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 Kitsilano (“Kits”), which was the first community I lived in when I moved to into Vancouver proper in the summer of 2005. My apartment there was right above a restaurant and coffee shop, on a bus route, a few blocks from the beach, across from a park, and within walking distance of a local market. When you mix that convenience with Kits’ easy-going family-friendly West Coast lifestyle, you get one of the city’s most popular neighbourhoods.
As with many neighbourhoods in Vancouver, Kitsilano is bordered by water. Its boundaries are Burrard Street to the east, 16th Avenue to the south, Alma to the west, and Burrard Inlet to the north. Kitsilano Beach on the western side leads into residential waterfront properties as you head east and over toward Jericho Beach Park (wich then becomes the neighbourhood of West Point Grey).
The first Vancouver-centric neighbourhood blog I found back in 2005 was Kitsilano.ca, founded by Rob Lewis. “I really started Kitsilano.ca on a whim. As a long time Kits resident I was active in the community and felt that I had my finger in the pulse of the ‘hood.” Rob told me by email, referencing the blog that is still thriving today. “At the time blogging was pretty novel but traffic to the site quickly grew as I shared my unique insights on the neighbourhood. Unlike other communities in Vancouver, Kitsilano is a very defined area, which made it easier to carve out a niche with residents that are proud to call Kits home.”
A unique characteristic of Kitsilano is that from Burrard to MacDonald most of the streets are named after trees (Yew, Pine, Balsam, Arbutus) then from Larch to Alma they are named after famous battles (Trafalgar, Balaclava, Waterloo, Blenheim, Cornwall) a decision that was made in 1907.
August Jack Khatsahlano is the namesake of Kitsilano. August Jack became known for working with Vancouver’s early settlers and for recording his peoples’ oral history.
He was born in the village of Xwayxway, which is Stanley Park today. However, in a book by Major J.S. Matthews (Founder of the Vancouver Archives) it says that Squamish Chief August Jack Khatsahlano was born near the site of Burrard Bridge at the village of Snauq along False Creek (according to baptism records). He was the son of Khaytulk “Supple Jack” of Chaytoos and grandson of Chief Khahtsahlanogh.
Major Matthews would chat with August Jack many times over the years and the book “Conversations with Khatsahlano, 1932-1954″ was published with his records. The two discussed everything from area history, legends, and traditions like the Potlatch, to food preparations and plants for medicine.
Many of Kitsilano’s open spaces remain for public use thanks to a few key players in the city’s history that include philanthropist Harvey Hadden and settler Sam Greer (Kitsilano Beach used to be known as Greer Beach).
By the 1960s Kitsilano became an inexpensive place to live as it was close enough to downtown but far enough on the outskirts of the growing metropolis, helping hippie culture thrive. At that time the ever-popular Naam Cafe (located on West 4th at MacDonald) was founded and it’s still a favourite vegetarian and vegan hangout today (their miso gravy is a must-try). Greenpeace was founded in Vancouver with its first office on West 4th, the Green Party of BC and subsequently the Green Party of Canada also had their first offices in Kits. Popular yoga and lifestyle apparel brand Lululemon was also first based in Kitsilano.
There are 240 businesses along West 4th alone, many of which are restaurants, then there is West Broadway and West 10th. Las Margaritas, The Oakwood Canadian Bistro, Bimini Public House, Abigail’s Party, Q4, and Grammercy Grill, and award-winning Maenam are just a small sampling of the variety of dining options.
There are no big box stores in Kitsilano, just boutiques spot the landscape between coffee shops and dentists’ offices and a few familiar brand-name suppliers and outlets. If you’re going to shop in Kits though, you need to Shop West 4th. This retail avenue consists of clusters of like-minded shops and restaurants throughout its Kitsilano stretch. Health-minded stores, then a group of salons and beauty-based boutiques, outdoor gear in another few blocks followed by home decor.
The Georgia Straight interviewed retail consultant Richard Wozny, Principal of Site Economics Ltd. last year for an article called: “Kitsilano rises as Vancouver retail hot spot” in 2012: “One of the prime attractions of West 4th Avenue, [Wozny] says, is convenience. The area around Vine and Yew streets includes Whole Foods Market, Safeway, Shoppers Drug Mart, coffee and tea shops, and bread, produce, and meat stores.”
While there is no rapid transit, there are plenty of bus options to get you out to Kitsilano from downtown hubs, the Broadway/Commercial SkyTrain line, and South Vancouver. Kitsilano is the northern route students and staff take to get to the University of British Columbia so buses are frequent and incude the 99 B-Line express. Beaches are accessed along Cornwall Ave with buses #2, #22, #32 and West 4th’s famous shops are along bus routes #4 and #7. Broadway has the #9, #14, and the #99 B-Line.
My favourite way to get over to Kitsilano from our home in the West End is with the False Creek Ferry, which departs from the Aquatic Centre on the downtown side of the Burrard Bridge and takes you over to the Vancouver Maritime Museum at Hadden Park on Kits Point. There are also many marked bike routes throughout the residential streets.
I never expect any Kitsilano resident to ever utter the words “there’s nothing to do here” because it has so many museums, festivals, and parks. Summer is a very busy time for festivals like Bard on the Beach, Greek Day, Car Free Day, Khatsahlano Festival, and more.
You’ll also find the Museum of Vancouver, the City of Vancouver Archives, the Vancouver Maritime Museum, and the HR MacMillan Space Centre all within walking distance between Vanier Park and Kits Point.
On top of the seasonal events and farmers markets, there’s always the community ice rink, the beach-side pool, a number of parks and off-leash dog areas, and seaside vantage points to take in views of the North Shore and the sparkling city of Vancouver.