Map: Downtown

Start your tour by walking around (1) Canada Place (999 Canada Place; www.canadaplace.ca). Built for Expo 86 and distinctive with its five white “sails,” Canada Place looks like a massive sailing ship. It is home to the convention center, Pan Pacific Hotel, IMAX Theater, and cruise ship berths. The promenade, which encircles the building, has some fantastic public art and informative displays—not to mention views.

From Canada Place, take a right. You’ll pass the tourist info center and see the seaplane terminal on your right. Turn left on Burrard Street. At 355 Burrard you’ll see the (2) Marine Building. Completed in 1930, the building is one of Canada’s finest examples of art deco design. Look closely and you can see a flock of Canada geese, lobsters, crabs, prawns, and starfish etched in the stone.

From here, continue up Burrard to Georgia Street. You can’t help but notice the stony presence of (3) Christ Church Cathedral (690 Burrard Street; www.cathedral.vancouver.bc.ca). Completed in 1895, the Gothic structure, composed of Douglas fir and sandstone, stands as a beacon of the past amid Vancouver’s newer, glassy constructions. The acoustics in this Anglican church are truly astounding. If you can, try to come back for a choral performance.

Cross Georgia Street and pause at the doors to (4) Fairmont Hotel Vancouver (900 W. Georgia Street; www.fairmont.com/hotelvancouver), one of Canada’s majestic railway hotels. The Canadian National Railway began its construction, but it took 11 depression-wracked years before the 12-million-dollar hotel was completed, in conjunction with the Canadian Pacific Railway. It opened in 1939, in time for a visit from King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The château style and copper roof make it a distinctive part of the Vancouver skyline.

Continue up Burrard Street. At the northeast corner of Burrard and Robson Street, you’ll see the (5) Vancouver Public Library building (788 Burrard Street), now a Virgin Megastore and the home of Vancouver’s CTV television station and store. Making a statement about the need for social change, this modernist building, built between 1955 and 1957, was a controversial move away from the staid conservatism of classical library architecture.

From here, if you take a right, you’ll find yourself on (6) Robson Street (www.robsonstreet.ca), one of the finest shopping and people-watching areas in Vancouver. But save your shopping for after the tour and instead continue up Burrard to Nelson Street. Take a left. At 989 Nelson is the (7) B.C. Electric Building, more commonly known as the BC Hydro Building, now home to the Electra condominiums. Unique for its “lozenge” shape, this Modernist structure’s slender profile means nowhere inside is more than 15 feet (4.5 meters) from a window.

Continue down Nelson for half a block and take a left onto Hornby Street, where you’ll find the (8) Provincial Law Courts (800 Smithe Street). Designed by architect Arthur Erickson, the complex covers three city blocks. It is unique in its evocation of West Coast landscape—pools of water inlaid on the roof cascade down the skylights and windows of the offices below. The many ramps and steps mimic mountains and valleys, and provide great little perches for lunching in the sun. At the far end of the complex is (9) Robson Square (800 Robson Street), a sunken bunker below street level, surrounded by a few shops and restaurants. A public ice rink used to operate here, but it shut down several years ago. Plans for its resurrection are under way, however, and General Electric recently pledged to spend 1.6 million dollars restoring the rink in time for the 2010 Olympics.

Directly across Robson Street at 750 Hornby is the (10) Vancouver Art Gallery (www.vanartgallery.bc.ca). Originally a courthouse designed by Francis Rattenbury—the architect who designed Victoria’s Parliament Buildings and the grand Empress Hotel—the neoclassical building includes formal porticos, columns, and ornate stonework. Take a walk around to the Georgia Street side and you’ll see the Centennial Fountain, installed in 1966 to commemorate the union of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. You’ll also notice a giant, 20-foot-high (6-meter-high) clock. Made of steel, Plexiglas, and red cedar, and installed in March 2007, the clock is ticking down the remaining days, hours, minutes, and seconds to the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Go back to the Robson side of the gallery, pick up lunch or a latte, and join the other people-watchers sitting on the art gallery steps.

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