If you’re like me, this word is a primary word – a word learned so early that it gives resonances much more than it receives them. I am aware now, for instance, that it is a Dutch-derived family name (to be precise, it’s a British version of the Dutch family name Van Coeverden), but when I hear of the Canadian Olympian Adam van Koeverden, it always makes me think of Vancouver, not the other way around (even though van Koeverden is actually from Ontario). My early associative reflexes related Vancouver more closerly to louver and Hoover and even mover.
And discover. For me as for many, Vancouver is a city that is forever a discovery, forever young and beautiful (note the double V-neck – would that be Van as in Vanna White?), forever a meeting of new cultures (less than half of Vancouverites have English as their first language). It has a certain style. It’s not quite Canada’s Hawai’i, but it is our San Francisco, a hilly peninsula sandwiched between sea and mountains. When I was a little kid, after the first time visiting it, I decided I would live there someday. I haven’t changed my mind. It just never gets old for me.
But I’m not sure I can get old for it – I doubt I could afford to retire there on a reduced income, or even to move there on what I make now. Vancouver may have the neighbourhood with the worst reputation in Canada (Downtown Eastside), but it’s also famous for property prices as breathtaking as the views. For many, the word Vancouver now brings to mind some very expensive condominiums.
Also, lately, hockey: Vancouver Canucks is a common collocation – but let’s not talk about them now, shall we? More gloriously, Vancouver also goes with Olympics (a word that used to go more strongly with Calgary). And, of course, with Whistler (would you rather whistle or vancouve? how about both?). It also, for an unexpected set of people, goes with style: Vancouver style is a standard reference format for medical and science journals.
And, as ever, Vancouver goes with Island. Which really confuses people, of course, since Vancouver isn’t on Vancouver Island. Well, we should say to start with that the Island was originally named Quadra and Vancouver’s Island by the British explorer Captain George Vancouver and the Spanish explorer Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, in honour of their friendship (in spite of occasional competition between their countries for the turf thereabouts). Now Quadra is the name of a smaller island between the mainland and Vancouver Island.
And of course the town, originally named Gastown and then Granville, came to be named somewhat later in honour of the captain who, having been a midshipman in his teens under James Cook, completed the longest surveying expedition in history – four and a half years. He spent his winters in the Sandwich Islands – now known as Hawai’i – and negotiated British ownership of them with King Kamehameha. He came up the coast starting just north of San Francisco and made it up to Alaska. He produced some very detailed maps of the inlets and coastline (though he overlooked some rivers that didn’t look promising for inland navigation, such as the Columbia and Fraser). He met – often on friendly terms – the Spanish and the local indigenous cultures. His ship, I should mention, was called the Discovery. And after he sailed it back to England, he retired on half salary, started working on his memoirs, and died a mere two years later – at age 40. Just as Vancouver never gets old, neither did he.