Granville Island Public Market

A short walk and one bridge away from my apartment is Vancouver’s Granville Island Public Market. So when the Culinary Historians of Canada chose “markets” as this month’s topic for the Canada 150 Food Blog Challenge, I knew it was time to do some literary fare research on the surrounding neighbourhood of False Creek.

Whether it’s a weekend or weekday, the Granville Island Public Market is abuzz with summer tourists, foodie walking tours, and local shoppers relishing the sun after a rainy spring. Ranked as one of Canada’s most popular tourist attractions, the public market is what I would describe as a “must see, must taste” place.

Wandering through the market, you’ll discover seasonal produce towering in the aisles. Everything is within reach: fresh halibut from Haida Gwaii, fine cheeses, and artisanal chocolates. If you’re ever nostalgic for Montreal (as I tend to be), there are authentic bagels served warm from a flame oven.

But when you peer beyond the cornucopia of today’s Granville Island Public Market, you encounter multiple histories in this space. Writers in Canada have played a significant role in giving voice to these realities.

Granville Island is located on the traditional Indigenous territories of the Musqueam, Tsleil Watuth, and Squamish First Nations.

In her narrative essay “Goodbye, Snauq”, writer Lee Maracle, a member of the Stó:lo Nation, recounts how the Squamish resided year round at Snauq (now called False Creek) since the early 1820s. For time immemorial, Snauq “was a common garden shared by all the friendly tribes in the area…. On the sandbar Musqueam, Tsleil Watuth, and Squamish women tilled oyster and clam beds…. Wild cabbage, mushrooms and other plants were tilled and hoed as well. Summer after summer the nations gathered to harvest” (119).

Looking west across False Creek from 7th Avenue and Birch Street [ca. 1890] Photograph shows a house at 1304 West Seventh Avenue, the Granville Street Bridge, C.P.R. Kitsilano Trestle Bridge and Squamish village of Snauq. Photo Credit: City of Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Van Sc P58. Photographer: W. Chapman

In 1913, the Squamish people who were living near the south end of today’s Burrard Street bridge were manipulated and forced out of their homes and off their land by settler society. (Barman) The Squamish people’s unjust removal precipitated the Island’s construction, since the sandbar, or Snauq, to which Lee Maracle refers, was eventually built up and turned into Granville Island.

Today, if you head west from Granville Island, walking along the seawall and underneath the Burrard Street bridge, you will pass one of Vancouver Public Library’s Literary Landmarks that pays tribute to Lee Maracle and to her story “Goodbye, Snauq”.

Lee Maracle makes clear that the “Snauq supermarket” of locally sourced and cultivated food was eventually destroyed by Vancouver’s industrial development and urban settlement. (121) The inlet known today as “False Creek” was reduced in size and polluted by garbage, toxic chemical waste, and human sewage. (118)

Granville Island, Vancouver, 1932. Credit: City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 20-67

Reminders of this industrial chapter of Granville Island’s colonial history are readily visible when you visit the market. Many of the original buildings remain but have been refurbished to house the food market, artists’ studios, community centres, and shops.

Next door to the Edible Canada restaurant is a small parkade that was once the Canada Chain & Forge Company (est. 1922). A large piece of chain is affixed inside the parkade wall, a leftover discovered after the company vacated the property.

Today, one of the last remaining heavy-industry tenants is Ocean Concrete, which has been operating on the island since 1917.

Ocean Concrete’s silos, titled “Giants”, were painted by Os Gemeos, two Brazilian street artists, in 2014.

If you’d like a sense of Granville Island’s industrial past, I’d recommend Al Purdy’s visceral poem “Piling Blood”, which recounts memories of strenuous manual labour. During the Depression, Ontario-born Purdy “rode the rails” to Vancouver in search of work. One of his jobs was at Arrow Transfer on Granville Island, piling 75-pound paper bags of “powdered blood” from butchered cattle.

Memorial statue of Alfred Purdy in Queen’s Park, Toronto, by Edwin and Veronica Dam de Nogales. Photo Credit: Photo by Shaun Merritt, Creative Commons

In the poem, Purdy remembers that the blood meal (used as fertilizer) tended to “belly out / from the bags in brown clouds” and “settle on your sweating face” (13). Purdy’s other job at the time was working at Burns’ slaughterhouse on East Hastings Street. So between the “blood smell” that clung to his clothes and the “screams / of dying cattle”, Purdy recalls a haunting time living in Vancouver in the 1930s, a time when he “wrote no poems” (15).

