Steveston is a tiny piece of Metro Vancouver, British Columbia that has managed to retain its genuine fishing-village charm despite its hectic past. The story is familiar: a small village strikes gold and becomes the hub of a major industry, luring in thousands of laborers from around the world. The bubble bursts, the workers go home, and the town is left to reinvent itself or disintegrate. In the case of Steveston, salmon was big business for nearly 100 years. When the last cannery was shuttered in the 1990s the characteristic fish-processing smell lifted and revealed a quaint, quiet town fronting the Strait of Georgia, sitting on the fringe of Vancouver, and perfectly positioned for a tourism boom. The town is no secret among Vancouverites, who flock to the boardwalk and waterfront park in summer for sun, fresh fish, and kite flying. But for the out-of-town visitor, Steveston rarely makes it onto a Vancouver itinerary -- all the more reason to explore.
Stop in at the Tourism Richmond Visitor Centre in front of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery (see below). The office is only open seasonally, May to September, though only on the weekends during May, July, and September; otherwise stop by the year-round center off Highway 99, just before the George Massey Tunnel, on the Richmond side (tel. 604/271-8280).
What to See & Do
Steveston is Canada's largest commercial fishing harbor, but little remains of the village's long history in fishing. Literally millions of pounds of fish were canned and sold from the late 1800s up until the 1970s, when the fishing industry collapsed and the canneries began to close. You can only visit two historic fishing and canning sites: the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site (12138 4th Avenue; tel. 604/664-9009) and the Britannia Heritage Shipyard (5180 Westwater Dr.; tel. 604/718-8050), for a look at commercial fishing history and Steveston's long reliance on the fishing industry.
The not-for-profit London Heritage Farm (6511 Dyke Rd.; tel. 604/271-5220) is a restored farm house built in 1880s that currently sits among a public garden, tucked beside the road along the dyke. The main attraction here is the traditional tea service, which you can enjoy for a fraction of the cost and formality in Victoria. Scones, cakes, and cookies made on the farm are topped with (what else) homemade jams from local fruit and fresh churned butter from local dairies. Tea with clotted cream is served by the proprietor or volunteers in the parlor on appropriately delicate china and lace. The whole affair will cost you C$6. Walk it off in the garden and poke your head into the old barn, or see what the gardener is up to.
Steveston harbor is the launch point for two of Metro Vancouver's whale watching tours (most tours originate in Victoria, across the straits). If your trip doesn't include a few days in Victoria, then you can combine a tour with a leisurely afternoon in Steveston. Choose from Steveston Seabreeze Adventures (12551 No. 1 Rd.; tel. 604/272-7200; www.seabreezeadventures.ca) or Vancouver Whale Watch (12240 2nd Ave.; tel. 604/274-9565; www.vancouverwhalewatch.com).
Befitting of Canada's largest commercial fishing port, Steveston's fishermen's wharf is an actual functioning fish market. Much of the fish you'll have at dinner is bought from the fishermen who dock along the boardwalk. Browse among boats selling (depending on the season) salmon, halibut, cod, sole, octopus, sardines, shrimp, and prawns.
The boardwalk leads from the restaurant Reflections Gastronomie (see below), past the fishermen's boats, Pajo's (see below), and the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, and leads into Garry Point Park (and another Pajo's). Steveston lies below sea level and is protected by a complex system of dykes; this park path is set along the course of one of those dykes. You won't encounter any hills, so it's an easy walk or bike ride. The path continues through the park, fronting the Strait of Georgia, the course of the Tsawassen Ferry to Victoria, and just beyond, Nanaimo. The sand dunes, reeds, wild flowers, and leisurely bike riders will have you thinking you're on some forgotten island in the Netherlands. Being in Canada though, you're also on a migratory bird flyway, so look for geese, heron, and even bald eagles. Then again, you might also spot a different type of flyer: Garry Point Park is a popular destination for kite enthusiasts and the summertime skies will be dotted with unique and colorful kites.
