British Columbia is one of those rare destinations that can be fully appreciated over the course of a weekend, a week, or a longer span of time. Its inland rural, mountainous areas and glimmering waterfront are everything one imagines Canada could be. Cities and towns are fueled by an enviable quality of life that makes business travel a pleasure; and a recreational vacation something that practically plans itself, whether you’re an adrenaline hound, foodie, or techie.
Vancouver is lean, green, clean, and oozing with inspirational lifestyle-driven attractions, from the internationally trend-defining Farmers Market of Granville Island to neighborhoods that epitomize everything that’s right about urban renewal. The Okanagan Valley, an hour east by plane, is primed for its time as a spotlight destination, not only for its world-renowned wine but its retooling of small-town life. Whistler, long an atmospheric favorite for skiers, snowboarders, and winter sports aficionados, is worth visiting for breathtaking beauty alone. Victoria, the provincial capital, meanwhile, is at once a stroll through the old world British Isles and a monument to preservation.
So Very Vancouver
In keeping with Vancouver’s tradition of “what’s old is what’s new,” the historic Gastown District is the destination neighborhood of the moment. While it was frayed and dodgy a decade ago, it has come of age into a stately enclave full of high-end niche boutiques and dining. Salt, for example, is an eclectic wine tasting room where excellent wines from BC (and elsewhere) are paired with local and foreign artisanal cheese, small-batch cured meats, and colorful condiments.
The spirit of reinvention extends from the folksy Kitsilano neighborhood to the ethnic enclaves of Chinatown and Richmond that represent the city’s increasingly global underpinnings. You’ve got Yaletown, the sleek-and-still-chic former industrial area that’s home to still-fabulous pioneering boutique hotel Opus (vancouver.opushotel.com), and the spruced up Robson Street shopping area featuring the new Lululemon flagship store (with a much-buzzed about men’s custom design amenity), a revitalized Holt Renfrew (Canada’s top-tier department store) and global brands such as Sephora and Victoria’s Secret securing prime real estate on the street.
A few blocks away, the Vancouver Art Gallery (always a must) is flanked with wonderfully creative food trucks, some representing restaurants that require long waits or reservations weeks in advance. Other museums worth a visit include the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, the Museum of Vancouver, the H.R. McMillan Space Centre, and the Vancouver Maritime Museum—all reconciling history with a 21st-century vision.
There are several hotels within walking distance from the futuristic, airy Vancouver Convention Centre (the new home for the formerly Long Beach-based TED). Among them, the Fairmont Pacific Rim (fairmont.com/PacificRim) is the perfect representation of what makes Vancouver the ideal city for any conference focused on innovation and technology.
Many of Fairmount’s hallmarks can be found in the sleek-but-comfy suites, as well as brilliant in-room gadgetry and postcard views of the coastline and mountains. However, distinguishing attributes include mixologist Grant Sceney (crowned the 2014 Canadian Bartender of the Year in the Diageo World Class Canada competition), and hip nightly music performances in the Lobby Lounge. Other unique amenities include free bike rentals (first come, first serve) as well as a path that leads into the famed bike trail of Stanley Park.
Whistler: From Sea to Ski
The concurrent TEDActive conference, meanwhile, has relocated from Palm Springs to Whistler, the world-renowned ski and winter sports destination that shared 2010 Olympics’ hosting duties with Vancouver. Though it is around 90 minutes from the city by car, it will have its own flurry of groundbreaking seminars, activities, and exchange of progressive ideas as well as video simulcasts with the Vancouver conference.
The sister conference is staged at the landmark Fairmont Chateau Whistler Resort (fairmont.com/whistler). While it retains its European fairy castle exterior and traditional décor scheme, it also has going for it a ski gondola at its doorstep, a sublime spa and hot tubs, easy access to the famously quaint central event, and some of the best conference amenities in the area. The Four Seasons Whistler (fourseasons.com/whistler), near the fabled Whistler Blackcomb ski area, epitomizes modern lodge luxury both in its rustically elegant suites and private residences designed for longer stays on and off the slopes.
Over The Mountains and Through the Woods
Though the agricultural region of the Okanagan Valley and principal town of Kelowna have been around for years, the wine industry making the area the “Napa of the North” has helped it to become a formidable competitor to Vancouver among sophisticated, well-traveled, food-driven tourists. It also doesn’t hurt that there are some pretty good ski areas nearby.
The jewel of the area’s bounty is Icewine produced by Mission Hill, the preeminent winery, as well as up-and-coming wineries such as Tantalus and Cedar Creek. The hand-crafted wine and its late harvest wine cousins are so coveted that much of what is imported is bought by the Chinese. Though a decent amount is imported into the U.S., locals argue that the best place to enjoy BC wines are in their own back yard, paired with local foods.
