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The Drive - Where the Locals Go in Vancouver


The lively 16-block area of Commercial Drive (between Broadway and Venables) is an enormously popular district with locals, but is often overlooked by tourists. The main reason for tourists to come here is to discover the most diverse mix of people, dining, shopping, and entertainment that Vancouver has to offer; in fact Commercial Drive might just be the most culturally diverse neighbourhood in North America.

Any walk along "The Drive," as it is known by Vancouverites, will quickly show you that there is an almost complete absence of chain stores and fast-food outlets, indeed the McDonalds went out of business and became a gym. Not that this will unduly concern you for too long as you will soon be open-mouthed at the abundance of culinary and shopping choices that this vibrant community has on offer. If you fancy an ice-cream on Commercial Drive the selection, from the hundreds on offer, will include chili, Gorgonzola, or lavender. If you want a coffee, the options on Commercial Drive aren't small, medium, or large; theyâ?Tre Ethiopian, Vietnamese, or Cuban. There are numerous fruit and vegetable stores along "The Drive" too, ideal if you want to buy supplies for a picnic.

During the 1870s and '80s, Commercial Drive was a skid road that supplied logs to the Hastings Sawmill on Burrard Inlet. After WWI there was a big influx of Italian, Chinese, and Eastern European immigrants. After WWII a further wave of Italian immigrants established the basis for today's Commercial Drive, which was called "Little Italy" for decades.

Commercial Drive is easy to reach on the Skytrain. Get off at either Broadway or Commercial Drive stations and head towards the North Shore mountains. You may at first wonder if this rundown-looking area is the right place, but don't turn back. After a block or two you'll begin to see shops, cafes, and restaurants that will pique your interest. The First Ravioli Store has numerous varieties of handmade ravioli for sale, as well as more traditional reminders of Commercial Drive's Italian heritage such as olives and prosciutto. Harambe offers Ethiopian food including; Tibs, beef chunks sautéed in onion, rosemary, and spiced butter; and Dorowat, chicken breast cooked in sweet onion with a barbecue-like sauce. La grotta del Formaggio is full of cheese and bread, while next door is a sumptuous Italian bakery, Fratellis. Again, these are ideal places for picnic supplies. Tierra del Sol specializes in South American art that is obtained directly from the indigenous artists who created them.

For an eclectic choice of magazines, design books, and funky calendars, try the Magpie Magazine Gallery. Next door is the Cafe Abruzzo Cappuccino Bar, probably the best place in Vancouver to watch international football matches, with the games on around lunchtime, due to the eight or nine hours time difference between Vancouver and England, Spain, and Italy. On the other side of the street is Beckwomans, where you can buy hammocks, incense, and belly-dancing supplies, while next door is the Doctor Vigari Gallery selling art and pottery by artists from the neighbourhood.

In the next block you will find Grandview Park. On the Saturday evening preceeding Halloween, this park is the starting point for an unusual celebration. The Parade of the Lost Souls is an attempt to regain some of the significance of such seasonal festivals as Halloween, the Day of the Dead and All Saints Day. This parade is a colourful torch-lit procession, whose participants whiten their faces and carry pumpkin lamps, to the delight of the people who follow this ghostly group as they wend their way through the local neighbourhoods. Overlooking the park is Stella's, a tapas bar with a great variety of Belgian beers. Rime is a restaurant that serves traditional Turkish food such as Hunkar Begendi, Sultan's Delight, lamb shanks braised in tomatoes and garlic.

Dutch Girl Chocolates sells handmade chocolates, including a Kama Sutra selection and real Dutch licorice, which you can purchase by the piece. Finally on reaching Venables Street there is another excellent bakery, Uprising. By this time, you will be planning a further visit to The Drive to linger in a cafe or buy a souvenir before returning home.

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