Vancouver Neighbourhoods: Coal Harbour

Coal Harbour is the perfect neighbourhood to explore on two wheels (Tourism Vancouver/Hubert Kang).

Although Coal Harbour is situated in central downtown, the neighbourhood is surprisingly quiet. Starting at Canada Place and stretching towards Stanley Park, Coal Harbour is bordered by Burrard Inlet to the north and West Georgia Street to the south. The district encompasses a fairly even mix of business and residential buildings, and is marked by residents and visitors strolling the seawall, lounging at cozy cafes and restaurants, snapping selfies against a scenic marina backdrop and waving hello to cute-as-buttons harbour seals.

History

The Squamish First Nation were the first to settle in Coal Harbour, specifically on Brockton Point, Deadman’s Island and Lumberman’s Arch.

In 1862, the discovery of coal in the harbour – first noted by Captain George Vancouver – served as inspiration for the neighbourhood’s name. Though the coal was low-grade, it was found in clays similar to coveted porcelain-making clays; so, the Three Greenhorns – three Englishmen renowned as the first settlers in Vancouver’s West End district – staked their claim to purchase the land. (No clay was ever mined, and no porcelain was ever made.)

The region was also home to the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, whose first clubhouse floated in the harbour at the foot of Cardero Street in 1903. During World War II, the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve established its division and shore facility base in the area; it was used for recruitment and training. The HMCS Discovery – named for Captain George Vancouver’s ship – continued its training role after the war, and now serves as headquarters for Reserve and Cadet units.

One of Coal Harbour’s more patriot claims to fame is the Denman Arena, built in 1911 to house the Vancouver Millionaires ice hockey club, and site of the only Stanley Cup victory by a Vancouver team (there’s always next season, Canucks!). The arena was destroyed in a fire in 1936.

Coal Harbour has also attracted celebrities throughout its life. In the 1970s, the neighbourhood welcomed new resident Howard Hughes, who lived in the top two floors of the Westin Bayshore (then called the Bayshore Inn) for nearly six months. More recently, Chris Hemsworth shared his adoration for the neighbourhood’s scenery while filming Bad Times at the El Royale.

Dining and Nightlife

Fairmont Pacific Rim’s Lobby Lounge crackles with energy (Tourism Vancouver/Fairmont Pacific Rim).

The Coal Harbour seawall is lined by excellent cafes where you can treat yourself to a latte or gelato, as well as waterfront restaurants boasting killer views. Try Cardero’s for casual West Coast fare served in a commanding dining room and ocean-hugging patio; or LIFT Bar Grill View for sophisticated bites and tasty cocktails. The Westin Bayshore’s H Tasting Lounge boasts a picturesque outdoor dining space with sweeping views of Burrard Inlet.

To embark on an eventful evening, visit Fairmont Pacific Rim’s always-buzzing Lobby Lounge, where live music is staged seven days per week; or head upstairs to Botanist, whose Cocktail Lab drinks are guaranteed to rack up your Instagram Likes.

Park bench picnic, anyone? (Tourism Vancouver/Hubert Kang)

If you prefer a low-key affair, pop into Urban Fare and pick up picnic fixings; then spread out a blanket on the grass and soak in the surroundings of this idyllic pocket of the city.

Shopping

Small stores that line the seawall around the convention centre are your best bet for neighbourhood souvenir shopping. You can also visit the local liquor store to stock up on your favourite B.C. bevvies before heading home.

Things to See and Do

Floatplane tours are a necessary indulgence in Coal Harbour! (Tourism Vancouver/Harbour Air)

Convention-goers flock around the aesthetically stunning Vancouver Convention Centre, the city’s flagship meeting space – but leisure-seekers shouldn’t shy away. The building is surrounded by thought-provoking public art, bustling cafes, and interpretative plaques sharing the history of Vancouver harbour. The convention centre’s East Building is guarded by the pearly white sails of Canada Place, which house FlyOver Canada, a virtual flight-ride that takes guests on an epic journey across the country. Beside the West Building is Jack Poole Plaza, home to the majestic torch marking the 2010 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games.

Towards Stanley Park, Coal Harbour buzzes with cyclists whizzing along the seawall, yachts and sailboats bobbing in the marina, and horse-drawn carriages rolling into the forest. Indulge in an aerial floatplane journey with Harbour Air, hop aboard a Sea Vancouver high-speed zodiac tour to zip around the harbour and see the city from a fresh perspective, or embark on a seasonal whale watching excursion with Prince of Whales.

As you stroll along the seawall, you might recognize the picturesque surroundings from Fifty Shades of Grey – Coal Harbour backdrops several scenes in the steamy trilogy, including Christian Grey’s runs along the seawall and the harbour where his boat Grace is docked (for more Fifty Shades fun, follow the self-guided itinerary here). Visitors who want to delve further into Vancouver’s film scene in Coal Harbour and other neighbourhoods can book a walking tour with Fans of Vancouver.

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