VANCOUVER, Crown Jewel of Western Canada.

On a sunny day Vancouver more than lives up to its generous reputation. Greatly favoured by Nature, it has lustrous beaches edging the Pacific Ocean on its front doorstep, and craggy mountains at its back. It also lures visitors with international shops, a Chinatown so huge you'll believe you're on another continent, historic Gastown and starkly modern buildings erected for Expo '86.

Close to downtown Granville Island is easily reached on foot, by a no. 50 bus or a brief ferry ride from various points on False Creek. Formerly occupied by railway yards, sawmills, machine shops and similar industries, it is now revived as a peoples place housing art studios and galleries and theatres. A lively food market sells just about everything from stuffed pork hocks to strawberries sweet as honey, and international snacks. Craft shops, bookstores and boutiques and terrific seafood restaurants all conspire to keep you here for several hours.

A bonus from the city's temperate climate is its numerous parks where flowers bloom from early March to late autumn. Even at the height of summer they are islands of tranquility within steps of busy commercial or residential areas. Remarkably, Stanley Park contains 1,000 acres (400 ha) of prime land 10 or 15 minutes' walk of downtown Vancouver. Bounded by sea on three sides, it has roughly 700 acres (285ha) of primitive forest, with Douglas firs so tall they disappear into the sky, and so dense you can walk the trails beneath them in pouring rain and not get wet. About 50 acres (125 ha) of formal gardens lead to open fields where children run and tumble. Recreation amenities include tennis courts, playing fields, a harbor for leisure craft, swimming pools and beaches, as well as trails for pedestrians and cyclists. Jogging takes on new dimensions, and new enthusiasts, in this park where a paved path follows the sea wall for 7 miles (11 km), winding past such notable landmarks as the Nine O'Clock Gun, lighthouses, totem poles and the harbour entrance. A no. 11 bus along Georgia or Pender Streets will get you there in a jiffy. Bicycles, strollers, roller skates, and whatever else you might need for a successful family outing may be rented across from the park entrance.

A great hit with children, the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center (within Stanley Park) has more than 8,000 marine animals. Its ocean floor inhabitants are viewed through the simulated porthole of a submarine, the

Prize for the second best view in town is awarded to Queen Elizabeth Park at Cambie Street and W.33rd Ave. (The best is from Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver.) Once a dismal quarry, now surrounded by elegant homes, this is a favorite with older visitors who like to stop and smell the flowers as they walk its paved paths and formal gardens. The Bloedel Conservatory provides a controlled environment for exotic plants and flowers in simulated tropical, rain forest and desert climates. At this, the park's high spot, panoramas of Vancouver laid out before a backdrop of North Shore mountains are sensational.

On a smaller scale, the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden provides an unexpected pool of calm in the heart of frenetic Chinatown. A poem of limestone rockeries and pools, waterfall, trees and plants, it is modelled after private classical gardens in the city of Suzhou during the Ming Dynasty.

The University of British Columbia on Point Grey must be envied for its locale, overlooking the Straits of Georgia. An added perk for visitors is that 610 acres (247 ha) of the campus is devoted to botany. In consequence you can tour its teaching gardens such as the Asian Garden containing 400 species of rhododendrons, vines and shrubs, giant Himalayan lilies as well as countless annual and perennial flower varieties collected in Asia. And the oh so tranquil Nitobe Memorial Garden recreating a typically formal Japanese Garden. Across the road, the university's Museum of Anthropology has a grand collection of archeological artifacts, but is perhaps best known for the totems carved by peoples of coastal British Columbia.

In North Vancouver, 20 minutes by car or bus from downtown, Grouse Mountain's aerial tramway will whisk you to the 3,700 foot (1,128m) level chalet. Its observation deck affords tremendous city views which can extend to Vancouver Island on a clear day. After dark, with lights winking and blinking way below, the city looks at its magical best. Trails for walking in summer and winter skiing, give you a heady mountain experience without leaving the city.

While in North Vancouver you will want to visit Capilano Suspension bridge and Park. This swinging footbridge, (450feet - 137m) long, spans a spectacular canyon. Picnic areas and hiking trails, and in summer totem carvers at work, plus a scary walk across the swinging bridge, make this a popular family attraction. There is another, less publicized suspension bridge in North Vancouver's Lynn Canyon Park, where you'll find quiet walking paths and a natural pool for swimmers.

