There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of acronyms that work to abbreviate organizations in and of Vancouver. Below we’ve compiled 57 must-knows which will come in super handy if you just moved here and are trying to get a lay for the land, and if you’ve lived in this city your entire life there just might be a couple here that you didn’t already know. Some are no-brainers while others are obscure, and they’re all a part of what makes this city awesome.
Click the links in each to visit their official site, and to learn more about them.
British Columbia Institute of Technology
Founded in 1960, this trades and technology school now has 5 campuses throughout the Lower Mainland. Many of the personalities you hear on the local radio stations and see on TV news (and don’t see; the behind-the-scenes folks) are grads of their journalism programs.
British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
The highest profile and most active animal rights organization in town. They run tons of programs including an adoption one which you might want to consider checking out if you’re thinking of getting a dog, cat, bunny, guinea pig, snake, etc etc.
BC Teachers’ Federation
The union that represents school teachers in BC, headquartered in Vancouver. Over the past 30 years it seems to have gotten embroiled in a public feud with the education ministry at an average of twice per year. Their logo is “the lamp of learning”.
Vancouver Contemporary Art Gallery
Surprisingly one of the lesser-known public galleries in town, spun out of the City of Vancouver’s Social Planning Department in the 70’s. Worth a visit if you’re near Nelson and Richards in Yaletown.
Campaign for Real Ale Society of British Columbia
Non-profit that’s been advocating for craft beer since 1990, before many craft beer drinkers of today were born! They currently have 5 branches in BC and one in Alberta.
Carnegie Community Action Project
Anti-gentrification project/group launched by the Carnegie Community Centre Association in the Downtown Eastside, aimed at keeping the neighbourhood friendly/accommodating to low income residents.
Coalition of Progressive Electors
Currently a fringe municipal political party, COPE was once a powerful left-leaning force in Vancouver. The most powerful, in fact: in the 2002 election their mayoral candidate Larry Campbell (now a Canadian senator) won. However before the next election cycle Campbell defected to help form Vision Vancouver who, at the time of this writing, hold a majority city council. COPE managed to form a coalition with Vision in 2008 but eventually lost most relevance; they currently have no representation on city council, park board or school board despite running 27 candidates in the last election.
Canadian Taxpayers Federation
While this is a federal organization which advocates for lower taxes it is constantly in the news in Vancouver as its BC director (@JordanBateman) is one of the most visible conservative voices in the province and a go-to for the local media on issues around government spending. Many people blame/praise him as the guy who single-handedly got a NO vote on the 2015 transit referendum.
DEBVAN (or DEB)
Dîner en Blanc Vancouver
The Vancouver franchise of the now-global supper club that launched in France almost 30 years ago. Attendees dress all in white and after being vetted to attend (and charged a fee) are given the location the day of the event. Backlash to its hyper-exclusivity (which could be argued is its entire draw) spawned an alternative event called Ce Soir Noir where people have been dressing all in black and gathering at Crab Park two years running (since 2015).
Dine Out Vancouver Festival
Annual food festival where hundreds of restaurants offer prix-fix meals at $20, $30 and $40 price points. Put on by Tourism Vancouver and coupled with deals on hotel rooms, it’s meant to encourage tourism and has become a boon for locals looking to explore their own city’s food culture. 2017 will mark its 15th anniversary.
The Downtown Eastside
Adjacent to Gastown, for many years it has been wrongly dubbed “The poorest postal code in Canada”. On a recent trip through the neighbourhood Snoop Dogg made a plea that we “clean this sh*t up”, a common sentiment among tourists who mistakenly find their way into it. Nearly impossible to write about without being attacked (we’re bracing for it here), its Wikipedia entry starts off by noting that “The area, one of the city’s oldest, is notorious for its open-air drug trade, sex work, and high rates of poverty, mental illness, infectious disease, and crime. It is also known for its strong community resilience and history of social activism”. Despite its flaws the neighbourhood has some of the proudest and committed residents in the country, and the fabric of the community (and the importance of that very community, and its self awareness) is unbreakable. Most who live and work in the DTES love it and their neighbours, and are advocates for the positive aspects of it.
Emily Carr University of Art + Design
BC’s most renowned art school. Founded in 1925, fully accredited as a university in 2008, some of its most recognized alumni include Douglas Coupland, Neko Case, Brian Jungen and Liz Magor. Currently located on Granville Island, its new campus is being constructed in False Creek Flats.
Electronic Arts Canada
Arguably the biggest digital player in town, currently employing 1,300+ people and pumping out loads of video game titles since they launched here in 1983 as Electronic Arts’ first studio.
Greater Vancouver Board of Trade
Local business association which lobbies and advocates in the interests of its members, with the philosophy that less government interference in the government sector is more. They regularly bring in high profile speakers to events, with recent heavyweights being Hillary Clinton, the RCMP’s Bob Paulson, Rona Ambrose, Richard Branson and others. Many business-minded folks in Vancouver join as a way of networking and bolstering their business interests and connections.
Insurance Corporation of British Columbia
Love them or hate them (okay, you may be hard pressed to find someone who says they love them) this BC government agency is responsible for licensing drivers, vehicle registration and a “universal” automobile insurance that every car in BC is legally obligated to be under. They were introduced by the NDP government in 1973.
