Queer Girl City Guide: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

0. 2/20/2012 – Here/Queer Call for Submissions, by Riese
1. 3/02/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Montreal, Canada, by Sid
2. 3/05/2012 – Playlist: Here/Queer, by Riese
3. 3/05/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Portland, Oregon, by Lesbians in PDX
4. 3/07/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Brighton, United Kingdom, by Sarah Magdalena
5. 3/07/2012 – Oh But To Be A Queer in Sicily, by Jenn
6. 3/08/2012 – City Guide: Seattle, by Marley
7. 3/11/2012 – City Guide: Washington DC, by Keena
8. 3/13/2012 – Here/Queer: Sydney Mardi Gras Is On Your To-Do List, by Crystal
9. 3/14/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Spokane, Washington, by Ana
10. 3/15/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Cleveland, Ohio, by Lora
11. 3/16/2012 – Madison, WI and W4W Entertainment, by Emily
12. 3/16/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Dublin, Ireland, by Una
13. 3/19/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Vancouver, Canada, by Kathryn

Hello ladies! My name is Kathryn and I have the distinct pleasure of introducing you to my hometown: Vancouver, British Columbia. Although I was born and raised right in central Van, I’ve only been out for just over a year, so I’m still getting comfortable in the queer scene. If any of you are Vancouver Queer Scene experts — and I imagine that you are — please give your own tips in the comments!

Oh, Canada!

Vancouver’s North Shore

In addition to being a naturally spectacular city, Vancouver is one of the most LGBT friendly cities in Canada, second only to Toronto or maybe Montreal. Homosexuality was made legal in Canada in 1969 and the province of British Columbia has had same-sex marriage equality since 2003. Personally, I’ve never encountered overt or violent homophobia and I feel like most people are indifferent, which is awesome.

When people do stare, or ask questions, its usually out of basic curiosity and not animosity. Our country’s citizens have a reputation for being polite and friendly and this kindness is usually extended to all minority groups including LGBTs. I know we’re responsible for Bieber, but Canada loves the gays, y’all.

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Pride

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West End

The annual Pride Parade shows our city’s spirit and attracts over 600,000 unique spectators from all over the lower mainland and beyond. Everyone from the mayor to members of small social justice groups participate in this event. It’s organized by the Vancouver Pride Society, a non-profit organization that hosts a multitude of LGBT events all year round. I had the opportunity to volunteer for them as an office assistant last year and the amount of dedication and work that goes into planning pride is staggering.

The Festival typically takes place on the B.C. day long weekend (the last one in July), and includes the Davie Street Dance Party, the Terry Wallace Memorial Breakfast, the Parade and the Sunset Beach Festival. It’s one crazy, half-remembered, sparkly, rainbow filled weekend full of homosexual magic. You should come.

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Welcome to the Gaybourhood

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There are two main gaybourhoods: The Davie Street area (aka the West End) and the Commercial Drive area. Davie Street is host to a multitude of fabulous gay bars including Celebrities, Numbers, the Junction, 1181, and the Fountainhead. Saturday is Dyke night at Oasis Ultra Lounge, which is opportunely located above a 24 hour Denny’s. I’ve frequented said establishment for many drunken 4am eating binges that I’m not proud of. The best/worst part is, there’s a jukebox, and I remember on one occasion a posse of annoyingly drunk straight girls managed to get the whole restaurant to sing along with them to “Shape of my Heart” by the Backstreet Boys. Good times? Who knows, but I digress.

Little Sister’s

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LGBT Bookstores

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The West End is also home to Little Sister’s, which I believe is the only LGBT bookstore in the city. This little hidden away treasure has long been the subject of controversy. They’ve fought a long battle against government censorship, seizure of materials at customs, and even violent attacks.

I’m a former film school student, so believe me when I say that The National Film Board of Canada is an amazing institution that has produced some of the most memorable material in our nation’s history. They created a documentary about this store called Little Sister’s vs. Big Brother, that is hard to find, but totally worth watching because it interviews some important authors like Jane Rule and Sarah Schulman.