A pleasant stroll from downtown hotels is to the Harbor Center Complex with its observation deck, and terraces where you can sit and watch the water traffic. Often a cruise ship or two is in port, docked in the shadow of the grand waterfront hotels. Its theater features a multi-media presentation called "Vancouver Discovery Show." Restaurants include one atop the tower.

In such a cosmopolitan city, dining out is an event whether you choose the ethnic places along Robsonstrasse, some of the 200 Chinese restaurants, or French in Old Gastown. At night the rooftop revolving restaurants are understandably popular, especially the Grouse Nest in the Grouse Mountain Chalet.

Considered the cultural center of western Canada, Vancouver supports a symphony orchestra and opera company, and several theater groups. Weather permitting, summer concerts and musicals are featured in Stanley Park and at Kitsilano Beach, weather permitting. Numerous festivals are held throughout the year. Best known perhaps, The Pacific Exhibition in late August celebrates British Columbia and its people.

Above all else Vancouver is an outdoors city for all seasons. Swimming is popular along English Bay, bordered by beaches from Stanley Park to West Point Grey. Boats may be rented by the hour or day. There are fishing charters, thoroughbred racing, sightseeing cruises and more, while winter brings skiing within the city limits and just beyond.

Here are some suggested tours from the gateway city of Vancouver

Steveston. City airports are not generally known for their aesthetic locations, but Vancouver-bound air passengers have to be impressed with this one in the pretty suburb of Richmond. Immediately to the south is Lulu Island, named for the American actress Lulu Sweet by the British military engineer Colonel Moodie. A long-time center of Japanese culture it now has a large Chinese population too, as you will realize when driving the Steveston Highway and come upon the somewhat incongruous sight of a colorful Buddhist Temple with a pagoda-style roof of glittering tiles. Interior sculptures, paintings and embroidery displays make it worthwhile to climb the steps for a closer look. Gardens are typically planted with bonsai, and a smiling Buddha is the recipient of gifts.

Continue along this highway and you will reach Steveston, one of those tucked-away destinations where Vancouverites like to take their guests for a seafood meal. Only 45 minutes from the city, yet reminiscent of a nineteenth-century hamlet, its historic significance is revealed during a self-guided walking tour to a museum, the nineteenth-century Gulf of Georgia Cannery and the Britannia Heritage Shipyard which has some of the oldest remaining structures here on the Fraser River. Waterfront cafes have outdoor seating. The harbour is home to a large fishing fleet and leisure boats with names like Foolish Pleasure and Killing Time. Relaxation comes easily in Steveston.

Squamish.

A longer trip from Vancouver is to Squamish by rail, with a return trip by sea, through picturesque mountain and ocean scenery. Train buffs especially enjoy riding over trestles and through tunnels in the 1940s passenger coaches hauled by the powerful streamlined steam locomotive Royal Hudson. Should you decide to stay over, you will find plenty of outdoor pursuits in Squamish where rock climbing and windsurfing are popular.



The Islands

Vancouverites, especially those who have escaped the hectic pace of life in Toronto, tend to think of themselves as the "chosen ones." But even they now and again feel the need for an escape hatch from western Canada's fairest city. That's when they head for the islands.

It's almost shameful to allow only one day for Vancouver Island, though with floatplanes from Vancouver's waterfront willing to whip you to Victoria in less than an hour, it is possible to taste a small sampling of the provincial capital in a half day.

Reached from Victoria and from the mainland, the Gulf islands are where city dwellers head for a change of scene and pace. Most of the ferries will take your car, but in summer you should phone ahead to see if they have space. If not, you can manage nicely without a car. The hills can present a challenge for all but the fittest of hikers and cyclists, but with scooters and taxis available you won't be stuck for transportation.

Scattered off Vancouver Islands' eastern shore, five islands: Salt Spring, Mayne, the Penders, Galiano and Saturna are the most visited islands in the southern group. Blessed with a Mediterranean climate, calm waters and surprisingly little rain, their bucolic charm has attracted cottagers for over a century. Luckier ones have found ways to become permanent residents. Painters, writers and crafts people are so inspired by these islands that many have chosen to live here, and now a favorite pastime for visitors is to explore the studios and retail outlets for the work of local artists. Maybe you can't move in for as long as you'd like, but even a brief visit will acquaint you with resident birdlife, sea lions, seals and whales. The islands have resorts and inns, B & Bs and self-catering cottages, but it's best to reserve before boarding your ferry. We have listed tourism information centers instead of making individual suggestions.

