downtown to solve a Gastown murder mystery, complete a secret mission in the Spy Game or save the planet in the Heros and Villans Superhero adventure.
Pounding the pavement, you will work your way around a route, working against the clock and solving puzzles as you go. Get back to the Game Operator before your time runs out, discover your score and receive your team certificate.
If you are looking for a glamorous 1950’s dressing gown, some hand painted 1940’s neckties, a 1920’s glass bead necklace or maybe a 1910’s hat then get yourself over to Commercial Drive and discover 3000 square feet of beautiful, one of a kind vintage items.
It has an amazing array of everything from wedding dresses to military uniforms and if you are planning a visit just make sure you have a full belly because you won’t be leaving in a hurry and I know people who have spent so much time here a search party was sent in to find them. Then a search party was sent to the first search party – this place is that fabulous. Go there if you dare.
What secret spots do you want to share?