05 July 2008


East Van, East Side, East End, West Van, West Side, West End?

East Van at Flickr.comThere are things you know about your home town that you don't even know that you know. For example, I was born and grew up in Greater Vancouver, and I instinctively understand the bizarro terminology for parts of the city that must seem simply insane to anyone just arriving here.

Here's what I mean. East Vancouver, the East End, and the East Side are all the same thing—essentially the entire portion of the City of Vancouver east of Quebec Street (or, depending on where you are and how you define it, maybe Cambie Street or Main Street, which are both close by). Cool, fine, makes sense.

However, West Vancouver, the West End, and the West Side all represent completely different places. West Vancouver is actually a different city (Canada's richest, by the way), across Burrard Inlet northwest of Vancouver proper. The West End is part of the City of Vancouver, but a tiny part, the dense residential area of the downtown peninsula northwest of Burrard Street and southeast of Stanley Park (and not usually including stuff north of Georgia Street near Coal Harbour).

The West Side is different again, basically the converse of the East Side (or East End, or East Van)—the large swath of the city west of Quebec Street (or Cambie, or Main), extending out to Point Grey and the ocean. The Downtown East Side (or Downtown Eastside, one word) is the opposite (in many ways) of the West End and the West Side and West Vancouver. It is on the opposite side of downtown from the West End, and is Canada's poorest neighbourhood. In a sane world, it would be the East End compared to the West End, or alternatively the West End would be the Downtown Westside. But no.

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Then we get to north and south. North Vancouver is again a different city (actually two—a City and a District—and no, I don't understand that either), again across Burrard Inlet, next to West Vancouver. Yes, West Vancouver and North Vancouver are next to each other, west to east, with neither one further north or south than the other, and together they constitute (get this) the North Shore.

(By the way, those of you used to the North Shore being on Oahu in Hawaii will be even further confused. In Hawaii, the North Shore means the northernmost land area of the island of Oahu, facing north. It is, in other words, the shore on the north side of the island, and is part of Oahu. In Vancouver, the North Shore is the southernmost land area to the north of the city itself, facing south across the inlet. It is the shore on the north side of the water, and is not part of Vancouver itself—even when we call it Vancouver's North Shore.)

South Vancouver encompasses parts of both the West Side and the East Side/East Van/East End. The southern parts, quite logically. Sometimes you also hear South Slope, or rarely the South Side, since most of that region slopes down from the high ground running east to west across the city. No one ever calls it the South End, and there is no North End or North Side either. There is also no South Shore.

There is a formal definition for Greater Vancouver (a.k.a. Metro Vancouver), encompassing suburban municipalities around, and mostly east of, the City of Vancouver, and which pay certain taxes to the Metro Vancouver district government (formerly the Greater Vancouver Regional District). But many locals extend that definition to reach out into the Fraser Valley to the east, and sometimes up Howe Sound to Squamish in the north these days. The boundaries expand as people commute farther and farther.

Finally, one more thing about the east-west dichotomy. Traditionally, Vancouver's East Side has been working class and the West Side more upper class, in broad terms. But these days, no one with a single (or double) working-class income could afford a new house anywhere in the City of Vancouver, because it's easy to find single-family detached homes approaching a million dollars, even in the most distant corners of East Van. That's what those expanding commuter boundaries are all about. Without help from family, existing real estate, or obscenely high incomes, first-time home buyers wanting to live in Vancouver itself are looking at a condominium or townhouse (and possibly an older one) at best.

In part because of that, the City of Surrey, part of Metro Vancouver, will likely exceed Vancouver's population in the next decade or so, and already covers a much larger area, but we won't be calling this place Metro Surrey anytime soon.

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Nice explanation!

The most amusing for me is always "South Granville" (the stretch of Granville St from 16th to Granville Bridge). It was especially goofy sounding while I lived at the REAL south end of Granville (near 70th).
Great summary of the very convoluted naming system we have going on here in the former GVRD ("Greater Vancouver Regional District" as "Metro Vancouver" used to be called... perhaps someone noticed that "regional" and "district" are somewhat redundant).

I'm a West Side girl and I find that the West Side is the most misunderstood - whenever I say "West Side", people always think I'm referring to the West End.

And I'm with you on the insanity of house prices here... I live in a basement and expect to do so for many, many years to come!
As a legal entity they're still the Greater Vancouver Regional District. The powers that be wouldn't let them change their name. Obviously they still elected to go Metro publicly.

Re the North Vancouvers, not much to understand. Two different cities with a similar name. (There's also two Langleys, a munipality and township.) The City of North Vancouver separated from the District, as did West Vancouver. The City wasn't quite as sage at picking a distinct name as West Van was :-)
I guess they could have reverted to the original name of Moodyville, but then that would have gotten confused with Port Moody further up the inlet.

And then there's Coquitlam vs. Port Coquitlam, Maple Ridge vs. Haney, the Gulf Islands which are in the Strait of Georgia, and so on...
In Montréal, the streets are divided east-west, like Sherbrooke St W and Sherbrooke St E, but they actually run almost directly north-south. It is because the long, skinny island of Montréal lies in a section of the St Lawrence that happens to be flowing more north than east at that point; and people equate "downstream" with "east." So to drive along Sherbrooke St towards its "east" end, you travel amost directly north. It must be confusing for visitors with compasses in their cars.

Stephen (still can't get my barmarbybroox.wordpress.com openID to work)
I am technically an East Vancouver boy, although everybody who knows I live on the Main and 16th Ave area tells me "that's not East Van, that's South Main"


Not sure what to say. I still argue I'm an East Van boy. For the record.
I grew up on the South Slope, just off from Victoria and Marine. It was a nice neighborhood--very multicultural. Now my childhood home, with its fruit trees and large yard, is gone, replaced by a monster house that uses every inch of the property. I usually said "South East Vancouver" to diferentiate from the poor areas of East Vancouver because I went to a private school on the West Side and when I said "East", people looked down their noses at me, or just said "Ew". Hey, I had an awesome view of the Fraser River and could even see the gulf islands.
I am in Abbotsford, which is the first city that is not part of Greater Vancouver. But for some reason, we have a park along the Fraser River dyke that is completely within Abbotsford, but is a Greater Vancouver Regional District park.

All the rest of our parks are City of Abbotsford parks.

As for the city/district thing, it probably has something to do with the population density. When the Districts of Matsqui and Abbotsford amalgamated and formed a new entity that had the 5th largest (at the time) population in BC, almost all of which was in the city core; legally this still had to be called a district because while it had the size and population to be a city, the population density was too low to meet the definition of a city due to the surrounding farmland being included. The province bent the rules and allowed Abbotsford to be called a city; otherwise it would still be a district or alternatively would have had to split into a city and a surrounding district.
"the large swath of the city west of Quebec Street"

Actually, Ontario Street (one block west of Quebec) is the official east-west dividing line. Avenues east of Ontario are labelled East (eg. 16th Ave. East), and west of Ontario... well you get the idea. That's another Vancouver peculiarity. Why isn't the dividing line Main Street, just two blocks from Ontario Street?
Given that my office is less than a block from the dividing line (and on the east side of it), I should have known that -- but somehow I didn't.
Now we have Downtown South as well, otherwise known as "Not Yaletown, nyah nyah!"
And of course, thanks to the old stigma of East Van being working class, realtors like to call the Main St/Fraser St area "Central Van". Thankfully, I haven't actually seen much sign of that one catching on.
They call "Dysfunction Junction" "Soma" now when they try to sell condos there; as if it didn't already have an awesome name!