“One of Vancouver’s great jewels.”
#1 in Shaughnessy
5251 Oak Street
The story of how VanDusen came to be is like a lot of stories about how Vancouver came to be: it involves railway executives and forestry money.
Most of the middle of the city, you might remember, was given to the CP Railway company in the 1880s in exchange for the cross-country rail line ending in Vancouver (the idea that Indigenous people might have legal rights to the area barely acknowledged at the time).
Bit by bit CP Rail developed the land, or leased it to groups like the Shaughnessy Golf Club. But by the 1960s the golf club had decamped to its current position south of UBC, and there was much consternation over how the land would (or should) be developed.
Eventually a compromise was struck: CP Rail would sell the land to Vancouver in exchange for being able to build more houses on their own lands; the city would then convert the land into a modern garden, with a million dollar donation from MacMillan Bloedel executive Whitford Juilan VanDusen making the numbers line up.
There’s not exactly a cohesive theme to VanDusen — if you want that, you’re better off going to Sun Yat-Sen or the trails in Stanley Park. Instead, there’s a huge array of different plants, gardens, geographical themes and artwork, all elegantly designed and meticulously maintained.
It’s all extremely pleasant, though the desire to be all garden things to all garden people can be a bit aesthetically jarring: one moment you’re in the Sino-Himalayan section, then it’s on to the hedge maze, and hey what’s that giant wooden owl doing over there?
We lightly chide, because the truth is all those different themes means there’s likely at least one part each person will fall in love with. In addition, the prices of $4 to $12 depending on age and time of year is definitely more than fair value, although the replay value for children may be slightly limited — at the end of the day it’s still just a garden, elaborate though it may be.
It’s sprawling, peaceful, cut off from the rest of the city, and definitely a place worth exploring for an hour or three.