Where Culture Flourishes

Hotels & Destinations

But as a Pacific Rim region, British Columbia enjoys a colorful, busy Asian influence. The Chinese presence has been strong for years: Chinese first came to British Columbia in 1788, and large-scale immigration began 70 years later. In subsequent years, many moved on, following the gold rushes, establishing Chinatowns and becoming mainstays of commerce in several of the larger Canadian cities.

Over time, people from other Pacific Rim countries settled in British Columbia. Today, the region is a vibrant mix of cultures, with a strong Asian influence, that will delight individuals and groups alike. 

One tradition that combines British and Asian cultures surrounds tea—drinking it and appreciating its many forms and customs. Here’s a look at B.C.’s biggest cities, their Pacific Rim ties and where to sample their thriving tea cultures.

Vancouver

Chinese New Year Vancouver

Chinese New Year reveler, Vancouver

The greater Vancouver region is the third most populous metropolitan area in Canada and the most populous in Western Canada. In 2013, British Columbia had an estimated population of 4,606,371, 2.5 million of whom reside in Greater Vancouver. 

Vancouver’s demographics show it to be a multi-ethnic society, but the Chinese are by far the largest visible minority. Several dialects are represented in the city’s diverse, Chinese-speaking community. Vancouver’s Chinatown is the third-largest in North America (San Francisco’s is the largest), and has many multicultural neighborhoods. Bilingual street signs are a common sight all over the metropolitan area. 

The city of Vancouver was incorporated in April 1886, with a pre-existing Chinese population. The Chinese coming to Vancouver mostly originated from Guangdong Province and many worked at sawmills upon arrival; more worked in logging camps and mills, and on forest-clearing crews. 

Around 1911, 3,500 persons occupied Vancouver’s Chinatown, the country’s largest at the time. Today, it is growing as new investment and traditional businesses flourish. In 1979, the Chinatown Historic Area Planning Committee began a streetscape improvement program to add Chinese-style elements to the area, including specially paved sidewalks and red dragon streetlamps that emphasize it as a heritage tourism spot. 

Vancouver’s Chinatown is appealing to visitors, artists and people of all nationalities. Visitors can sample tasty delicacies of every type and savor a rich culture that has grown and become part of the city’s colorful, traditional fabric over generations. 

Tasting Tea

Shangri-La Hotel

Shangri-La Hotel

Sonu Purhar of Tourism Vancouver says her city is teeming with delicious opportunities to try new teas. 

“The Shangri-La Hotel is very popular with delegates at meetings. They have an exceptional meeting room called the Blue Moon Theatre,” she says. 

The hotel recently introduced a dedicated tea master, trained in the art of Kung Fu Tea. He performs a tea show every weekend in the hotel’s Xi Shi Lounge. 

The Urban Tea Merchant has one of Vancouver’s only professionally certified tea sommeliers. The company offers tea tastings, pairings and afternoon tea services, as well as tea-infused cocktails. 

Casey James, director of marketing and events for the company, is also the daughter of the founders and the wife of the company’s sommelier, Reza Nasooti. James says her company carries TWG Tea (The Wellness Group) from Singapore. 

“We sell 300 varieties of tea from this brand,” she says. “We always try to come up with a seasonal tea, and they blend a beautiful Sakura tea, which is actually blended from cherry blossoms.” 

James says their Pink Flamingo Cocktail is very popular year-round, but more so in the spring. “The tea is hibiscus, so it turns pink when you steep it,” she says. 

She claims her tea gastronomy experience is perfect for groups meeting in Vancouver. 

Richmond 

Steveston Village boats Richmond

Steveston Village boats, Richmond

Richmond is on Lulu Island at the mouth of the Fraser River, and also encompasses adjacent Sea Island. 

Since all of Richmond occupies islands in a river delta, the city has plenty of rich soil for agriculture, and was one of the first areas in British Columbia to be farmed by Europeans in the 19th century. 

As of 2013 it was the fourth-most populous city in the province, with an immigrant population of 60 percent. More than half of its population is of Asian descent. 