Where to Dine
Steveston is tasked with meeting the high demands of saavy Vancouver refugees. As in Vancouver, fresh, local, seasonal, and organic are the guiding principles of the best Steveston restaurants. In fact, the town's dining is one of its key draws. If you didn't have tea at the London Heritage Farm, for lunch seek out the tiny Mercato Nel Vicolo (12251 No. 1 Rd.; tel. 604/277-7444), which used to be a larger restaurant, until it burned down. For now, the family team is content to sell Italian picnic supplies, such as fresh cheeses, artisan sausages, olives, bread, and BC wine. You can also choose from an ever changing selection of finger foods, like crabcakes, marinated vegetables, and crostini. Most everything is made fresh and you're likely to be tempted to stay for dinner, which is made for a handful of guests smart enough to make advanced reservations. The Italian meals of local produce and homemade pasta are prepared by the owner on a four burner stove in the back on display -- putting your own cooking prowess to shame.
For arguably the best fish 'n' chips in all of Metro Vancouver (dare I say British Columbia?), pull up a bench at a Pajo's (The Wharf; tel. 604/272-1588; www.pajos.com). The most popular location is one of the last businesses allowed to float among the moored boats in Steveston Harbor. For a slightly less hectic scene, take a 10 minute walk north along the boardwalk to their stand at Garry Point Park, and enjoy your cod and chips with a view of the straits.
For boardwalk dining, head to Reflections Gastronomie (140-3900 Bayview St.; tel. 604/241-3005; www.reflectionsgastronomie.com), a "Euro-fusion" restaurant offering several different menus that focus mainly on Mediterranean cuisine, set at the end of the wharf (or the beginning of the boardwalk depending on how you look at it). Choose from tapas (which change weekly) and wine at the bar, a thin and light pizza in the bistro, or head upstairs for the best views and the full menu. Inland and across the street is the French bistro Tapenade (3711 Bayview St.; tel. 604/275-5188; www.tapenade.ca) which takes French classics and gives them a Pacific Northwest twist. Think herb crusted halibut, Salt Spring mussels, and Okanagan peas with mint from the garden. If you absolutely have to sample all the seafood for sale on the wharf, head to Steveston Seafood House (3951 Moncton St.; tel. 604/271-5252; www.stevestonseafoodhouse.com), where "the luxury is on the plate," and order the Captain Vancouver Platter (C$45 per person, chef will tailor the plate according to the number of diners).
Where to Stay
Steveston is a suburban community, and after dark there's not much going on. Since Steveston is so close to Vancouver you can easily make it a day trip and return to your metropolitan hotel in time for a night cap. However, a village like this certainly isn't lacking in B&Bs. Contact Tourism Richmond (tel. 877/247-0777; www.tourismrichmond.com) for a full listing.
When to Go
Summer is the best time to visit Steveston, when the festive atmosphere on the boardwalk is at its peak. The Steveston Salmon Festival for Canada Day in July is a big draw thanks to the massive traditional salmon bake. The Steveston International Kite Flying Competition takes place in the end of July, and draws visitors and competitors from all over the world to Garry Point Park. However, summer is also the most crowded time. If possible, avoid driving into Steveston in the summer since parking is limited. Avoid the winter when the winds and rains are at their worst, and several restaurants and attractions (including whale watching tours) run on limited hours or are completely closed.
Getting There & Getting Around
Monday to Friday, during the morning and evening rush hours, several direct buses run from downtown Vancouver Burrard Station to Steveston: bus 491 runs in the mornings and afternoons, buses 490 and 496 run in the afternoons only. Otherwise, take the 98 B-line bus from Burrard Station to Richmond Centre, then transfer to the 401, 402, 407, or the 410. The whole trip takes about an hour, ending at the Steveston wharf and boardwalk. If you're driving, take Highway 99 and get off at exit 32 (Steveston Highway) and go west to No. 1 Road. Turn left and you'll hit Bayview Street, which parallels the boardwalk. Steveston is a suburb disguised as a village. Everything listed above, except for the London Heritage Farm, is along the wharf or within a short walk. You will need a car or a bike to get to the London Heritage Farm. The boardwalk along the wharves passes nearly everything of interest to the visitor and leads into Garry Point Park.
You can rent a bike from Steveston Seabreeze Adventures (12551 No. One Rd; tel. 604/272-7200; www.seabreezeadventures.ca/bikerentals.htm) or Steveston Bicycle & Kayak Shoppe (105 - 6111 London Rd; tel. 604/271-5544).
Note: Many thanks to Tourism Richmond for all their help in researching this article.
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