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Why many Irish people chose Vancouver to go for a holiday or a longer stay

With its many sports attractions, atmosphere of pleasant civility and thriving ex-pat community, this city is just the ticket for a holiday abroad or longer-term stay

It seems things are never just normal in Ireland; we are invariably either enveloped by spectacular growth or smothered within the deepest of recessions. Our regular national bankruptcies have been marked by tidal waves of young people forced abroad, principally to Britain, the United States and Australia.

Now in a growth cycle of our economic roller coaster, we are in the happy position of enjoying full employment. Distant lands still retain a magnetic attraction, however. Feeling unfulfilled if they have not spent time working abroad, educated young Irish people are leaving well-paid jobs in their droves to follow their dreams on faraway shores. For increasing numbers, Canada is the destination of choice.

Having opened its borders to our emigrants during the Irish banking crash more than a decade ago, the Maple Leaf Country remains one of the most sought-after destinations, with Vancouver now topping the list of most popular cities. A high-rise urban space, based around sustainable living, it is regularly described as the most beautifully located city in North America. Vancouver doesn’t, however, tick every box for new arrivals.

Costs are high, particularly with accommodation, and if historic buildings are your bag, it probably isn’t your dream location either. This is a very young metropolis, and your local parish church is probably older than its most ancient building. The largest urban area in the province of British Columbia is also dubbed Raincouver for a reason: it gets nearly 50in of annual rainfall, which is almost double the figure for Dublin. Finally, part of the city centre is plagued by hard drugs. Fentanyl is the main culprit. Imported to Canada by Mexican drug cartels, this opioid is 50 times more potent than heroin. Among users, the most obvious manifestation of the habit is spinal collapse, with its unfortunate victims noticeable as they shuffle around while bent at a 90-degree angle.


So why, with these apparent disadvantages, are people coming in multitudes to work and holiday in British Columbia’s biggest city? The answer is that Vancouver offers a magnificent quality of life and is a marvellous place for holidaying. The hard drug problem is confined to a small area of the city, to which there is little reason to have recourse. In cold weather, the abundant precipitation falls as snow on the surrounding mountains and creates a wonderful playground for winter sports, while summers are relatively dry and pleasantly warm — ideal for interacting with the outdoors or relaxing on one of the many fine beaches within the city. And despite a wide ethnic mix, there is a high degree of social cohesion among the polite and friendly Vancouverites. In daily life, people tend to respect the rules and this helps the city serve its population efficiently and well.

Centred on an odd-to-behold steam clock that is a Mecca for selfie-seekers, Gastown is the tourist hub of downtown Vancouver. The city’s oldest — but still not particularly old — buildings are located here, with these now transformed into chic shops and trendy cafes. Smiths is an authentically Irish pub in this area that functions as a popular home-from-home for the Irish diaspora. Inside, I met pub manager Tom Young, who hails from Tipperary.

He came to Canada 10 years ago, having first operated a licensed premises in the village of Borrisoleigh. “My problem was that there was little opportunity for growing a business in rural Ireland; over here in Vancouver there are great opportunities,” said Young.

“Canada is a huge country with massive natural resources, but a small population. There just aren’t enough people to do the work available. For Irish people, there are many advantages to coming here: a strong economy, the English language and a relatively short flight when compared with Australia. Then we have a climate not hugely different from home. I have met several Irish people who started working in Toronto but moved here to avoid the harsh winters in the east.”

And what about the employment opportunities in Vancouver? “It can take a while to establish yourself, but once you do, the possibilities are huge. Many Irish people have started thriving businesses within a few years of coming. For example, Willie Donnellan came out here from Galway in 2011 and now owns one of the biggest hospitality businesses in western Canada. It would have been almost impossible to achieve this in Ireland. Then, if you like the outdoors, you are made in Vancouver. It offers just about everything for open-air pursuits,” said Young.

There is no doubt that the people of Vancouver have been given a great geographic hand and have played it to its best advantage. God’s own country for the adventure enthusiast, the surrounding hinterland offers a bigger, wilder version of Ireland’s Southwest, with almost every imaginable outdoor activity available.

