604 Neighbourhoods is a weekly series appearing on the Inside Vancouver blog that will feature photos, history, and information about some of the city’s most distinct communities. Today’s feature is Coal Harbour, on the north side of the West End, where the Burrard Inlet meets Stanley Park and downtown Vancouver.
Coal Harbour is bordered by Burrard Street, West Georgia, and Pender (where Pender and Georgia pinch together toward Stanley Park). Much of Coal Harbour consists of seawall pathways and the only hustle and bustle you’ll find here is from cyclists, runners, and floatplanes taking off. Boats bob in the marina while harbour seals poke their heads up to greet passersby.
This residential neighbourhood may seem pretty sleepy but really, all you want to do anyway is sit on the grass at Harbour Green Park and look out over the water at the snow-capped North Shore mountains. That is if you’re not enjoying a harbour cruise, dinner with a view, an event in the convention centre, an interactive experience at Canada Place, or attending a community festival at Jack Poole Plaza.
On June 13th, 1859 coal was indeed found in Coal Harbour, giving it its name despite no sustained commercial mining ever happening in the area. Later that century, Coal Harbour boomed with lumber, shipping, railways, and other industries as it was conveniently situated on the edge of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s terminus.
The Coal Harbour shipyards were destroyed by fire in the 1950s and industries were removed in the 1960s and 1970s. The Westin Bayshore was built in 1961 and at the time it stuck out on its own peninsula over the water. Now, with all of the residential development in the 1990s and seawall structure, it fits right into the reclaimed landscape.
In 1986, Canada Place and its iconic sails were built in the Burrard Inlet, providing a cruise ship terminal, a hotel, and a convention centre. The convention centre was expanded in time for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics providing a new, state of the art green building (with a green roof) now called Convention Centre West.
The Mill Marine Bistro is somewhat of a hidden gem in Coal Harbour as it doesn’t have a street entrance. It’s tucked down under Cordova where it meets Broughton but the only way in is via the seawall. It’s a great patio for people-watching or for a pint after a round of Frisbee on the adjacent lawn. Out front a city splash park springs to life during the summer months making it a cool oasis for tuckered out cyclists, families and their four-legged friends when the sun is out.
The WestEnder interviewed Daniel Frankel of the Daniel Hospitality Group in 2012 about his company’s success, especially in Coal Harbour:
In 1999, I moved into the ’hood. It was the very early days of the Coal Harbour residential community, but I quickly felt right at home and forged some very strong and lasting friendships. In September 2001, I opened my first business in Coal Harbour, which was a small café in the heart of the community, at the Coal Harbour Community Centre. This was my very first foodservice business and the beginning of what would later be known as the Daniel Group. Twenty months later I opened The Mill Marine Bistro, which quickly became the neighbourhood local, and I was thrilled to have had the opportunity to provide this social amenity.
Many of the hotels in Coal Harbour not only offer beautiful North Shore views but they have restaurants that offer up the best of the region such as: ORU Restaurant at the Fairmont Pacific Rim; Preston’s in the Coast Coal Harbour; Seawall Bar and Grill at the Westin Bayshore; and Tableau at the Loden Hotel.
Other dining options include the newly-opened Cactus Club Coal Harbour adjacent to Jack Poole Plaza and the Olympic cauldron, Mahony & Sons at Burrard Landing (attached to Convention Centre West), award-winning Hapa Izakaya Japanese tapas, Cardero’s right on the water at the foot of Cardero Street, and Lift Bar and Grill located on the seawall.
Stanley Park has got to be Vancouver’s most popular natural attraction and the best way to get there is on foot, in my opinion. If you’re coming from out of town you can take the SkyTrain or Canada Line to Waterfront. Then all you need to do is walk out the doors of the station, down Cordova Street, and slip onto the seawall once you get to the Vancouver Convention Centre. Take the oceanfront path all the way into the park where forest trails, a rose garden, the Vancouver Aquarium, Prospect Point, and much more awaits.
The walk will take at least 30 minutes so you can also hop on a #19 Metrotown/Stanley Park bus which goes down Pender Street and into the park. Many of the Hop-On, Hop-Off tour buses like the Vancouver Trolley also have stops right in front of Waterfront station that will take you into the park and around town. For a view from the water, you can take a Harbour Cruise tour or dinner cruise from the marina outside the Westin Bayshore.
The main attraction in Coal Harbour is the harbour itself which has seemingly endless options photo opportunities. There’s Douglas Coupland’s Digital Orca at Jack Poole Plaza along with the Vancouver 2010 Olympic cauldron. Then there’s the seaplane terminal where you can watch planes take off and land (or take a scenic tour or trip to Vancouver Island, Salt Spring Island, Tofino or Whistler).
Heading west along the seawall the landscape is dotted with public art pieces and the Coal Harbour Community Centre hosts special events and activities.
You’ll definitely know what time it is when you’re in Coal Harbour in the evening as the Nine O’Clock Gun in Stanley Park fires every night like clockwork. The cannon belts out a blast that can sometimes be heard in the far corners of the city — but nowhere like in Coal Harbour.