An Improviser's Guide to Venturing out in Vancouver

By Lindsay Leese

The Vancouver AIN Conference countdown is on!

‘Yes!’ you are going to love the spectacular Granville Island location of The Improv Centre conference venue, ‘And’ there’s so much more to explore in Vancouver.

Vancouver’s top tourist destinations are a google search away for all of you travel enthusiasts and you’ll find a few ‘top-hits’ listed here, but this curated collection offers not-to-be-missed ‘insider’ experiences recommended by OG Vancouver improvisers for all of you foodies, nature-lovers, and culture-curious members of AIN.

I left my hometown of Vancouver at 19. By that time, I had attended 2 years at Vancouver’s original theatre school called “Studio 58”, where I met fellow student and aspiring actor, Colin Mochrie.

Then, I was Montreal-bound for 3 more years of acting training at Canada’s National Theatre School. Toronto was my last city move in my acting career and it’s where I live today.

I learned to improvise in 1983 when The Second City in Toronto hired me. Over the next 35 years I had various roles within the company. I performed with the touring and regional companies, was a resident cast member of the Mainstage company for four original shows, taught improv, directed sketch shows, designed and facilitated corporate sessions in applied improvisation.

At Second City my path synced up again with Colin’s. He joined the Toronto cast of the Second City Mainstage in ’88 after performing in the Vancouver Expo ’86 Second City show. We were castmates for a couple of years, improvising onstage nightly to create original sketch comedy shows. Later we shared the stage once again when we were both cast in a Toronto production of “Brady Bunch Live” a parody of the 70’s television sitcom.

Recently I caught up with him after attending his wildly popular live show “Hyprov” which combines hypnotism with improvisation. As an original Vancouver TheatreSports Improv performer, and a featured speaker at this year’s AIN Vancouver Conference, I asked Colin to share his top Vancouver experiences for AIN members to explore while visiting our beautiful hometown.

Colin told me about his early improv experiences in Vancouver and connected me with another OG improviser; actor and “Foodie” Denny Williams, who gave her favourite Vancouver recommendations. I visit Vancouver often to see family. I’ll add my current Vancouver ‘favs’ to complete the ‘magic 3’.

A favourite for Colin is a daily walk along Vancouver’s seawall to get his “elderly exercise”. 

The seawall is a 22km (13.7 miles) walking, jogging, cycling and inline skating path that lines Vancouver's waterfront. The most well-known stretch of the seawall circumvents Stanley Park, but AIN attendees can access the seawall on Granville Island.

Suggested Itinerary:
Delight your senses during a waterfront stroll from Granville Island to Kitsilano Beach Park Vancouver’s most popular summer hot spot. Passing through noteworthy public parks this 3.6 km, 4763 step, seawall walk travels by several tourist attractions, and is a must for anyone looking to actively enjoy the sights and sounds of Vancouver.
Follow these step-by-step directions so you don't miss anything along the route.

  • Beginning at the Public Market follow the seawall around the outside edge of Granville Island, you'll have views of moored boats, and the Burrard Street Bridge.

  • The seawall will loop around and back towards to Granville Street Bridge, once arriving at Anderson St take a right turn and head for Island Park Walk

  • Once at Island Park Walk turn right and walk north along the seawall towards the Burrard Street Bridge

  • As you approach the Burrard Street Bridge you'll pass the Burrard Civic Marina and Fisherman’s Wharf

  • Continue following the seawall through Vanier and Hadden Park and finally Kitsilano Beach Park

  • Complete your walk near the entrance to Kitsilano Pool

  • Finish off with a great breakfast at The Jam café  or a meal at The Boathouse inside or on the deck with a stunning view of Kit’s beach 

  • Pick up something delicious at Thomas Haas bakery and confections then head back to Vanier Park to watch kites and watch sea traffic

Walk the Seawall in Stanley Park, make it a day trip! The 9 km walk takes two to three hours to walk, or one hour to cycle (I say bikes are the way to go!) There are lots of bike rental places close by the entrance to the park, as well as locations within the park to rent a bike in 30 minute increments from Vancouver’s bike rental network. If you don’t have time, take a drive or horse and carriage ride around the park.

Stanley Park is huge and deserves a dedicated day. Here are a few classic Vancouverite Stanley Park favourites: 

  • Enjoy the beauty of the Rose, Rock and Shakespeare Gardens just beyond entering at Lost Lagoon. 

  • Ride the Stanley Park Railway 

  • Don’t miss the nine distinctive Totem Poles at Brockton Point to witness the culture and history of indigenous people in British Columbia

  • Watch the Seals that love to hang out just under the Lions Gate Bridge. Keep your eyes peeled as you pass this section of the seawall and you may spot an adorable water-dog.

  • Walk part of Stanley Parks 27 km’s of interior old growth, Forest Trails. Don’t miss the pretty boardwalk section on the Cathedral Trail. 

  • Take the 1.5 Km trail to Beaver Lake and look for beavers, also seen at the northwest end of Lost Lagoon. The best time of day to see them is near dawn and dusk.

  • Take in a musical or a concert under the stars at Malkin Bowl or check out the Vancouver Aquarium nearby.

  • Watch the 9 O’ Clock Gun go off - a century old tradition. Cast in 1816, the 12-pound naval cannon was a gift from England, and lets off a massive boom at the strike of 9 p.m. every evening. 

  • Head to Third beach (Stanley Park’s best beach) for a swim and stay for Brahm's Tams Official Tuesday Drum Circle at 3rd Beach Stanley Park taking place every sunny Tuesday in the evening until the sun sets.

  • Take a photo inside the legendary Hollow Tree Red Cedar one of the oldest trees in the park, with estimates placing its age at the 1000 year mark.

