False Creek – not a creek. To be honest, we’ve never heard of anyone suspecting it to be a creek – but times change. It’s an inlet at the moment – an inlet that’s an easy 7-8 kilometers of flat seaside paths with Burrard Bridge at the open end to complete your circuit, or Cambie Bridge to shorten it.
With Granville Island, Science World, and Yaletown as destinations, a multitude of parks and performance spaces, and continuous views of cityscapes and sailboats and yachts in the many marinas, False Creek is an outing in itself.
We’ve broken False Creek into three sections according to municipal district:
- Yaletown (3.5 km/2.2 mi): The entire northern – downtown – section from Burrard Bridge to Science World at the end of the Creek.
- Mount Pleasant (1.1 km/0.7 mi): The end section continuing around to the south and over to Cambie Bridge. It includes Science World and the former Olympic athlete’s village.
- Fairview (2.9 km/1.8 mi): The southern section from Cambie Bridge all the way over to Burrard Bridge. It includes Granville Island.
False Creek (total about 7.6 km or 4.7 mi) (magenta-plum lines):
False Creek includes the following features:
- Yaletown (3.5 km/2.2 mi)
- Cambie Bridge (1.0 km/0.6 mi)
- David Lam Park/Roundhouse
- Plaza of Nations
- BC Place
- Science World
- Mount Pleasant (1.1 km/0.7 mi)
- Fairview (2.9 km/1.8 mi)
- Granville Bridge
- Granville Island
- Burrard Bridge
Three bridges cross False Creek, but only two are bike-friendly: Burrard at the mouth, and Cambie towards the end. You can do circuits of False Creek by either bridge, or you can take Cambie specifically to shorten your ride. Granville Bridge is not bike friendly. To access Burrard Bridge from the north, see The West End. To access Burrard Bridge from the south, see Kitsilano.
Riding from the West End to Point Grey we often go all the way around to Science World outbound, and shorten our ride by taking Cambie back. Going home late and tired we wonder: is it better to ride an extra ten minutes on the level sea side path around the Creek past Science World or to exhaust our remaining resources by spending thirty seconds going up the ramp of the bridge?
If you can’t decide, Aquabus Ferries Ltd. operates ferries capable of carrying bicycles to various locations on the Creek. They have a landing directly at the Spyglass Place foot of Cambie Bridge on the south side.
Riding On: Adjoining Seaside Routes
False Creek is shaped like a horseshoe with the West End & Stanley Park on the north foot and Kitsilano in Point Grey on the south. At both ends, the next section is to the west.
West on the North Side: The downtown peninsula with the West End immediately adjacent, and Coal Harbour and Stanley Park beyond.
West on the South Side: The residential point of land jutting below the downtown peninsula. Point Grey contains Kitsilano and the beaches of the sandy point – Jericho, Locarno, and Spanish Banks.
Portside & the docks: From the north-eastern end of False Creek you can take the Carrall Street Greenway north through the old part of the city to reach the dock lands at Portside Park. The Carrall Street path is 250 meters (277 yards) west of the end of the Creek on the north side. Take it to Alexander Street.
So why’s it called “False” Creek? Why George Henry Richards (Captain, RN) named it False Creek in 1859 sounds like sour grapes. What was his game? Why so bitter? Why so negative?
He had reason. According to Wikipedia, “In British English and in many other countries in the Commonwealth … a creek is a tidal water channel. In the tidal section of the River Thames in London, the names of the rivers that flow into it all become Creeks for the lower section that is tidal; thus, for example the River Lea becomes Bow Creek in its tidal section…. In the Florida Keys, a creek is a narrow channel between islands.”
False Creek isn’t exactly an inlet. Historically Vancouver became an island when high tide waters flowed northeast from the end of False Creek near Science World over land to the harbour. When George Vancouver drew the first map of the area, he showed the Vancouver peninsula as an island, divided from the mainland here. He happened to be visiting in June, a month of the higher tides of the year.1 The rest of the time any water was very shallow at best. This was the beginning of False Creek’s history of false names and false appearances.
