First one person stops, then another, and soon a small crowd grows around the fiddler as he plays foot-stomping music outside Granville Island's public market. A little girl finally cannot stand still any longer and bursts into the center, dancing in the circle of onlookers. She spins and waves at the fiddler, who plays louder and faster as they build up to the grand finale. Everyone laughs and claps, the fiddler takes a bow, and the girl and her mother go into the market.
Art, in one form or another, is everywhere on Vancouver's Granville Island, from the buskers' performances and artisans' creations to the market's fruit and vegetable stands. It wasn't always this way, however. Several decades ago, the area was a prime location for heavy industry. Then redevelopment in the 1970s and the opening of the public market in 1979 turned Granville Island into Vancouver's unofficial village square.
The name is a misnomer: Granville is not an island at all, but a 43-acre peninsula in False Creek under the south end of the Granville Street Bridge. Because the area is small and contained, a few hours of strolling here is hugely rewarding. You can pick up a map at the information center at the entrance to Granville Island, but all you really need to do is start walking. In addition to dozens of shops, galleries, and restaurants, there are about 75 studios where you can watch artisans at their craft, including silversmiths, glass blowers, and a master shoemaker.
For example, the Net Loft houses a collection of shops, including the Circle Craft Co-op, which sells every imaginable type of art from B.C. artists―pottery, hand-painted silk scarves, jewelry, tapestries, and clothing. At Maiwa Handprints, there is hand-dyed and block-printed clothing; Paper-Ya offers unique journals, stationery, and other items made of unusual paper. At the Geza Burghardt Luthiery, you will find Burghardt making or restoring a violin.
At the other end of the island, the Crafthouse Shop and Gallery and the Gallery of B.C. Ceramics both feature beautiful work from local artists. Behind the ceramics gallery, on Railspur Alley, 12 new studios opened last summer. Two potters, a watercolor artist, a kayak builder, jewelry makers, a leather-goods maker, and others are all busy at their craft here.
All roads lead to the market where exotic spices, handmade chocolates, flowers, and other products are arranged as artfully as the work in the galleries. You can pick up everything you need for a picnic, or go to Bridges Restaurant, whose patio is arguably Vancouver's most inviting.
From downtown Vancouver, Granville Island is easily reached by car (parking is limited), via Translink bus, or by ferry service―Aquabus (604/689-5858) or Granville Island Ferries (604/684-7781). The Granville Island Public Market is open daily 9 to 6; restaurant and shop hours vary. For information, call (604) 666-5784 or visit www.granville-island.net.
Bridges Restaurant. Bistro atmosphere and salads, pastas, and sandwiches on the main floor and patio; formal dining upstairs. Bistro: 11-10 daily; dining room: 5:30-10 daily. 1696 Duranleau St.; (604) 687-4400.
Circle Craft Co-op. 1666 Johnston St., No. 1; (604) 669-8021.
Crafthouse Shop and Gallery. 1386 Cartwright St.; (604) 687-7270.
Gallery of B.C. Ceramics. 1359 Cartwright; (604) 669-5645.
Geza Burghardt Luthiery. 1645 Duranleau; (604) 683-1135.
Maiwa Handprints. 1666 Johnston, No. 6; (604) 669-3939.
Paper-Ya. 1666 Johnston, No. 9; (604) 684-2531.