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Canada's 'gateway to the Pacific Rim' and third largest city, Vancouver is blessed with one of the most beautiful settings in the world. Ocean and mountains surround the city and expanses of tree-covered parkland fall within its boundaries. Vancouver is also the jumping-off point for exploring the spectacular scenery of British Columbia, from the islands and fjords of the Pacific Coast to the mountains of the interior, as it is located in the southwestern corner of the province, where the Fraser Valley meets the Georgia Strait. With the beauty of the natural environment and the city's role as a haven for former hippies and counter-culture types, it is not too surprising that organisations such as Greenpeace and Adbusters sprang up here. But Vancouver is also the commercial and cultural heart of Canada's West Coast and a major convention and tourist destination.
Vancouver is often called 'Lotusland' by other Canadians, as much for its temperate climate as for its reputation for offering a laid-back and natural lifestyle. The city prides itself on its outdoorsy attitude and the recreational options - ranging from sea kayaking, in-line skating and mountain biking to snowboarding, skiing and winter camping - are part of what lures millions of visitors to the city and the surrounding area.
Downtown Vancouver, with its historic Gastown and trendy Yaletown areas, is located on the Burrard Peninsula, as are the residential West End and Stanley Park with its dense cover of fir and cedar. The landmark Lions Gate Bridge links the city with North Vancouver and the North Shore Mountains across Burrard Inlet. The city's large Chinatown and the multicultural Commercial Drive area lie to the east, while False Creek and the vibrant public spaces on Granville Island separate Downtown from the larger part of the city to the south. Vancouver's many ethnic communities enliven the city with everything from excellent restaurants to a diverse programme of cultural events. Numerous pathways follow the curves of the shoreline connecting up many of Vancouver's distinctive neighbourhoods, such as Kitsilano and the West End, where pavement cafés and people-watching are de rigueur.
The Lower Mainland was originally home to various First Nations peoples (belonging to the Coast Salish linguistic group) when George Vancouver explored the area in 1792. In the 1820s, European settlers set up a fur and salmon trading post at Fort Langley, east of present-day Vancouver. Gold rushes in 1858 bolstered the local population; the town itself grew around a sawmill and the transcontinental railway terminus. The city was known as Granville for a while, but, in 1886, it was renamed Vancouver.
For much of Vancouver's history and even to a large extent today, the city's economy has relied on resource-based industries (such as logging and mining) and the transhipment of goods from the rail terminus to ocean-going vessels. Tourism is increasingly a factor, especially after the success of Expo86 and with the rising popularity of Alaska-bound cruises that depart from the Canada Place Terminal.
Vancouver enjoys a maritime climate, with mild winters and warm summers ensuring that the city is green throughout the year. Although winters can be notoriously rainy, there are often long periods of continuous sunshine in the summertime, when visitors come to explore the region's natural beauty. Snowfall is rare in the city, but is more than adequate for the ski slopes on the mountains to the north.