The Last Olympic Neighbourhood – Merville

As a key media outlet for the 2010 Olympics, the Daily Gumboot is excited to bring you our “Olympics Neighbourhoods” series. Here’s how it works: each week, Managing Editor, Kurt Heinrich, and Editor-in-Chief, John will profile a different Vancouver neighbourhood with a specific focus on things that might interest out-of-town visitors who arrive in The Couve for the Olympics. We will do this between now and the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver and the story will be told be the Gumboot’s editors asking and answering the five questions below. These are the straight goods that you can’t get from VANOC, the Ministry of Tourism or the City of Vancouver. Let’s get to it!

1. Where is this neighbourhood exactly, and how do I get there?

JOHN: Merville is a mysterious and secret neighbourhood that exists between the West End and Stanley Park. Few Vancouverites have ever truly found this hidden gem of a community. Unfortunately, it is unreachable by public transit, although a quick hike or bike ride through some of Merville’s amazing trails will get you into the community’s heart in no time at all!

KURT: If you want a real answer, I’d suggest typing in Courtenay, BC into Google maps. Then go a little into the bush and presto, you’re there.

2. Why should a tourist/traveler be interested in it?

KURT: My favorite part about Merville is the streams. I can remember several happy occasions where I had the opportunity to A) float down them and B) dive underneath the rocks and through carved holes in the riverbed. No, I’m not on acid. There is such a place and its called Nymph Falls.

JOHN: The Merville General Store is probably one of the coolest, most eclectic places in Vancouver. Colourful local characters who never, ever leave this hidden community pull up a bar stool and engage as many tourists and newcomers as possible in conversations that run the gamut from inspiring to downright weird. Merville also yields spectacular beeches, lush pastures and forests, as well as one of the most diverse mushroom populations in Coastal British Columbia. Finally, it’s the gumboot capital of Canada, which may or may not have inspired a couple of editors back at the beginning of this project.

3. What good and/or unique things are there to eat?

JOHN: As I said before, there are mushrooms galore! But if fungus isn’t for you, I recommend sampling some other amazing treats from the 100% local bounty of Merville. A lot of people here live off the grid (and some don’t like strangers shooting film on their porches, apparently), so their diet consists of truly local beef (we saw two or three cows during our trip), chickens and other fowl, pigs, goats, sheep, small-to-medium-sized-rodents, shellfish and non-shellfish, and a wide variety of roots, tubers and berries. The culinary highlight was probably stumbling across a gentleman who was harvesting some winter squash that he was planning to serve with heaping portions of rabbit stew. Yum yum!

KURT: Another great place to check out is the Atlas. Make sure you order their chicken focaccia sandwich. And also make sure you bring an appetite. John once finished second in an international hot dog eating contest (at least that’s what he tells me) and he still has trouble eating the whole sandwich.

4. What can I do for fun in this neighbourhood.

JOHN: Merville has one of the weirdest community traditions I’ve ever seen in my travels – which include history books, television shows and face-to-face adventures around the world. The locals love to rock fight. I don’t know how to explain it more simply, other than to write this: find someone else in the ‘hood and throw rocks at that person. Typically, the first rock is a warning shot and might not actually hit the person. After that, it’s game on! Like I said, it’s weird.

5. What are your three favourite things about Merville?

1) It’s a real place. If you’re only in town for a few more days, forget the Olympics and try to find Merville. This unique, hidden and quaint little community has a lot to offer and is a once-in-a-lifetime place to visit. In exchange for my telling you the community’s location I would accept hockey tickets. It’s worth it. Trust me.

2) Adventure. Whether it’s getting in a rock fight, evading curmudgeony locals or careening through a breathtaking forest, Merville has all sorts of spectacular outdoor sights to experience in a myriad of different ways.

3) Olympic Spirit. Did you know that 100% of Mervillians support the Olympics? Also, Canadian Hockey Defenseman, Brent Seabrook is actually from the tiny Stanley Park hamlet of Merville! True story. Before moving to Delta/Tswwassen, Mr. Seabrook honed his hockey skills by shooting rocks against trees with his grandfather’s hockey stick.