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In Search of New Years Eve In Vancouver

January 1, 2011

Oh Vancouver. Vancouver the beautiful. Vancouver the warm. Vancouver the wet. And Vancouver the no-fun city.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

I just spent New Year’s Eve in Vancouver.  It’s the first time in the 7 years I’ve been here that I haven’t gone to Seattle or Toronto or been at a friend’s party.  So we did something different, we went up Seymour Mountain for a bit of night snowshoeing.  A very romantic guided hike through the mountains on a pristine night with chocolate fondue in a little nook and table made of snow. Magical.  And the city below looked magical too.

Then began our search to find some fun on New Year’s Even in no-fun Vancouver without a reservation and standing in line for an hour.

Everything closed up on Seymour at 9:30, I assume so people can get home and to their new year’s parties elsewhere, fair enough.  So off we went back into town in search of some fun.

For the past week we’ve been looking to find a public, free new year’s party in Vancouver.  No go.  There are no fireworks and there are no nice parties that cost less than about $130 and require reservations.  The convention centre is an expensive Gala and the Family Friendly First Night celebration was not happening this year.

So what to do?

Well, after this year’s hugely successful Winter Olympics the answer was clear, go to Robson Square and Granville Street.

I used to say when I moved to Vancouver that the city had no centre. Where would you go if the world was about to end? Or if there was something huge to celebrate? There was no Times Square, or Nathan Phillips Square in Vancouver.  During the Olympics that changed, Robson Square and the newly enlightened Granville Strip became the nexus of the city, the place where the pulse of Vancouver, such as it is, beats.  So, I was shocked when the moment the Paralympics were over and the fire show was taken down that the entire block of Robson Square was buried in construction from which is still has not escaped.  The momentum after the Olympics was palpable, the feeling that Vancouver was beginning to have a soul was right there.  And the place it would be seen was Robson Square, but Robson Square has been a pile of construction for 9 months now with no sign of being returned to us anytime soon.

Hiding under the construction the beautiful skating rink until Robson Square was indeed still open tonight. There was no live music like during the Olympics but it was full of people skating and people watching skaters, people waiting for the clock to tick over and people remembering the all the great moments of this great year for Vancouver spent in this very spot.

So when did the rink close? 11pm. There was a children’s festival apparently, it ended at … 9pm, complete with a countdown, for Eastern Standard Time?.  So then what? Surely the party doesn’t end when the ball drops in New York or when Gord Martineau says good night in Toronto.

Well, there was one place left.  The true pulse of the city, the Granville Strip.

The Granville Strip,  where countless thousands crammed the streets after Canada won the gold medal in men’s hockey.  The rowdy, bawdy Granville Strip full of clubs and fast food and officially sanctioned counter culture wares.

It was teeming with people.  At 11pm when we passed it first most people were standing in line for clubs or hurriedly rushing between clubs trying to get in somewhere.  But by 11:45 all the fashionable people in black suits, short dresses and funny hairdos were gone.  The only people left were, well, the normal people.  Wearing whatever they were wearing.  Some had party hats. There were lots of young people.  There quite a few older people watching the spectacle.  There were not people who couldn’t get in to a club, they were people who had no intention of going to one.  They can to Granville to be in the centre of the city. Everyone was taking pictures, of the crowd and of other people taking pictures. Various groups were singing and dancing, trying to start a trend. Others were just standing, taking it all in.  The Epicentre was Granville and Robson.

But we were all waiting for something.  Waiting for the new year.  It was the ultimate flash mob, unplanned, unexpected and without a leader. Thousands of people, just there, waiting.  But there would be no sign.  The clock tower over the Vancouver building was being renovated too behind a shield of scaffolding and dark.  The huge Future Shop screen towered over us all, projected ads for TVs and cellphones, ignoring the moment entirely.  A&W around the corner had a projection of an add on the wall of Sears, no mention of the New Year there either. So we all waited.  The crowd was loud, but there was no real pattern.  Each busker down the street had a crowd around them, forming a little community.  Reporters were there, filming the crowd, and influencing the crowd.  The most dramatic waves of noise were caused by 50 people cheering whenever the CBC pointed their camera at them.  Everyone seemed to be wondering “Is something going to happen?” or would the new year pass us all, unnoticed, while we waited for it.

I had hoped somehow that a magic moment would occur, that we’d all start counting down at the right time and then we’d all break into ‘Auld Lang Syne’, that’s what would happen in the movie.  But in the real world a catalyst is needed and the results can be unpredictable.

I saw a lot of disappointed faces staring at the FutureShop ads waiting for some sign that it was now midnight and we should all scream.  When my phone said midnight I yelled “Happy New Year!” and kissed my wife.  But other people found there moment at different times, screaming  as they decided it was in fact now 2011.

At one point a group of guys near the epicenter at the intersection starting counting backwards from 10,9,8… and everyone joined in.  It was the most closure the crowd was going to get.

The worst part is that it would have taken very little leadership to turn this impromptu gathering into a great moment in the life of the city.  If a clever manager of FutureShop or A&W, both who have large screens visible from the square had thought about it for a moment they could have owned the people’s New Year’s Eve by projecting a clock with a countdown instead of, or beside their ads.  Even better, there could have been a stage on the North side of the intersection facing south along the new pulse of the city, looking down the lit Granville Strip.  There would be music, there would local personalities speaking and maybe even the mayor counting down the last seconds.  That would have been something unifying for the whole city, even for those who were in a club or on a boat, that would be the centre of the celebration.

Oh well, maybe next year.

Update: Other articles on Vancouver’s ‘no-fun’ new years

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 1, 2011 12:34 pm

    You are absolutely right. A perfect setting, awaiting just a little bit of catalyst.

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