It would be easy for a visitor to overlookÂ Richmond, BC â€”land of mini-malls and big-box storesâ€”while visiting nearby Vancouver.
But Richmond is an island, with an islandâ€™s watery charms, and it is a worthy destination for day-trippers.
Descending intoÂ Vancouver International Airport,Â you stare down on Richmondâ€™s hard, grey, flat expanse of roadways and rooftops and retail.Â But look to the edge of the frame, to the soft-ripened spot where the dyke holds back the mighty Fraser River: nowÂ thatâ€™s a place you ought to get to knowâ€”especially in springtime.
Richmond is below sea level and the 80-km dyke that rings the island is one of the cityâ€™s best featuresâ€”and not merely as a safety measure.
Dubbed the “Richmond Riviera” by some locals, it’s at once a backyard fitness track, a rich habitat forÂ migratory birds, and a quiet refuge for the world-weary (except for the two weeks in 2010 when the riversideÂ Olympic speed-skating oval was a little busy).
Getting there is easy.
It’s a short distance from downtown Vancouver to the heart of Richmond, but traffic can make it seem much longer.
Forget the car, and consider instead taking the Canada Line to central Richmond.
Get off at the Lansdowne stop and then grab a cab (or bring your bike, or just walk) a kilometre or two to pick up the dyke trail near the Olympic Oval.
Go in spring, when warmer weather wakes up the critters that call the marshland home.
If time is short, walk from the Oval to Terra Nova Park, just a little distance further along the river.
But if you have the luxury of a full day, start your walk or bike ride fromÂ Steveston village, where the annual farmersâ€™ and artisansâ€™ market gets underway in the parking lot of the historicÂ Gulf of Georgia cannery every Sunday starting in late May until September.
The cannery is one of two national historic sites worth visiting: the other is the nearby Britannia Heritage Shipyards. Both are engaging, family-friendly exhibits that illuminate Steveston’s fishing-village past.
Grab a cone of fish and chips fromÂ Daveâ€™s orÂ Pajoâ€™s, and then settle down at nearbyÂ Garry Point Park to catch the serendipitous photo-op of the day: Japanese box-kites slashing through the sky, or colourful fishing boats sauntering home for supper, or wizened old ladies practicing Tai Chi on the beach. Or go on a whale-watching tour.
Stay long enough and you might even catch an epic sunsetâ€”a not-quickly-forgotten magenta stain in the sky over the distantÂ Gulf Islands.
When it’s time for dinner, stop in at one of the 375 Chinese restaurants throughout Richmond.
Almost 70 per cent of Richmond’s population is of Asian heritage–a fact reflected in the city’s many Asian-inspired malls, specialty grocery stores, temples and excellent eateries.
Richmond more accurately represents modern Asian-Canadian culture than Vancouver’s downtownÂ Chinatown, and the quickest way to experience that cultural vibe is to head to the so-called Golden Village, the commercial district contained within four busy blocks between the Aberdeen and Lansdowne stations along the Canada Line. (And a trip to the Golden Village is a great way to kill a long layover at YVR.)
In summer, check out the Summer Night Market–as close to as an authentic Asian night market as you’re likely to find in North America.
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