It’s ironic that a government funded body created a piece critiquing the government. But then again, we have publicly funded news here that’s subject to an arms length government commission (the CBC), so I guess it’s not so strange.

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The Drive

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Anyways, The West End, although friendly to all the colours of the rainbow, is mostly populated by gay men. Commercial Drive is where the lesbians are at. This funky east side neighbourhood is located at a major transit hub (the Sky Train) and originally hosted a large Italian Canadian population. More recently, the drive has been taken over by poor students, hipsters and dykes. The annual Vancouver Dyke March, which is led by the awesome Rainbow Concert (Marching) Band, takes place on Commercial during Pride. There are many affordable bars, various “ethnic” restaurants and coffee shops all along that street. The best place to have coffee and check out cute gay ladies is definitely Cafe Deux Soleil, which also hosts poetry slams, open mic nights and live bands. (I know, awesome right?)

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Music Scene

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Vancouver has a phenomenal indie music scene. Bands like The New Pornographers, The Organ (featured on The L Word), Mother Mother, and Hot Hot Heat all got their start in B.C. Tegan and Sara are originally from Calgary, but Tegan and her partner have lived here for a while. I tell you this just incase you want to stalk them and ask them awkward questions about how they got to be so darn cute.

Some hidden gem bands I will shamelessly promote are:

Wizerdz
Aunts and Uncles
Joyce Collingwood
Synthcake
Tyranahorse
Hey Ocean

Some of those kids went to my high school, just sayin’. UBC’s CiTR radio and CBC Radio 2 plays some pretty good stuff. You can catch these bands and others at places like, the Railway Club, the Biltmore Cabaret, and the Croatian Cultural Centre.

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Bars/Nightclubs

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Sadly, there aren’t any strictly lesbian bars/venues in Vancouver, rather lesbian friendly nights at certain clubs. There used to be a lesbian bar named Lick, but it closed down last year. It was kind of a dive, but it had Turkish Oil Wrestling, which, let’s face it, is super hot.

Shrine to the one and only Jimi Hendrix

In my modest opinion, a company called Fly Girl Productions organizes the best events. “Hershe Bar” typically takes place on the Sunday of every long weekend at Red Room Ultra Bar or Canvas Lounge. Popular DJs at Hershe include DJ Riki Rocket, DJ Kasey Riot and DJ Miss M, all of whom are smoking hot.

During pride, the event moves to Gossip Nightclub and Blvd 22, which are conveniently located right beside each other! One side blasts filthy Dubstep, and the other a combo of new and old dance hits. I’m partial to both, so it’s always a good time. It’s literally “where the girls are.” 560 on Seymour also has lesbian friendly nights.

However, if you’re really looking for a good time, you must attend a Man Up drag show featuring the intoxicating stage presence of the MC and co-creator: Pony Boy. Man Up takes place at The Cobalt, a dive bar on Main Street that’s been re-appropriated by hipsters and queers alike. The show features lip syncing and dancing acts that leave you wanting more. Also, there is quite a following for Bloody Betty Burlesque shows, which are also held at the Cobalt and tend to be a gruesome good time, although not really my cup of tea.

The Cobalt

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Theatre

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If you’re looking to see a more traditional live show, there are some tremendous little theatre companies in Vancouver. The Arts Club Theatre and Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island put on some pretty awesome stuff, considering there isn’t really much a budget. The Fringe Festival, which takes place in September, is a perfect way to get acquainted with the underground theatre scene. Even though the government has been consistently cutting funding for the arts, locals have banded together to support theatre companies and keep the culture alive. That’s how much this city loves a good musical.

There’s also a great outdoor Shakespearean festival every summer called Bard on the Beach. The staging sometimes makes it difficult to hear, but the acting is always top notch.

Granville Street Bridge

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Restaurants

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There are so many great and culturally diverse restaurants in Vancouver, its hard to know where to begin. This city is extremely multicultural, but Toronto still wins. There’s a massive Asian population here, and I’m proud to be one of millions of Chinese Canadians.

There are also large Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino, and Indian populations here. You should definitely tour Vancouver’s historic Chinatown and visit Sun Yat-Sen Gardens.

