6 Strange Institutions Vancouver Convinced Me a City Should Have

Yes, Vancouver is green, clean, walkable and bike-friendly, and that’s what strikes you at first. But what truly sets it apart from other places is the web of quirky, and surprising institutions that are a proud tradition in this city.

Community Gardens

Every neighborhood in Vancouver has a community garden. How does it work? For a few bucks you rent a box of soil, plant in it something green and edible, let the rain do the watering… and profit.

Community garden on Commercial drive


Walking around this locally sourced flora is fun, and not only for the children. I for one, for the first time in my life learned how exactly cucumbers arrive in this world. And you have to agree, a city that succeeds in raising awareness of cucumber growth practices among adult men, must do something right.

(Update: I’m being told that this is actually a zucchini, not a cucumber. Looks like when it comes to vegetable farming, I still have some learning to do)


This family is going to enjoy the self-grown carrots they just picked up from their box in the Beaconsfield Park community garden
Davie Village community garden, right in the heart of downtown.


Microbreweries On Every Corner

Vancouver has so many craft beer breweries, that many of them are named by the neighborhoods or even the streets they are on: Powell Street brewery, Main Street brewery, Coal Harbor brewery, Strathcona Beer Company, and many more. There are still streets, bridges and park benches unclaimed by a brewery, but those are disappearing fast.

Granville Island brewery, located just under the Granville island, was the first microbrewery in Canada
This is the Main Street brewery, in the historic Brewery Creek district in Mount Pleasant, just off Main street. Its Scottish Golden Ale is pretty good, and so is its catchy motto: “the main thing is the beer!”
The Red Truck brewery has a distinct “this is for real men” feel to it. Its brand features an old red truck and its ale is rugged and bitter. But this is Vancouver, and so after a recent mural festival in the neighborhood, it also has colorful, silly faces on its reservoirs
The local beer is going through a rigorous sniffing test by our QA team


Inclusive Public Pools

What can be less exciting than a pool? A chlorinated water reservoir where lined up bodies move in straight lines – hardly something to write about. Well, enter Kitsilano pool – the complete opposite of every boring pool out there. Located on the Kitsilano beach, its view on the North Shore Mountains and the English bay is breathtaking. Want more? It’s a saltwater and heated outdoor pool.

Kitsilano pool is the second longest outdoors pool in Canada

So what makes it inclusive? For one, it’s wheelchair accessible. Not as in “you can enter the pool building on a wheelchair” accessible, but as in “you can wheel right into the water” accessible. It also has aquatic wheelchairs one can use freely.


Operated by city, the public pools’ entrance fees are very low. In Kitsilano pool, it’s $6 for an entire family. That’s the closest to true communism the humanity has ever come.

The pools are so inclusive here, that even seagulls feel welcomed to join in on the fun.

Here’s another way the pools here ensure that everyone is comfortable using them: universal change rooms and “Trans people welcome” signs.

Signs in Hillcrest pool

The children here are first-class citizens as well. The children corner in the Hillcrest public pool is a full-blown aquatic playground with free-for-use floating toys, suddenly appearing fountains and a mini “river swirl” where children can learn to keep on the water while moving with the flow.


You see, in Vancouver a pool isn’t a consumerist perk of country club members, but an unalienable right of every person.


Non-Profit Cooperative Bike Shops

Sure, you could get your 70’s vintage bike from one of the myriad bike shops across the city (don’t ask my why vintage, but that’s what goes here). But Vancouver offers a more egalitarian alternative: cooperatives. These are non-profits, where volunteers are happy to help you choose your new soulmate bike, Do-It-Yourself stands give you all the tools you need to fix your existing one, and bike mechanics workshops allow to learn the craft of bicycle maintenance – so that no capitalist would take advantage of your bicycle illiteracy.

“Our Community Bikes” on Main street has opened in 1993. Calling itself “radical since inception”, it continues to be one of the longest standing community bike shops in the world.
A large board at the entrance reminds everyone on which lands the shop stands. It also asks visitors to “be mindful of their word choices and conversation topics, respect the names and pronouns of everyone, and allow people the space to define themselves”
Bike Kitchen cooperative on the University of British Columbia campus allows you to return a bike you purchased there at any time for half the original price. It’s also gay-friendly, but what isn’t in Vancouver?


Marijuana Dispensaries

How could I pass over Vancouver’s favorite pass time? There are 80 dispensaries all across the city, all ready to help you with your depression, headaches and irritable bowel syndrome. All you need is a referral from a doctor, which is mostly a formality.

Dispensary on Commercial drive
The vaping guy in the bottom right effectively delivers the message of the murals
Who said that weed is only for millennials?
In Haifa we have Nargila (Hookah) King, in Vancouver the king is Vapour
In Haifa we have Nargila (Hookah) King, in Vancouver Personal Vaporizer is the king
This dispensary on East Hastings knows exactly what it can help you with


Community Centers, Family Houses & Neighborhood Houses

Every neighborhood in Vancouver has a community center. Imagine a modern building with a gym, a library, a host of activities for children and adults, and sometimes even a skating rink – that’s a community center. They are operated by the city and are just as fundamental to the social fabric of the city as kindergartens and schools.

Mount Pleasant Community Center
Man in the Moon is an early literacy program for fathers and their young children hosted in libraries across the city. This one is in the library branch of the Mount Pleasant Community Center


Many neighborhoods also have family centers, where parents can come with their children for a family drop-in.

Mount Pleasant Family Center

Which means that you get a child-friendly space stocked with toys and books and friendly staff ready to help parents with parenting ‘best practices’.

Inside the Mount Pleasant Family Center


In addition to all that, neighbourhoods also have neighbourhood houses, which organize local festivals, hold classes for adults and help immigrants adapt and socialize through workshops and trainings.

“Ethnic lunch” in Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House
Always wanted to learn the Chinese watercolours technique? The neighbourhood house is your best friend


Bonus: Farmers Markets

From May till October, every weekend the city is overrun with farmer markets. Organized by a non-profit society, their goal is to promote locally-grown food and support independent farmers. Also – support retired country musicians whom seem to be an inevitable part of every such market.

Mount Pleasant Farmers Market


You’ll find here fresh (mostly organic) fruits and vegetables, baked goods, artisan food products, fresh fish, local craft beer, and even artisan vodka!



The markets are producer-only and all of the vendors make, bake, grow, or catch what they sell. No imports or re-selling of products are allowed at the markets.

The sign at Trout Lake Farmers Market explains that 60% of the stalls in the markets are reserved for local “primary producers” such as farmers, ranchers, fishers.


What are your favorite Vancouver institutions that may be surprising to people not from here? Share in the comments!

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