The following article was contributed by Vancouver travel writer and Lonely Planet author John Lee (@johnleewriter)
Which is a shame, because the peninsula – attached to the mainland, it isn’t actually an island – is ideal for a spot of easy on-foot exploring.
A False Creek neighbourhood built on two expanded sandbanks and intended to house factories in the early1900s – many called it “Mud Island” before the name Granville Island (after the bridge that soars over it) took hold – the run-down area was transformed into an artsy enclave of studios, theatres and shopping opportunities via a successful 1970s regeneration project.
But you’ll find several reminders of its former life by strolling slightly off the beaten track along Cartwright Street. Between the artisan studio sheds, look out for the old train tracks embedded in the roads and sidewalks. Then continue on to the intersection with Johnston Street for an even more impressive, camera-worthy blast from the past.
The towering, yellow-painted dockside crane perched here has been preserved to recall Granville Island’s gritty old days. And in recent years it’s become an area landmark – a mini arts festival was even held in its shadow for the first time in 2012.
Step across to the False Creek waterfront from here and you’ll see how much the area has changed from the days when sawmills and chain-making workshops defined it. The large, brightly-coloured houseboats gently bobbling in the water here seem both palatial and cozy – and have far more character than the generic glass towers just across the water.
Now that you’re on Johnston Street, weave westerly towards the gaggle of hipster students permanently hanging around about halfway along. The heart of Emily Carr University of Art + Design, nip inside here to see what’s on at the free-entry Charles H. Scott Gallery. Until October 21, there’s an exhibition by pioneering Swiss contemporary artist John Armleder.
The next building along couldn’t be more different. Started in 1917, Ocean Construction Supplies is the last remnant of Granville Island’s industrial foundation. Peek through the gates at this bustling concrete-making operation and time your next visit for their popular annual open house when parents bring their wide-eyed kids to honk the horns on the trucks.
You’ll notice the crowds thickening again at this point, signaling the proximity of the Public Market. Nip inside to peruse the deli stalls and craft stands. And when you’re done, imagine that you’ve just put in a hard day’s work at a Mud Island factory and treat yourself to an end-of-day beer. The newly refurbished Taproom at Granville Island Brewing is just a few steps away – their October-released small-batch Pumpkin Ale should quench your thirst perfectly.