  • Have a picnic and enjoy a ‘happy hour’ beer at Stanley Park Brewing company on the English Bay side of Stanley Park.

  • Live it up with a fancy dinner at the classic  Tea House. Just out front of the Teahouse is one of the many perfect vantage points to watch a beautiful sunset over the ocean. 

Just outside of the park on the West End Side is the English Bay beach. I have many a fond memory of brunch or drinks at the Sylvia Hotel built in 1912 then heading to the beach to sit on a log and gaze at the bay.


Back to Colin’s recommendations:

Asian culture is a big part of Vancouver, which has a dedicated Chinatown. For an oasis of calm, his family loved visiting the Ming Dynasty-style Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden experience a classic Chinese tea ceremony which has an impressive backdrop for photo opportunities. 

Next on Colin’s downtown area list is where he likes to take his Mom for a special occasion: Cherry Blossom high tea at the Hotel Vancouver known as the castle downtown at Hornby and Georgia. 

Lastly, for all of you who love to get lost in nature, Colin recommends a visit to The Elizabethan hedge maze in the Van Dusen Gardens.

Close by is the Queen Elizabeth Gardens, which is a great choice for a sunny or rainy day with its rock and rose gardens, conservatory and Seasons in the Park restaurant with one of the best views in Vancouver

During our chat, we discuss Vancouver’s array of beaches. Colin and I joke about our youthful experiences of Vancouver’s clothing - optional “naturalist” Wreck Beach on the University of British Columbia's endowment lands. Colin recalls getting sunburnt in places the ‘sun don’t shine’. There are lots of people of all ages, shapes and sizes including many opting to keep their privates, private. Still, in more ways than one, this beach is not for the faint of heart as there are close to 500 steep steps down to the beach, but if freedom is your flag, it’ll be worth the trip.  


Improv came to Vancouver in 1980 when the late Keith Johnstone came to the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island, from Calgary to demonstrate his new thing: “Improv in a sports setting” TheatreSports. This spawned a robust movement of improv in which Colin was an original leading player. During this burst of improv activity, a friend of Colin’s was hired to put together an improv show at a no-longer-in-existence-stand-up comedy club in Vancouver’s Gastown called ‘’Punchlines. Ryan Stiles was a young aspiring stand-up at Punchlines who was invited to join the improv show, and that was the beginning of their shared adventures in improv, leading to television’s “Whose Line is it Anyway”. 

Vancouver improv was influenced by the Axis Theatre which is known for physical theatre with roots in mime and clowning. In contrast to what Colin describes as the Keith Johnstone’s ‘verbal’ style of improv, his description of Vancouver improv reflects the culture of the city: “very physical comedy, with a surreal bent. The characters were usually a little ‘off’, a west coast “'slower' pace, still energy but time for pauses and silence”. 

A colleague from those early “Beatles” days of improv with its ongoing run of sold out hit shows is Denny Williams. Denny, was part of the cast along with Ryan and Colin when The Second City was featured at Vancouver’s Expo 86 (now the geodesic dome is site of Vancouver’s ScienceWorld ) who also appeared on television’s Whose Line Is it Anyway? Denny is known as a Vancouver improv legend who still improvises at one of the many venues around Vancouver. When we spoke she was heading off to appear with The Comedy Department at The Park Pub, with Denise Jones, former Artistic Director of the Improv Centre. For another ‘happening’ venue with improv check out the Little Mountain Gallery .

Denny has her finger on the gourmand pulse of Vancouver and shared her favourites below.

Even if you never make it off Granville island you’ll have plenty to enjoy. Take in a tour of the Granville Island public market. Get an ice cream or a pastry from Terra Breads and watch the buskers on the broad deck of the public market Courtyard with outside seating on the water side of the market. See Vancouver from the water with an inexpensive relaxing ride on a False Creek Ferry or Aquabus or rent a boat of your own! Check out the other theatres on the Island  or splurge on an evening at the Granville Island hotel’s The Dockside Restaurant and take in the stunning view of the harbour life. 


Denny’s restaurant ‘recos’: 
St Lawrence- a French Canadian restaurant 
Analina/ Their There for brunch
Published on Main (Michelin starred restaurant)
Papinos a Frank Sinatra style Italian restaurant on Commercial drive:
Sun Sui Wah Dim Sum on Main St.


Places with stellar Vancouver views: 
The Sandbar
Miku: Japanese with a view
Top of Burnaby mountain (27 minutes from downtown)

And rounding things off here are some of my favorite Vancouver spots on South Granville, not too far from Granville Island and a few extra recommended by my Vancouver friends:

Provence Marinaside for a splurge 
Vij’s famous South Asian Indian restaurant
Earnest Ice Cream or Uno Gelato for something sweet and cool
Breakfast at Paul’s Omlettery (south Granville) 
Baked Goods at BeauCoup Bakery and Cafe
Parisian Bistro Café Salad de Fruits
The Stable House Bistro
Mon Pitou 
The Breakfast Table 
Impostori Trattoria
Blue Hat Bakery & Cafe
The Naam – Vancouver’s original vegetarian Restaurant
For a Vancouver classic hamburger check out The White Spot 



Shopping areas: Walk south from Granville Island toward South Granville shops 

Main street is a cool shopping area with lots of small stores and coffee shops. It ranges from 1st  Avenue all the way up to 33rd Ave. End with a meal at Grub on Main

Northwest Coastal Indigenous art at Douglas Reynolds Gallery

Canadian Outdoor store Mountain Equipment Coop

Pacific Centre for a Mall experience

Go-to sites:

The Vancouver Planner
Hello BC
City of Vancouver Parks Recreation & Culture


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