Vancouver: Steveston

“Now where exactly would we be going on this magical, mystery tour?” Emma, Once Upon a Time

Last year, I had a couple of young Canadian brothers boarding at my place for about five months, while they were on a working holiday in Australia. It came about because their mum used to work with my brother in Vancouver … and also because that’s just one of the things that happen when you travel. I don’t know how many times I’ve been shown incredible hospitality by complete strangers when I’ve been backpacking – usually penniless – so it was really nice for me to have the opportunity to be on the other side of one those exchanges.

Jamie arrived first and initially stayed with my older sister. She basically adopted him as her fifth (and youngest) child, so by default I became his auntie. Then, after Jamie tagged along with me on a hiking weekend in Tasmania, we chatted about him house-sitting for me while I was travelling to Vancouver and the US later in the year.

So that’s how it all came about, except that by the time we did anything about it, Jamie’s brother Nathan had also arrived for an extended vacation. My trip overseas was only five weeks, but the boys stayed on after I returned. They headed home to Canada at the end of the year.

So, what has any of this got to do with Steveston? I’m slowly getting there …

One of the advantages [disadvantages] of sharing an apartment with me is that you will be convinced [okay, forced] to watch Supernatural. And because the show is filmed in Vancouver, the boys took great pleasure in telling me anytime they recognised a film location – particularly those episodes which were shot in and around Richmond, where they live. The best example of this was season three’s Mystery Spot, which was filmed in the historic fishing village of Steveston. This is Jamie and Nathan’s backyard; where they went to school and hung out at the wharf, eating fish and chips at Pajo’s.

Despite several trips to Vancouver I’d never ventured out to Steveston, but suddenly I was extremely interested. Nathan, a fellow-geek, went out of his way to plan a self-guided tour for me – it was 50 per cent Supernatural locations, 20 per cent awesome things to do in Steveston, and 30 per cent great places to eat. In fact, he recommended so many amazing eateries that I would’ve rolled home from Steveston if I’d dared try them all … but I definitely appreciated his efforts.

If you’d like to read about my hunt for Supernatural locations in Steveston and downtown Vancouver, click here.

Food, glorious food

There are so many great cafes, restaurants and ice-creameries in Steveston that it’s difficult to choose where to eat. But when you’re in an historic fishing village that is famous for seafood, how can you go past fish and chips? Pajo’s is a cute little seafood shack that sits right on the dock and we had a perfect sunny day to sit outside; watching the boats in the harbour. Afterwards we wandered around Fisherman’s Wharf and then indulged in some frozen yoghurt from Timothy’s Ice Cream.

Other recommendations from the boys were Shady Island Seafood Bar and Grill, Sockeye City Grill, Cannery Café, Hog Shack Cook House, Steveston Bakery and the ‘best waffles in the world’ at a little place on Chatham Street. I’m disappointed I didn’t get to try those.

In the evening – when I met up with Jamie and Nathan’s parents, and my brother and sister-in-law – I got to sample Steveston Pizza. The boys had claimed the pizzas here were also the world’s best and they could be right. If they’re not the best, they are certainly the most unique pizzas I’ve ever tried.

We ordered the West Coast (hot-smoked salmon, capers, onions, roasted peppers and basil pesto); the Japanese (wasabi-scented teriyaki chicken breast, enoki mushrooms, camebert and sesame seaweed julienne); and Harmony (chicken breast, baby spinach, feta, roasted red peppers with a light basil pesto drizzle). They were divine.

Unfortunately, I have heard rumours that Steveston Pizza has since closed. If that’s the case I’m sure Jamie and Nathan are both devastated. But hopefully it’s only a temporary closure.

Whale watching

Between April and October the waters off the coast of British Columbia and Washington State are home to a variety of whales – including humpback, grey and minke. But the biggest drawcard are the pods of killer whales – the ‘Orcas of the Salish Sea’.