Sun Yat-Sen Gardens

If you’re feeling like some authentic Chinese food, I recommend Sun Sui Wah, Hon’s Wun Tun House, Congee Noodle House, or the Kirin if you want something fancy pants. If it’s Japanese you seek, Vancouver has the best sushi selection in Canada. There’s pretty much a sushi bar on every block downtown. I’m partial to Toshi, Shiro, Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, and Ajisai. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, try Japadog (Japanese style hog dogs), Guu, The Eatery or Hapa Izakaya. I could go on forever, but I won’t.

Other popular restaurants include Feenie’s, Vij’s, Las Margaritas, Nuba, Havana and Blue Water Café. Also, the best Vietnamese hole in the wall that I love dearly, is Au Petit Café on Main near 33rd. It’s a family business with the best pho in town.

Chinatown

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Sports

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Up in the Great White North, we really do enjoy us a good old hockey game. The Vancouver Canucks are a fantastic team — we almost won the Stanley Cup last season! Our loss in the Seventh game of the finals to the Bruins was heartbreaking, and worse than that, fuelled a massive riot downtown that caused millions of dollars in damage and cast a shadow on the reputation of our respectful city. It was a haunting echo of a similar occurrence in 1994. Police are still in the process of pressing charges. On a lighter note, we’re doing well this season and will most definitely make it to the playoffs. If you’d like to see a game, they play regularly at Rogers Arena, but the ticket prices are exorbitant.

The B.C. Lions, our football team for the CFL, also won the Grey Cup last year, but there is less spectatorship for this sport. There’s also a soccer team called the Whitecaps, who are off to a good start this season.

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College Life

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Speaking of competitive sport, there are two major universities in the Vancouver area. They are the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. I have had the privilege of attending both, so I can give you a semi-fair opinion.

UBC is a top-notch school, but tends to be little elitist. Most of the funding goes towards the Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The picturesque campus is located on the western tip of the Point Grey area and is surrounded on three sides by ocean. Wreck Beach, Vancouver’s only nude friendly beach, is a 10-15 minute walk away from residence. Unfortunately, Pride UBC is kind of a joke. Maybe it was a fluke, but the only event I went to was a dance that consisted of a tiny room with a dude dancing by himself, two girls making out in a corner, and an Italian soda bar. The horror! The queer ladies tend to hang out at the Women’s Centre, which is tucked away in a corner on the top floor of the Student Union Building beside the Pride office. It’s hard to find, so the space is generally empty, but it has nice couches for taking naps.

Science World

SFU is also an excellent school, but its main campus is located in Burnaby (east of Van) and is considered to be a commuter school. The “Academic Quadrangle” is literally built on top of a mountain that overlooks the greater Vancouver area. A brand new downtown campus for the contemporary arts was just constructed, and some classes are held at Harbour Centre, which is in the heart of the city. More funding is provided for fine and performing arts and the school provides other programs not offered at UBC like Health Sciences, Computer Science and Criminology. SFU’s LGBT centre, named Out on Campus, has a much more inviting atmosphere. I’ve met some legitimately awesome people there and it’s not cliquey at all. If you want to check out cute queer ladies and get some exercise, join the women’s ultimate team (duh).

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What’s It Like To Live Here, I Mean Really Live Here

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Not everything is sunshine and rainbows though. If you are considering moving to this beautiful city, you must take into account that its rains, like ALOT, and the cost of living here is ridiculous. Rent prices are staggering and the only affordable places for students are East Van and the outlying suburbs. Culturally, East Van is where its at, but you’ll still pay anywhere from $400-$1000 a month for a one bedroom. This is balls considering that minimum wage was only recently raised to $9.50/hour and we pay some of the highest tax rates in Canada.

Burrard Street Bridge

It must also be mentioned that our current Federal Conservative government, which is frankly a mild version of the Republican equivalent, has been cutting funding for important social programs such as welfare and pension plans and diverting it towards building prisons. You know what’s great though? We have more than two parties to vote for! The left leaning Liberals and the further left New Democratic Party form the opposition against the evil Conservative reign in Parliament led by the weasel-faced Prime Minister: Stephen Harper. (I’m not biased at all.) There’s also the environmentally conscious Green Party, who nobody really takes seriously enough.