Eventually, “Industrial Island” was transformed into the Granville Island Public Market, which opened its doors to the public in 1979. Today, the market is a food lover’s paradise. More than anything, though, the storied memories are what give shape and meaning to Snauq and Granville Island, revealing the complex and troubling histories of Canada’s past 150 years and beyond.

Barman, Jean. “Erasing Indigenous Indigeneity in Vancouver.” BC Studies 155 (2007): 3-30. Canadian Business & Current Affaires Database. Web.

Maracle, Lee. “Goodbye, Snauq.” West Coast Line 42.2 (Summer 2008): 117-125. Print.

Purdy, Al. “Piling Blood.” Piling Blood. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1984. 13-15. Print.


Text and Photo Credits (except where indicated): Shelley Boyd

Going Fishing?

In the world of Canadian Literary Fare, the question “Going fishing?” means so much more than casting a line and securing a meal.

“Going fishing?” is the question posed to Maggie Lloyd, the protagonist of Ethel Wilson’s novel Swamp Angel (1954), when she leaves her second husband, Edward Vardoe, and their Vancouver home and sets out to begin a new life working at a fishing lodge in the interior of British Columbia.

Book Plate Credit: UBC Library

Fishing enthusiasts themselves, Ethel Wilson and her husband Wallace Wilson vacationed for over 40 years at Lac Le Jeune near Kamloops, which served as the model for her novel’s setting. (Whitaker 13)

In Swamp Angel, fishing represents freedom and possibility. Trapped in an unfulfilling marriage, Maggie Lloyd uses her skill at tying fishing flies to secure her independence. She sells her hand-tied flies to a Vancouver “shop known up and down the Pacific Coast.” (2) Wilson modelled this fictional sporting goods store after the actual Harkley and Haywood Sporting Goods Ltd., which was in business for over 60 years at 101 West Cordova Street. (Whitaker 18)

The original Vancouver location of Harkley and Haywood Sporting Goods Ltd. The main floor is now occupied by a Mexican restaurant.

Not far from the sporting goods shop is Vancouver’s Chinatown, where Maggie purchases a peacock feather fan – the iridescent feathers are perfect for her fishing flies. It takes Maggie a year to save enough cash, but her husband never suspects.

Throughout Swamp Angel, fish and birds are closely related, signalling movement between elements, just as Maggie slips from one life and identity into a new one. But these transitions are never easy or quite what one anticipates.

Having fled her marriage, Maggie secures work at Loon Lake Fishing Lodge, where the days are long and fraught with tensions between herself and the owners. In his Afterword, George Bowering warns of the “delimiting” meanings of fish and birds: “birds such as eagles eat fish and take them flying; people such as Maggie Lloyd make flies out of feathers and feed trout to their death.” (226)

While Ethel Wilson does not romanticize this fisherwoman’s autonomy, the bountiful food that Maggie prepares at the lodge suggests a forward-looking contentment:

  • 10 quarts of bottled tomatoes
  • 5 bottles of tomato chutney
  • 8 loaves of bread
  • 1 applesauce cake
  • 2 large crocks of beans in the oven
  • And pie-making scheduled for tomorrow!

Visitors from Vancouver relish Maggie’s fried trout, bacon, bread, tomatoes “still smelling of the leaves of the tomato plant,” apple pie, and coffee. (142)

The trout dish is one with the natural setting and contrasts with urban fare: the hot-dog and fried potato vendors that litter Stanley Park, or the five-pound roast with gravy (and pudding for dessert) that Maggie prepares for her unsuspecting husband on the night that she leaves. From the 1930s to the 1950s, Wilson clearly recognized Vancouver as “a roast beef and suet pudding city” — in other words, a conservative population with strong cultural ties to Britain. (Stouck 83)

In the opening chapter, the beef dinner is formal, heavy, and begrudged by husband Edward, who declares, “Who wants to eat cold meat that cost the earth for a week!” (8)  Little does he know those leftovers will come in handy.

The dinner provides the necessary cover for Maggie’s surreptitious departure, but it also communicates a different set of life circumstances than those of the fishing lodge.

Who wants a traditional roast beef dinner with unhappy marital trappings when instead there is the lightness of fish that flies through the air the moment that it is caught?

Going fishing? Most definitely.


Bowering, George. Afterword. Swamp Angel, by Ethel Wilson, McClelland and Stewart, 1990, pp. 222-29.