Richmond’s Japanese community has a long history in Steveston Village, an 1800s fishing town that is also the setting for the TV show Once Upon a Time. Following Japan’s 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the community was torn apart when residents of Japanese descent were relocated to internment camps in the B.C. Interior and Alberta, and their property sold at auction. 

With Canada’s largest fishing fleet, local farms, an international community and more than 800 restaurants, Richmond is also home to some of the best dining on Canada’s West Coast. Frommer’s says Richmond is “arguably the Asian food capital of North America.” 

Richmond has picked up the Asian craze of escape games. “We have more companies building escape games,” says Julia Dilworth of Tourism Richmond. “Five or six people are locked in a room, and they have to find clues to get out.” Dillard says there is always a theme or a story, and it is a great team-bonding experience for planners to consider.

Another Asian craze sweeping Richmond is selfie rooms, also an excellent team-building adventure. “Basically, you have a photo studio to yourself for an hour,” Dillard says. A lighting kit is set up, along with costumes and props, and a remote control for the flash. Dillard says the whole experience is fun for groups.

Tasting Tea

Ten Fu Tea & Ginseng, located in the city’s Aberdeen Centre in the heart of the Golden Village, is a cozy teahouse filled to the brim with teas imported from Asia. The shop enjoys a reputation as a top-quality tea proprietor.

Another favorite spot in Richmond is Adorabelle in the Old Courthouse (built in 1925), which is in Steveston Village. Inspired by simpler times, the tea room was created to charm. It has become a favorite place to reconnect, celebrate and enjoy the company of family or friends. “We can host up to 24 for our afternoon tea service,” says Adorabelle owner Cathy Hayes. “We host corporate events and client appreciation teas.”

Victoria 

Inner Harbor Victoria

Inner Harbor, Victoria

The capital of British Columbia is named for the queen who created the colony of British Columbia. Victoria is a seaside city of fragrant gardens, waterfront paths, engaging museums, beautifully restored 19th-century architecture and a bustling Inner Harbour. 

During gold rush days of the late 19th century, half the population of Victoria was Chinese. Today, Victoria’s Chinatown is home to trendy shops and restaurants. Attendees can admire the Gate of Harmonious Interest marking the entrance to Chinatown; stroll along Fisgard Street, where sidewalks are packed with exotic produce, Asian wares and galleries displaying unique pieces; and explore small stores in Fan Tan Alley, North America’s narrowest commercial street, which some have likened to Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. 

“Victoria has deep connections to China and Japan, from settling here to the gold rush and fisheries as far back as colonial days,” says Tourism Victoria CEO Paul Nursey. “What we’re seeing more of now, in Victoria, is cultural connections.”

Nursey says Victoria has three big economies—tourism, education and business—and that the three universities—University of Victoria, Royal Roads (in a castle) and Camosun University, which focuses on trade—draw many international students.

Quite a few of Victoria’s hotel properties are owned by Asian investors and there is a strong influx of investment in the city. “We are seeing a very strong growth in Chinese leisure travel; in terms of hosting Asian meetings, we’re just starting to see that,” Nursey says. “We are seeing strong cultural people-to-people exchanges. Asian and Pacific Rim business is growing here.”

Tasting Tea

Silk Road Tea Victoria

Silk Road Tea, Victoria

In Victoria, visitors can discover China’s oldest tea traditions at Silk Road Tea. Founded in Chinatown in 1992, the store “offers a wide range of tea tastings and tea classes, and we regularly have groups participate in them as team-building exercises, from artisanal tea and chocolate pairings, to how to make fun seasonal tea drinks, as well as health and wellness-oriented sessions including home spa treatments with tea,” says owner Daniela Cubelic.

Cubelic has been creating fresh teas and skin and body products using premium ingredients. She relies on organic materials and growing practices. She has also created tea-infused cocktails, such as this one she calls a Jade Lantern Cocktail:

  • 2 tbsp. Moonlight on the Grove 
  • 1 cup water 
  • 1 cup ice 
  • 2 cups limeade
  • 6 oz. white rum

Bring water to just before the boil. Pour over Moonlight on the Grove tea leaves. Steep for one to three minutes and strain. Pour tea over ice in heatproof jug (container resistant to extreme hot and cold temperatures) to chill instantly. Combine chilled tea with limeade and white rum. Stir until mixed. Serve in short glass tumblers over ice. Cubelic says if Moonlight on the Grove is difficult to get, a jasmine green tea works well, too. Serves six.