False Creek used to extend twice its distance up to Clark Road. It was wider in places too – all that area around Science World at the “end” was wider – over to First Avenue on the south side (the red, wooden “Salt” building is on piles and was once served by barges), and on the south side it opened into the flats there, over to Pender Street.
When it was high tide and Vancouver was a momentary island, people could take a shortcut between Burrard Inlet and False Creek in their canoes, shaving hours off of the time required to go around Stanley Park, and eliminating the risk. Now, of course it’s been filled in, and the waters blocked off. When first surveyed in the 1780s by George Vancouver Stanley Park was an island too, apparently.
Science World wasn’t there in the old days – by that we mean the land – there used to be only a narrowing of the Creek at Main Street – two fingers of land jutting towards each other when the old bridge was put in and then finally filled in all the way back to Clark – almost two kilometers away.
For many decades before the seventies False Creek was a dirty, smoky industrial harbour. Before 1927 there were more than 100 industries lining the waterfront of booming False Creek: shingle mills, sawmills and shipyards on the south side and shingle mills, sawmills and rails on the north side.2
Already unsightly dumps and rotting wharfs and pilings made the area an environmental blight and a concern for the city. Ever-present smoke from over-driven sawmill boilers and beehive burners caused thick fogs a large number of days of the year.
Then (and today to a lesser extent) combined sewage outfalls fouled the Creek and the surroundings during heavy rainfalls. Surrounding residential areas were sent into decline, and industry expanded to replace them.
False Creek was a dump – and we mean that literally. One solution once the mills moved on and the rail yards closed was to fill it in – which is just what had been done to the shallow reaches beyond Main Street when the remaining (non-CPR) rail companies wanted space for yards and stations like the Pacific Central station still standing on Station Street.
But no, instead of filling it in, it was cleared, cleaned, and rehabilitated.
Today a rebound in land values among other things has caused the industries to move out and residential development to flourish. Expo ’86 provided the northern flag around which to rally the troops and since then continuous development has resulted in the dense blue-green glass condominium tower paradise we see on the north side and the older, more open and sedate countrified estates of the south. The Creek has been substantially reformed, and residential areas have been created and developed.
In the middle ground around Science world at the end of the Creek there is still some development to be done. The development formerly known as the “Athletes Village” which was formerly known as the “Olympic Village,” and which is now pretentiously called “The Village on False Creek” was a bunch of large parking lots and vacant lots in our time. The crows liked it. It was a gathering place for their afternoon flight to their resting grounds up Burrard Inlet. Nobody ever thinks of the crows – but don’t they have rights, too?
Light industry still reigns comfortably in the eastern and southeastern low-lying areas behind “The Village” development.
Once the details are ironed out, the last remaining bits of land around Science World and Cambie bridge will be developed. For now, the bike and pedestrian path between Science World and the Plaza of Nations is an asphalt path between the remains of the “natural” shore of False Creek and a chainlink fence separated parking lot. It’s not very pretty, but then, False Creek wasn’t very pretty in the past.
Enjoy the opportunity to see the shoreline as man once made it, with a protective rock face and infill. Several years ago the development company cut down the shrubs and trees that had sprung up like weeds along the shoreline. People protested this as an assault on nature, and the development company pointed out that there was very little that was ever natural about it.
If you want to know how dirty False Creek was in the past, consider the parks that line the waterfront. Many of them are parks because the ground was too contaminated to build residences on.
The water’s not swimmable – not because of the residual pollution from the industrial days, but because Vancouver’s ancient sewage system includes combined sewers that flush waste into the Creek after heavy rains.
Still, we wonder what’s below the sediments of the Creek. The whales sent a Grey scout back in 2010 to explore the far reaches of the Creek. Though probably scared off by the boats sent in to protect it from, uh, …boats, we hope it went back with a favorable report and we’ll be seeing more whales in False Creek in the coming years. Keep an eye out in May.
[Update: Since then, whales have been seen in English Bay and around Stanley Park during the summer and into October.]
- Which would also explain how those of his men who chose to sleep on the shore toward Port Moody were washed out by the rising tide later that night. [↩]
- Note: for an excellent but large planning department map of False Creek showing industries and usage as it was around 1962, please see the Vancouver Archives item MAP 756 – False Creek interim harbour headline. [↩]