Outside the city, my first outing was a night-time excursion to Grouse Mountain, which towers 1,250m above Vancouver and is just a 15-minute journey from the city centre. In winter, the resort, which provides a panoramic view over Vancouver, offers skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice skating and sleigh rides, with Vancouverites regularly heading up Grouse after finishing work to enjoy an evening of floodlit winter sports.

Assured that if you can walk, you can snowshoe, I opted for this. With what looked like racquets bound to my feet, I joined a group exploring the winter wonderland in the surrounding landscape. Grouse Mountain is located within the unceded territory of the indigenous (First Nation) people of Canada and the tour explored mythologies from their history and examples of First Nation art.

Our guide was Martina. She hailed from Croatia and had perfect English. Afterward, she told me, that despite being a qualified teacher and graphic designer, she found it surprisingly hard to get find work when she arrived. Now that she has a job, she likes Vancouver and describes it as “a city that offers almost everything I enjoy”.

Later in a packed Rodgers Arena, I watch local hockey team the Canucks. Ice hockey is the national winter sport of Canada and excites regional passions similar to Gaelic Games. Well worth a visit for the spectacle of it all, the most memorable feature is the frequent bust-ups that bring supporters leaping to their feet and in Ireland would have Sunday Game panellists calling for life suspensions. The disagreements are quickly forgotten, however, and it is then possible to enjoy the mesmeric beauty and grace of the world’s fastest-contact sport. In the end, the Canucks win and everyone goes home happy.

Another almost obligatory day trip from Vancouver is to the pedestrian-only mountain resort of Whistler. Host of the 2010 Winter Olympics and affectionately known as Whis, it is famous for snow sports in the winter. The main attraction for the day visitor is the breathtaking mountain scenery and in winter snow tubing and ice skating. For adrenaline junkies, summer offers rock climbs, downhill mountain biking and the intense experience of the newly completed 130m Cloudraker Skybridge and Ravens Eye Cliffwalk. For a more leisurely outing, you can bike the easy, 46km Valley Trail that links Whistler’s best viewpoints and lakes, or ride the Peak 2 Peak Gondola for easy access to alpine trails.

On my last day in Vancouver, I visited Granville Island Market, a collection of funky shops and artisan cafes similar to London’s Camden Market, where I whiled away a couple of pleasant hours. Then it was on by water transport to Science World on False Creek. This didn’t detain me long since it is geared, not so much to explaining cutting-edge scientific exploration, but as a first introduction for young children to science.

My final challenge was the famous seawall circuit of sublime Stanley Park, a magnificent green landscape amid the city. Hiring a bike, I headed off while enjoying great sea vistas. Then thick, heavy rain, consistent with Ireland’s west, enveloped me and persisted. Eventually, fortitude failed. I abandoned the venture and headed instead for the warmth of Smith’s Irish Pub. Here, amid convivial company, I concluded, Vancouver is a wonderful place to live or holiday provided you prepare well for the rain.

Where to stay and how to get there

Unless you are a dedicated winter sports enthusiast, summer and autumn are the best times to visit Vancouver, when the weather is warm and relatively dry, ideal for sightseeing and outdoor pursuits.

Getting there. Air Canada ( offers direct flights from Dublin to Vancouver between mid-June and the end of September. A year-round service to nearby Seattle is operated by Aer Lingus ( From here, it is a 3½ to four-hour journey by bus or train to downtown Vancouver. I flew with Icelandair ( from Dublin to Vancouver with one stop at Reykjavík.

Getting around. Vancouver is high rise and therefore a small metropolis in terms of area. For exploring the city centre, which in general is very safe, it is probably best to walk or hire a bike to use the abundant cycling lanes. The fully automated SkyTrain running underground and overground is good for reaching the airport, Rodgers Arena and the southern and eastern suburbs. There is also an extensive city bus service, which is both efficient and reliable. Taxis are also readily available, and if you have the app, Uber makes a very convenient option, where you know the cost of your journey in advance.

Where to stay. Vancouver is well-supplied with hotels, hostels and Airbnb offerings, with prices around the same as in Ireland ( I stayed at the Blue Horizon Hotel. Located on Robson Street in the shopping area of the city centre, the rooms on the highest floors have balconies offering panoramic views over the city.