Stouck, David. Ethel Wilson: A Critical Biography. University of Toronto Press, 2003.

Whitaker, Muriel. “Journeys to the Interior: The Wilsons at Lac Le Jeune.” The Ethel Wilson Symposium, edited by Lorraine McMullen, University of Ottawa Press, 1982, pp. 13-18.

Wilson, Ethel. Swamp Angel. 1954. McClelland and Stewart, 1990.

Text and Images (except where indicated) by Shelley Boyd

Wash-Up Supper

In light of our current theme, Fish and Seafood, I couldn’t resist revisiting Susan Musgrave’s delightful cookbook, A Taste of Haida Gwaii: Food Gathering and Feasting at the Edge of the World. For anyone looking to be transported, this cookbook is a must-have. The recipes are user-friendly and moan-worthy. Many are soon-to-be classics in my own modest culinary repertoire. I recommend “Beets Margaret Atwood” if you’re on the lookout for literary fare. In addition to her baking and foraging know-how, Musgrave’s spirited tales of kitchen-mishaps will have you laughing aloud.

Earlier this fall when Alexia suggested the theme “Fish and Seafood,” she added the encouraging comment, “Think outside the box” (particularly when small apartments don’t take kindly to fishy odours). I immediately thought of Musgrave and her wash-up menu for seaside scavengers.

What is wash-up, you ask? (Especially if you’re from the landlocked prairies.) Musgrave explains: “Wash-up differs from beachcombing in that wash-up is full of tasty things to eat…. Whether or not we have wash-up depends on the wind.” (224) The winter season is often a good time for wash-up when strong waves deposit clams, barnacles, or squid on the beach. These items become easy-pickings for anyone ready to scour the seashore in order to furnish their tables and freezers. But wash-up isn’t just about seafood (traditionally defined). Oceans are busy places. Large vessels and fishing boats occasionally lose their cargo, or other items accidently fall overboard. Musgrave relates stories of bags of Doritos, frozen chicken wings, citrus fruit, Russian beer, and vegetables washing ashore.

So for this “seafood” post (broadly defined), I went scavenging at the nearest grocery store. The wash-up on Vancouver’s beaches isn’t all that appetizing. After finding a few items on special, I procured the necessary ingredients for an urban-dweller’s land version of a wash-up meal.

For the appetizer, Doritos chips and Okanagan wine. For the main course, Musgrave’s recipe for “Shipwrecked Chicken Wings” accompanied by “Citrus Salad with Mint” (sections of oranges and grapefruit tossed with a splash of maple syrup and garnished with mint).

Authentic wash-up chicken wings arrive with their distinct flavouring already in place, so if you would like to replicate the ocean’s seasoning, Musgrave recommends creating a brine (water, salt, white vinegar, and red pepper flakes). The wings need to “bathe” for 3 hours or longer in the fridge.

Musgrave advises using kosher salt (not the more expensive Maldon Flaked Sea Salt) whenever a recipe involves dissolving the salt in liquid. A Maldon Salt convert, Musgrave even carries a small packet in her purse, so it’s always close at hand. Her praise for these fine flakes is so convincing that my spice cupboard now boasts its own box. However, I missed her earlier tip about using kosher salt (for dissolving), so when it came time to create the brine for the wings, in went 3 tablespoons of those precious Maldon flakes. But ooooooh, those wings were salty perfection.

Text and Photo Credits: Shelley Boyd

Musgrave, Susan. A Taste of Haida Gwaii: Food Gathering and Feasting at the Edge of the World. Vancouver: Whitecap Books, 2015.

Salmon Run

For the next few months, Canadian Literary Fare is heading to our oceans and waterways to sample stories of Fish and Seafood.

As we cast off to explore this new theme, Canadian food historian Dorothy Duncan provides some initial reflections. In “Not Just on Fridays” from the proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, Duncan notes that “for over 11,000 years before European contact, the First Nations” of what is now known as Canada harvested a diverse range of fish and marine life. (116) But over the past 500 plus years since John Cabot witnessed the abundance of fish off the Grand Banks of Canada’s east coast (apparently European sailors simply lowered baskets into the water to secure their catch), much has changed. (116) Overfishing, pollution, and climate change have had drastic impacts on fish stocks. What many Canadians once “considered a rich renewable resource” is no longer so. (Duncan 118)

Photo Credit: Wilson Hui