Only 35 minutes by ferry from Victoria's Swartz Bay Terminal, Salt Spring is largest and most populous of the Gulf Islands. Almost all of its 7,000 inhabitants live in and around Ganges, a pretty village hugging the harbour. (For handiwork of artists throughout the islands visit Mahon Hall in Ganges. Prices are competitive, variety exciting.) On the south end of Salt Spring, Ruckle Provincial Park is preserved for its natural beauty and six miles (10km) of shoreline. Camping, picnicking, swimming, fishing and hiking are happily pursued within the preserve. Activities in the 1920s were a little less lawful, when the park's Beaver Point was a rum-running port for smugglers who brought liquor across the Canada - U.S. border.

Pender is actually two islands connected by a bridge. Their coastline is carved from gentle bays, pebble and sand beaches. North Pender has all the services you could need. Its Driftwood Centre is the commercial hub, with a farmers market open from May through September for your picnic supplies. This is a great island to explore from the water, with gear rented from any of its several harbours. Often resorts can be reached from docks, making them handy lunch stops for boaters.

Saturna (pop 290) is only 12sq miles (31kmē) and not as accessible as the others because it calls for a ferry transfer. Some naturalists consider this an advantage, because such inaccessibility has preserved the very essence of its rural character. Mayne, at eight sq miles (21 kmē), is smallest of the southern Gulf Islands but has a more frequent ferry service than some of the others. Miner's Bay, a few minutes from the terminal at Village Bay, is this island's hub. It was named during the 1858 Gold Rush days when prospectors going from Victoria to the mainland goldfields would stop off here. Its old jail is now a museum. By the turn of this century the island was popular with Vancouverites and already boasted hotels and boarding houses. For your picnic lunch with a view you might head for Georgina Point lighthouse. In the early 1900s a hotel here was focal point for island social life, when people would row over for a pint or two at the pub. Mount Park is a public domain at the top of the island's highest point, but the access road to it is private, so you must walk the mile (1.6km) from the ferry terminal.

Long and narrow Galiano Island, affectionately known as the "Jewel of the Gulf," is served by ferry sailings from both Swartz Bay in Vancouver Island and Tsawwassen on the mainland. The beachcombing here is terrific. Fishing charters and sightseeing cruises are available, and kayak trips suited to both the veteran and the beginner give you a real appreciation of the very scenic coastline.

The Lower Fraser Valley

This circular drive from Vancouver takes in a stretch of rich farmlands in the Fraser River Valley. Although it is an enjoyable one-day trip, a more sensible plan is to give it several days and stay at Harrison Hot Springs. In fact, this is a region where families often choose to spend their entire summer vacations. The described loop is a pleasing 190mile (300km), taking you east through the floodplain between the river's north bank to Hope and the Coast Mountains, then returning along the River's south side.

Leave Vancouver via Hwy 7 (Lougheed Hwy). Soon, a turnoff directs you north to Port Moody. There is little to remind you of its beginnings as the Canadian Pacific Railway's first Pacific terminus, so you may choose to keep going. Another possible detour is at an intersection where signs point to Pitt Polder, a swamp until the late 1940s when Dutch immigrants dyked it to create prosperous dairy farming land. Here meadows are dotted with European cattle, and names on mailboxes reflect the region's Dutch heritage. City dwellers like to escape for a few hours to this little patch of Holland. They walk or cycle on the dykes, or canoe through neighboring marshes. Bird-watchers particularly enjoy the area in springtime, when bald eagles, ospreys and rare greater sandhill cranes are just a few of the birds to nest here.

The small community of Maple Ridge is gateway to Golden Ears Provincial Park, a 215sq mile (556kmē) preserve dominated by the snow-covered twin peaks of Golden Ears Mountain to the east of Pitt Lake. More hiking trails here, 37mile (60km) of them, as well as facilities for camping, boating and swimming. The park's northern section is connected in the north with Garibaldi Provincial Park.

