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Vancouver--A Sparkling Clean City

September 27, 1987|BOB O'SULLIVAN | O'Sullivan is a Canoga Park free-lance writer .

"Any person caught talking while I'm talking will have to sit over the rear wheel. Is that understood?"

A woman in the front said, "Yes, sir." Most of us laughed and the bus pulled away from the curb.

"If you get lost at any of the stops--and we will make stops--just remember the bus you're on. Look for the one with the muscular, good-looking, redheaded driver. If that doesn't work, look for bus No. 714."

He introduced himself as Mike Dixon.

"Vancouver," he said, "just might be the cleanest, greenest, most beautiful city in the world." The enthusiasm in his voice left no doubt about whether or not he meant it.

The city was beautiful. So clean that it sparkled. It was a little like San Francisco. Maybe Hong Kong, too, with a touch of Rio de Janeiro and Santa Barbara. There were definitely Santa Barbara overtones, a laid-back, no hustle and bustle, we've-got-time-for-a-smile quality.

My wife waved at some children standing at an intersection, waiting for the light to change. Nearly everyone there--parents, children and even a couple of construction workers--smiled and waved back.

"And the sun shines every day here in Vancouver," said Mike. "Of course, some of the time you can't see it for the clouds or you don't want to go out and look for it because of the rain. But seriously, folks, it's mostly in the winter. We have a little rain but that's what makes everything so clean and green and beautiful. . . ."

Rigged Sails

Mike's light, humorous tone, mixed with information, continued as the bus moved through Vancouver's West End. Among the points of interest he pointed out the Canada Pavilion and Pan Pacific Hotel, the top of which sported what looked like a dozen fully rigged sails.

"Built that for Expo 86. They put the sails on it in case it didn't make it as a building. It did, though. Hotel, World Trade Center and cruise ship facility. For a building with an identity problem, it's doing pretty darn good."

We went past the Hudson's Bay Co., now a large department store. "They started out supplying the Indians and trappers in exchange for furs. They're still trading, but if you want to do business with them now, take money. Any kind of money."

Near the waterfront we turned so Mike could give us a glimpse of Gastown, a picturesque area of cobbled streets, old buildings, restaurants, galleries and shops. It was named for an old-time Vancouver saloon keeper, "Gassy" Jack Deighton, so called because he "gassed," or talked, all the time.

Mike went on to explain that Gastown has one of the world's most accurate steam clocks. Steam clocks?

We went through 1,000-acre Stanley Park and across Lion's Gate Bridge.

A long line of freighters, a quarter of a mile apart, was fading off into the morning mist of English Bay, staging, or waiting their turns, for docking space in the harbor.

We were asked if we knew that Vancouver handled more dry tonnage shipping than any other port on the Pacific Coast.

No one said a word.

"Well, what's the matter with you people? Don't you read the shipping news?" He explained that his attitude was not unusual in a city where nearly every fourth family owns a boat.

The Bridge Moved

The Capilano Suspension Bridge, a largely wooden footbridge suspended on cables several hundred feet over a gorge, was a tour stop. Mike announced that crossing it was great fun because the bridge moved considerably underfoot. He also said that no one had fallen off the bridge, to his knowledge. He looked at his watch ". . . since 8 o'clock this morning."

After a spate of nervous laughter from most of us, he assured everyone that he was just joking, that the bridge was perfectly safe and that none of us would be obliged to cross it.

But those who didn't would be going back to the nearest water source with him, to help him wash the bus.

It was a formidable gorge and, though my wife and I walked across the bridge, a few hid out in the gift shop till it was time to leave.

We toured the salmon hatchery and drove through an area of West Vancouver called British Properties (after the company that developed the area) to view homes that started at about a third of a million dollars. When the the rest of the group elected to ride the cable car to the top of Mt. Grouse, I stayed behind.

Joyce and I have taken city tours in about every major city we've visited and generally had a good time. We also learned a lot of things. Yet neither of us ever got the chance to talk to any of the city guides about themselves. Mike Dixon seemed a likely first candidate. I asked him if he'd mind answering a few questions.

"Anything you want to know," he answered.

He lived in Kitsilano, a couple of miles south of downtown Vancouver. He was 25, single, had graduated from college and was a certified and licensed massage therapist.

"That sounds like satisfying work. Isn't it a little far afield from guided tours?"

"Fact is," he said, "I went to work as a tour guide for Grayline to pay for my college. It costs a lot of money, you know."

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