Once home to factories, plants and sawmills, Granville Island has evolved into a culinary and artisan hub. Equally appealing to locals and visitors, the neighbourhood – technically a peninsula – is situated along False Creek, right underneath the Granville Bridge. More than 300 retailers, artists, theatres, craft studios, tour companies and other businesses make their home here, anchored by the bustling Granville Island Public Market. So what are you waiting for? Let’s hop aboard a rainbow-coloured Aquabus or False Creek Ferry and zoom over to Granville Island!
The area that is Granville Island was originally inhabited by Indigenous people, who used the sandbars in False Creek for fishing and gathering.
In 1886, the town of Granville was renamed to Vancouver – but the moniker was retained for Granville Street, whose rickety bridge spanned permanent sandbars perched in the inlet. The area was marked by sawmills and logging roads, and access to water was highly coveted for industry needs.
In 1915, as trade activities at the Port of Vancouver steadily increased, the Vancouver Harbour Commission approved a reclamation project to build an industrial area in False Creek. The project was anchored by a wooden road and railway connecting the mainland to the inlet’s sandbars, which were filled with mud and encircled by a seawall to create an island. Though the region was initially called “Industrial Island”, the name that stuck was inspired by the bridge that ran directly overhead.
Granville Island’s first tenant was B.C. Equipment Ltd., which built a wood-frame machine shop that today houses part of the Public Market. By 1923, nearly all lots on Granville Island were occupied; and, during World War II, the resident factories and mills kept the peninsula buzzing until the end of the war brought with it a slow decline.
In 1972, management of the 14-hectare site passed to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), who reimagined Granville Island as a residential and recreational mecca. In 1979, the federal and provincial governments converted several old industrial buildings into the Public Market, a central location where local farmers and vendors could sell their wares to visiting consumers. Corrugated tin enveloping buildings was painted in bright colours, and outdoor spaces were spruced up.
Since then, Granville Island has welcomed an assortment of old businesses and new tenants, as well as murals and public art installations designed by local and international artists. Recently, CMHC presented a revitalization plan called “Granville Island 2040”, whose proposals are intended to improve access to the peninsula, expand the Public Market and renew public spaces.
Dining and Nightlife
The obvious choice to sample a range of locally sourced fare on Granville Island is the Public Market: browse for charcuterie fixings at Oyama Sausage Co., Benton Brothers Fine Cheese and A Bread Affair, then take your picnic to the outdoor plaza and enjoy al fresco.
To nosh on 100 percent locally-sourced cuisine, visit Edible Canada at the Market whose mouthwatering menu is inspired by Canada’s diverse lands and cultures (the adjoining retail store is perfect for foodie-centric souvenirs like bourbon-infused maple syrup and flavoured sea salts!). If you’re seeking scenic views to enhance your dining experience, head for The Sandbar to enjoy fresh-from-the-docks seafood – including oyster and sushi bars – and sweeping perspectives of False Creek. To soak in a spectacular sunset from one of the best patios in Vancouver, settle in at Dockside for a leisurely night of cocktail-sipping as you watch boats float across the harbour.
Boasting a healthy mix of skilled artisans, crafters, outdoor outfitters and gourmet shops, Granville Island is one of the best places in Vancouver to buy souvenirs for family and friends back home. At the Public Market, pick up exquisite teas from Granville Island Tea Co. and handcrafted chocolates from ChocolaTas. Head across to the Net Loft to browse First Nations artwork, B.C. wines, hand-printed scarves and other one-of-a-kind gifts; then stroll down Railspur Alley to peek into artists’ studios where glassblowers, jewelers and potters ply their crafts (don’t miss Granville Island Broom Co. for handcrafted brooms in all shapes and styles!).
Things to See and Do
The Granville Island experience starts with your journey to reach it – and one of the most fun travel methods is aboard one of the adorable mini-ferries that crisscross False Creek. Once docked, you’ll be greeted by the Public Market, one of the most-visited attractions in Vancouver with 10.5 million guests trawling the culinary treasure chest each year. Inside are endless rows of stalls piled high with seasonal produce; tantalizing aromas of freshly baked goods; impressive catch-of-the-day platters; and iconic Canadian treats like smoked salmon. For a guided adventure of the Market, sign up for Vancouver Foodie Tours’ Granville Island Public Market Tour – arrive with an empty stomach, because LOTS of samples await!
After fueling up at the Market, there’s plenty else to explore on Granville Island. To indulge your adventure-seeking side, join a guided kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding adventure with Ecomarine Paddlesport Centres; or embark on a whale watching excursion with Prince of Whales. If comedy’s your bag, check out one of the rib-tickling improv shows staged by Vancouver TheatreSports League. Seeking local sips? Sample made-in-B.C. sake at Artisan Sake Maker; settle in at Granville Island Brewing for a flight of craft beer; or taste locally made spirits at The Liberty Distillery. As you stroll, keep an eye out for public art installations dotting the island – some are hard to miss!
Travelling with kiddies (or kiddies-at-heart)? Make sure you peek into the Kids Market, a wonderland emporium featuring books, games, toys and snacks dedicated to young fry. Welcome to Granville Island!