Continuing east you will reach Mission, named after an Indian mission founded in 1860. Here, Westminster Abbey, a community of Benedictine monks, has a retreat center open to the public. And in summer, all along this stretch of highway, you will see stands heavy with local fruit. In July, their home-grown raspberries are a bargain at any price.

Harrison Lake was once part of the miners' route to the gold-fields. According to legend, a trio of prospectors, a little the worse for wear, tipped out of their canoe and found themselves in remarkably warm water. Its natural hot springs source was discovered, the water's therapeutic powers promoted, and soon a resort community grew around the lakeshore.

Now Harrison Hot Springs is a village of approximately 600 permanent residents. A municipal pool and another within the Harrison Hot Springs Hotel are fed by the springs. A wide sand beach, boat rentals and cruises, interesting restaurants and visitor accommodation all contribute to a very relaxed break during your busy western Canada tour.

Neighboring Susquatch Provincial Park is named for the ape-like creatures which supposedly live here. A relative of Bigfoot, sighted in the northwest United States from time to time, the hairy Susquatch is said to be twice the size of any human. When you aren't searching for gigantic footprints you will enjoy scenic hiking paths around the lake, as well as fishing and swimming, and campsites which include some suitable for RVs.

From Harrison Hot Springs, you can drive south to Agassiz via Hwy 9 and turn east on Hwy 7 to parallel the Fraser River. Or, continue along Hwy 9 to Minter Gardens at the very foot of the Coastal Mountain Range. There are 11 themed gardens spread over 27acres (11ha). Although they are rather too formal for some tastes, photographers will especially enjoy them from early spring through late autumn.

A further 22 miles (36km) east along Hwy 7 Hope is situated at the head of the lower Fraser Valley, surrounded on three sides by the Cascade Mountains. The town dates back to a Hudson's Bay Company post established here in 1848. Whether its name echoes the sentiments of miners as they set off on the next stage of the tortuous pack trail, or hopes that this area would not become part of the United States, is open to conjecture. Certainly the community was laid out in 1858 by Royal Engineers at a time when there was a rush for gold on the river's sandbars. Hope's most visible feature is the huge rock slide which occurred in 1965 when part of Johnson Peak collapsed and buried the highway under 148 feet (45m) of rubble. (Often in mountain areas signs warn of falling rocks. If you see one coming in your direction, you can only get out of the way as best you can.) Hope is situated at the lower end of the Trans-Canada Hwy which leads to the Fraser Canyon and is also southern terminus of the Coquihalla Hwy.

Turning back now, it is 12 miles (19km) westwards along the Trans-Canada Hwy to Chilliwack, an agricultural centre with hotels, restaurants and other facilities useful to travellers looking for a good stop-over between Vancouver and the interior. It is also a military base, with connections to those Royal Engineers who built the Cariboo Road. About 7 miles (11km) south of the highway, Cultus Lake Provincial Park is a lovely spot. In summer its beach-trimmed lake is a playground for water-skiers and boaters. Campgrounds are especially busy at weekends and childrens' activities are featured. Every June the park is scene of a large Indian Festival which brings participants from British Columbia and Washington State. If you are in the area then, you will find the festival very worthwhile, especially the war canoe races across Cultus Lake.

Park beaches can get noisy at weekends, but hiking and horseback riding trails will have you at peace with nature any day of the week. North of the park entrance, a road follows the rugged Chilliwack River valley 26 miles (42km) as far as Chilliwack Lake Park, where there are more campsites. This stretch of river, renowned world-wide for its challenging white waters, is home to the Canadian Olympic Kayak team.

Closer to Vancouver, Abbotsford (pop 14,500) is a prosperous agricultural centre. During the second weekend in August, its large airport is scene of a very well attended air show.

Just four miles (6km) north of Langley off the Trans-Canada Hwy, is a point of interest often overlooked by visitors to Vancouver. Fort Langley National Historic Park A recreated Hudson's Bay Company trading post built on this site in 1840, it provided supplies for fur traders, and later gold prospectors in the area. One of its reconstructed buildings is the Big House, in which the proclamation establishing the colony of British Columbia in 1858 was first read.

Abandoned later, the rebuilt fort is now operated by Parks Canada. Costumed interpreters perform chores and talk to visitors about their day-to-day lives as nineteenth century inhabitants. A little community around the park has pleasant restaurants and cafes, art and craft stores on pretty tree-shaded streets.