Thankfully, BC wines not imported into the U.S. can be purchased at the wineries, which also serve as culinary, art, and culture hubs in warmer months. Mission Hill Winery, which can be enjoyed year-round (thanks to its palatial tasting rooms ideal for après-ski), is housed in university-like buildings designed by American architect Tom Kundig. Beyond the gates and parkland, guests find themselves in an environment simultaneously paying homage to Europe’s great old-world wineries, new winemaking technologies, and the skilled blending of both.
As BC wine tourism has grown, so has the appeal of Kelowna. It achieves cosmopolitan chic without sacrificing small-town charm, thanks to its restaurants, museums, and shops. Okanagan Spirits, Inc. proves grapes are not the only game in town with a tasting room, distillery, and selection of craft gin, whiskey, vodka, and liqueurs.
Sparkling Hill (sparklinghill.com) ranks tops as the Okanagan’s ultimate luxury-spa resort experience. However Grant de Montreuil, veteran restaurant and resort chef, is making the Cove Lakeside Resort and its Bonfire restaurant (covelakeside.com) a must for oenophiles and farmer’s market connoisseurs.
Vancouver and British Columbia
VANCOUVER METRO POP. 603,502
BRITISH COLUMBIA POP. 4.61 million
EXCHANGE RATE $1 USD = $1.13 CDN
CANADIAN GDP USD $1.83 trillion, (11th globally)
TED CONFERENCE STATS Attracts more than 1,000 attendees and features more than 70 speakers.
PRINCIPAL INDUSTRIES Film and television production, forestry, mining, agriculture (including wine production), construction, green technology, digital media, and life science
THE GREAT OUTDOORS British Columbia has 1,030 provincial parks and protected areas, attracting about 20 million visits every year.
IT’S SHOWTIME! British Columbia is North America’s fourth-largest film and television production center. It’s a $1.2 billion industry and employs about 25,000 people.
SPORTING LIFE With a season starting as early as October and running as late as June, British Columbia is one of North America’s premiere winter sports destinations, offering everything from downhill and cross-country skiing, to snowboarding, snowmobiling, dog sledding, and ice climbing.
TED’s Next Excellent Adventures
While the Vancouver conference is sold out, spots are available at the Donor Membership level ($17,000). Spots are still available at TEDActive 2015 in Whistler for $4,250.
Since 2001, Chris Anderson has guided the conference that explores the power of ideas in technology, entertainment, and design. Under his stewardship, more than 1,800 TED talks have been released free online to a global audience. He’s also overseen the introduction of TED Prize, the TED Fellows Program, and the TEDx program, the latter of which allows hundreds of independently organized TED-like events to be held around the world. In 2014, the conference relocated from Long Beach to Canada. Although specific details on TED2015 could not be divulged at press time, Anderson offered his thoughts on the upcoming conference.
CSQ How did the TED team decide on Vancouver for the new home of the conference?
CHRIS ANDERSON Vancouver is one of the world’s great cities. It had the combination of features we needed: inspiring landscape, the right hotels close by, and a city reflective of the kind of exciting thinking and work that comes from the TED community.
CSQ As TED moves into its fourth decade, in what ways can we expect the conference to innovate and grow globally?
CA While TED has evolved over the years from a closed-door conference to an open platform for spreading ideas globally, the brand itself has always stood for the thrill of learning, inspiration, and a journey toward a wiser world. We’ve learned over the years just how many people out there truly are interested in learning – and we take that as an incredibly hopeful sign. So while we don’t pretend to know the future, what excites us most is finding ways to encourage life-long learning habits. We’ll do that, I think, by offering people more than a moment-in-time TED Talk viewing experience. Think on- and offline resources that support ongoing learning by bringing out the best of ideas and encouraging the exploration their consequences over time. Stay tuned…
CSQ Your all-time favorite TED talk?
CA I get asked this all the time, and the truth is that it changes constantly. How could it not, with so much brilliant thinking at hand? Off the top of my head: Bryan Stevenson, David Deutsch, Amy Cuddy, Barry Schwartz, Bonnie Bassler, Brene Brown, Dan Pallotta, Elizabeth Gilbert, Hans Rosling, Rose George, Salman Khan, Sir Ken Robinson, Steve Pinker (Decline of Violence), Sylvia Earle, Rita Pierson, Tierney Thys, Wade Davis…. These are just some of the giant ideas and compelling people that have moved me.