Steveston is the jump-off point for whale watching tours and some of my friends took the opportunity. I met up with them afterwards for lunch at Pajo’s. They spotted whales and other wildlife including sea lions, seals, porpoises and eagles. Maybe I’ll do this next time I’m in town.

Historic Steveston

Built in 1894, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery is one of the few remaining salmon canneries on the British Columbia coast. It was one of the largest salmon canneries along the Fraser River, but now houses a museum where you can learn about the history of Canada’s fishing industry.

There is also a boardwalk through the Britannia Heritage Shipyards, an eight-acre National Historic Site, where you’ll see some of the oldest remaining heritage buildings along the Fraser River. There are interpretative sign-boards along the route to give you further insight.

“Steveston Channel was a vast and significant Fraser River commercial centre for the fishing industry. Cannery Row consisted of its own self-supporting community. Besides the cannery there were residences, stores, moorage, net racks, and boat building facilities all built on pilings. Connecting the buildings were wooden boardwalks, ‘main streets’ that stretched and intertwined over the river.”
Sign-board at Britannia Heritage Shipyards

We had planned to keep walking beyond the shipyards to the historic London Heritage Farm, but ran out of time. This beautiful 1880s farmhouse is situated in a park setting overlooking the south arm of the Fraser River. There are displays in six of the rooms, a tea room and gift shop. For Supernatural fans, this was the house used in Route 666 (season one) and the shipyards were used in Born Under a Bad Sign (season two) and Unforgiven (season six)

Storybrooke

Because of its fascinating history Steveston has always been a popular tourist attraction. But now it’s also attracting fans of the TV show Once Upon a Time (since 2011). They come to stroll along the streets of the fictional town of Storybrooke – searching for Mr Gold’s Pawn Shop, Granny’s Diner, the docks where Hook’s ship was moored, and all the other iconic locations.

Evidence of this magical place can be found in some of the shops, including jewellery inspired by the evil Queen Regina and the Blue Fairy at Juvelisto Design and ‘Snow White’ fudge at The Candy Dish.

On the day we visited, there were only two Storybrooke signs visible on the shopfronts. We chatted to the owner of one of them – the Romania Country Bread store aka Storybrooke Country Bread – and he said that he keeps the fictional sign up all year. It’s a smart move, given the number of people flocking here because of Once Upon a Time – their curiosity brings them into his shop.

He also told us that the show hadn’t been filming in Steveston for an extended period (which was due to the first part of season three being set in Neverland, rather than Storybrooke). Any glimmer of hope that we had about seeing some filming was immediately snuffed out – but maybe I’ll get to see them later this year!

When the show is in full production the Steveston Post Office and Visitor’s Centre (across the road from the bakery) becomes the Storybrooke Post Office. The popular Cannery Café transforms into Granny’s Diner and the Steveston Coffee Company becomes the Storybrooke Coffee Co.

Even though I headed to Steveston primarily to search for Supernatural locations, I came away with other fond memories from this charming village. There are a variety of shops including handcrafted jewellery, toys, and other arts and crafts. There are also two Asian markets – the Richmond Night Market and the International Summer Night Market – which have more than 100 food stalls and 400 retail vendors; and the Steveston Farmers and Artisans Market on alternate Sundays.

I hope to return to Steveston when I’m back in Vancouver this year and with any luck I’ll travel there by boat. My sister-in-law has a small vessel and we almost made this trip last year, until we were thwarted by bad weather. Fingers crossed that it works out … and that Steveston Pizza has re-opened.

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4 thoughts on “Vancouver: Steveston

  1. what a great storey regarding finding your “way” to Steveston – gives it so much more meaning. Good luck with the travel plans – fingers crossed for you that you do make it by boat and for the pizza joint!

    • Thanks. I’m really glad I discovered Steveston – it is a charming little place – and I’m sure that there are plenty of other places in and around Vancouver that I’m yet to discover 🙂

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