Cubelic says the drink is delicious with Asian food, chicken and barbecue.

Summing Up

biking Vancouver

biking, Vancouver

Tea and history aside, British Columbia is stunning. The mountains host skiers, snowboarders and outdoor enthusiasts in the winter, and hikers and bicyclists in the spring. Visiting British Columbia provides a chance to sample different cultures and learn more about the global community.

Resources

Canada Travel - canada.travel

Silk Road Tea - silkroadteastore.com 

Tourism Richmond - tourismrichmond.com

Tourism Vancouver - tourismvancouver.com

Tourism Victoria - tourismvictoria.com

Urban Tea Merchant - urbantea.com 

 

Major Meeting Venues

Richmond

Best Western Abercorn Inn
Within 10 minutes of Vancouver Airport (YVR); 98 guest rooms; 5,400 sq. ft. of meeting space; fitness center; business center.

Four Points by Sheraton Richmond Airport
Complimentary wireless Internet; 155 guest rooms; fitness center; pool; 3,500 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space. 

Hilton Vancouver Airport
Complimentary shuttle service to Vancouver International Airport; 237 guest rooms; 4,560 sq. ft. of meeting space includes 3,432-square-foot ballroom; pool, fitness center.

The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel
Inside the airport; 392 guest rooms equipped with soundproof windows; 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; fish valet with freezer for just-caught fish; airline kiosk check-in in lobby. 

Westin Wall Centre Vancouver Airport

Westin Wall Centre Vancouver Airport

The Westin Wall Centre, Vancouver Airport
Eco-friendly property; complimentary shuttle; 188 guest rooms; 8,500 sq. ft. of meeting space; signature Heavenly beds in all rooms. 

Vancouver

Best Western Abercorn Inn
Within 10 minutes of Vancouver Airport (YVR); 98 guest rooms; 5,400 sq. ft. of meeting space; fitness center; business center.

Four Points by Sheraton Richmond Airport
Complimentary wireless Internet; 155 guest rooms; fitness center; pool; 3,500 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space.

Hilton Vancouver Airport
Complimentary shuttle service to Vancouver International Airport; 237 guest rooms; 4,560 sq. ft. of meeting space includes 3,432-square-foot ballroom; pool, fitness center.

The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel
Inside the airport; 392 guest rooms equipped with soundproof windows; 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; fish valet with freezer for just-caught fish; airline kiosk check-in in lobby.

The Westin Wall Centre, Vancouver Airport
Eco-friendly property; complimentary shuttle; 188 guest rooms; 8,500 sq. ft. of meeting space; signature Heavenly beds in all rooms.

Victoria

Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe
Complimentary Internet; 239 guest rooms recently updated; 24,100 sq. ft. of meeting space; spa; swimming pool with solarium.

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel & Suites Victoria
Will open in spring of 2015; steps from Victoria Conference Centre; 180 guest rooms including 89 suites; 10,000-square-foot state-of-the-art conference center will open in 2016. 

Harbour Towers Hotel & Suites
Located within Victoria’s Inner Harbour; 196 guest rooms; 13‚000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting and banquet space; pool; fitness center. 

Hotel Grand Pacific
Asian-inspired spa with tea bar; 304 guest rooms; more than 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Hotel Rialto
Built in 1911; 51 guest rooms; 853 sq. ft. of meeting space; gym; two restaurants including Veneto Tapa Lounge.

Oak Bay Beach Hotel
Rebuilt in 2012 with English Manor-style architecture; 100 guest rooms; 3,188 sq. ft. of meeting space.

The Fairmont Empress
Luxury propery opened in 1908; 477 guest rooms; 93,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 4,500-square-foot ballroom. 

Victoria Conference Centre

Victoria Conference Centre

Victoria Conference Centre
Spacious site embraces First Nations connections with totems in lobby; fine art collection; 73,000 sq. ft. of multi-functional meeting space; 19 multi-purpose meeting rooms; large exhibit hall and a 400-seat lecture theater.

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