Although our mayor, Gregor Robertson is an avid environmentalist. He rides a bike to work, pushes an eco-friendly agenda and owns a popular brand of organic smoothie drinks called “Happy Planet”. Anyways, I usually support the NDP because they are the only party with candidates who have an LGBT agenda. As a joke, I once voted for the Marxist-Leninist candidate in my riding. I know, I’m a pinko-commie traitor. Only in Canada my friends!

Granville Island Market

Admittedly, although a great nation, Canada is far from perfect. I must also acknowledge the government’s disgraceful treatment of our Aboriginal population. Native peoples are given tax credits and government funding, but are limited to reserves, some of which are in desperate need of basic provisions, like clean water. There are upwards of a hundred unique tribes in the lower mainland alone, each with a distinct language and set of cultural traditions. Many argue that B.C. has appropriated Native cultures and arts in order to create a sense of “West Coast” identity and promote tourism. Stores in popular tourist areas like Gastown and Robson Street that offer “authentic” Native artwork or cheap imitations, are perfect examples of this phenomenon.

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Insight into Insite

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If you’ve got thick skin and care to see the seedy underbelly of Vancouver, because it’s a major part of the city’s character, you should venture to the downtown east side during the day, where drug use and homelessness are at an all time high.

There’s been a lot of controversy over the opening of a safe injection site called Insite near Main and Hastings in recent years. Insite has been proven to save lives, but almost faced government enforced closure due to the ethical ramifications and negative public opinion. Regardless, homelessness remains a huge problem in this city that has been ignored for too long, and it was a subject of major debate when we hosted the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

Vancouver Art Gallery

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Closing Statement

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In summary, it pays to know someone who lives here, incase you ever want to experience Pride weekend or spend some time up at Whistler. The skiing/snowboarding here is amazing, but again, super expensive. Nothing good comes cheap. There are so many reasons to visit and/or live in this amazing place I call home. I’d love to show you around and let you see for yourself. So please, come to Canada, eh?

photo via gettyimages

Chelle has written 1 article for us.

90 Comments

  1. Other must-see Vancouver events fulls of queer girls: the annual Vancouver folk music festival at Jericho beach (seriously, even my straight friends noticed how many dykes were there and there are always great queer performers), the Queer Arts festival (during/after Pride), the Queer Film Festival (mid-August). Also, pride weekend is the first in August, not the end of July! So you haven’t missed it yet this year! Check out the newspaper Xtra West (online as well as in paper) for queer news and events on the west coast.
    Also, props for including info on Indigenous peoples!

  2. Awesome write up! And thanks for the shoutout! :) Any ladies visiting Van feel free to msg me on fb or e-mail me off my website, would be glad to fill you on on lezzy/queer events happening while you’re in town. xxx

  3. Literally loved this, such a good honest review and I’m in love with Vancouver already ;) I’m coming over to SFU on exchange from England in January so hopefully I’ll get the chance to hit up a few of these places :) Thanks!

  4. don’t see any comments re queer/lesbian entertainment, etc since 2012. Is this site still functioning?

    BOLDFest – http://www.boldfest.com – is a weekend of and for dykes and lesbians at the Coast Plaza Hotel. Mostly fro 40’s and up, a lot of younger dykes come for the dances and as of the past 2 years, our “intergenerational” workshop – a popular topic of late.
    Hope to see you there. Info on website re registration. This is an event for women who identify as lesbian and/or dyke.

  5. Pingback: Days 47-48 – Vancouver – Craychel and Stella's Interstellar Adventure

  6. Vancouver is a great city to be a lesbian. The best places to hold hands are:
    Davie Street
    Ikea
    IMHO lol
    Also if you are an artist, the Opus in Coquitlam is very gay friendly.
    And if you are wanting to support local artists you should check out my creations:D! Great lesbian and LGBTQ greeting cards for the cute West Coast girls you will meet here <3

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