Integrated Homicide Investigation Team
RCMP division that investigates homicides, high-risk missing persons and suspicious deaths, with a heavy emphasis on gang and organized crime. They cover the area of the Lower Mainland District from Pemberton to Boston Bar, including Sechelt, and employ more than 100 people.
Independent Investigations Office of BC
As the name suggests, this independent organization undertakes an investigation any time there’s a police-related death or someone is seriously injured by the police. They do this to hold police forces accountable and “to determine whether or not an officer may have committed an offence”.
Mountain Equipment Co-op
Founded in Vancouver in 1971, they’re one of Canada’s largest outdoor retailers selling clothing as well as gear for climbing, camping, cycling and other outdoor activities. An actual co-op model, you pay $5 for a lifetime membership which then allows you to shop at the store and vote in its annual board election. Their mission is “getting people outdoors” and a large percentage of the product they sell is designed in-house and produced as MEC product under their own brand.
Museum of Vancouver
“Dedicated to inspiring a socially connected, civically engaged city” the Museum of Vancouver (a longtime partner of V.I.A.) puts a mirror in front of the city and reflects it back to itself. With an excellent permanent collection (and a hidden trove in the archives!) as well as rotating exhibitions, it’s a source of much inspiration for people who love their city. Fun fact: the iconic building it inhabits in Vanier Park was originally built to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday in 1967, and if you look closely in the lobby you’ll find the centennial logo there.
Music Therapy Ride
Now in its 15th year, an average of 150 people ride in this charity initiative. In its lifetime it has raised almost $1,000,000 for music therapy programs and the production of 11 Bandwagons, which are “innovative mobile recording studios used by therapists at care facilities including B.C. Children’s Hospital, Ronald McDonald House and Canuck Place Children’s Hospice.”
Currently our 2nd most powerful municipal political party, it controls the Park Board and has a healthy number of city councillors and school board trustees in elected positions. The name is a bit confusing as they have a tendency to be quite partisan these days, but their origin stems from the ideology that “civic governance should not be driven by partisan, or party, politics” – a creed that is hard to live by when the city is run by blocks of parties. Sitting at the centre-right on the political spectrum they’ve been framed by Vision Vancouver as having a membership made up mostly of “angry old white men”, but the party seems to be renewing itself in recent years. Since being established in 1937 the NPA has had 11 mayors elected, the last one being now-MLA of False Creek, Sam Sullivan (who runs the Public Salon and publishes a video series about BC history that we run here on V.I.A.).
North Shore Rescue (aka North Shore Search and Rescue)
Volunteer organization operating for the past 50 years to rescue people on the North Shore mountains. Hikers, climbers, skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and mountain bikers have all had their lives saved by this group, which goes beyond saving people and also works on educating them to help people avoid getting lost/in need of rescuing in the first place. What to Bring and Avoid Getting Lost are two must-read articles before heading out. Also, Top 5 Favourite Hikes (TO RECUE PEOPLE FROM) is a great tongue-in-cheek response to lists of hiking destinations that blogs (like ours) publish, and a call-to-arms for them to educate people on the dangers of outdoor activities.
FUN FACT: when they formed in 1965 they were “established as a heavy urban search and rescue unit to assist with Civil Defense activities in case the Russians dropped a nuclear warhead in the vicinity”!
News Talk 980 CKNW
The second highest ranked talk radio station in Vancouver (behind CBC Radio One), they primarily focus on news and current events. Many media legends have hung their hats here over the years including Jack Webster, Jim Robson and, more recently, Bill Good. Since Good’s departure they appear to be trying to appeal to a younger demographic, bringing in Gen X’er Michael Eckford for a spell, and recently Lynda Steele and former 99.3 The Fox host Drex have teamed up on an afternoon show that approaches prickly subjects and offers varying opinions on issues. Despite the programming shift they still play advertising spots squarely aimed at an older demographic, including ads for funeral homes and estate planning services.
We didn’t include any other local radio stations, who all have 4 letters assigned to them (our friends 102.7fm The Peak are CKPK, for instance), because NW is the only one that has a shortened version of their name that people use. When people say they heard something on NW, they mean CKNW.
Portland Hotel Society
One of the most well known non-profits working to improve the lives of at-risk citizens living in the Downtown Eastside, the PHS has hundreds of employees and operates housing facilities, the Insite supervised drug injection site and other initiatives. The organization got tangled up in scandal in 2014 when they were audited by Vancouver Coastal Health and it was revealed that they had “hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable expenses“, including a trip to Disneyland for an employee and his family and hotel rooms priced at $880 while on business trips. Then-Health Minister Terry Lake called their spending “unethical” and their board wound up resigning along with the husband and wife who ran the operation. It has since been operating without controversy.
Pacific National Exhibition
It wouldn’t be summer in Vancouver without the PNE. This annual fair has been running since 1910 and has been located in Hastings Park, at Hastings and Renfrew, for more than 100 years. Hallmarks include the Prize Home that is offered in a raffle, amusement rides, mini donuts and other greasy foods, a show called Super Dogs where pooches entertain the masses inside Pacific Coliseum multiple times per day, and an agricultural component where people can interact with all types of farm animals from all over BC. In October they run Fright Nights at the PNE focusing on 15 rides, 7 haunted houses and a number of live shows meant to scare your pants off.
Pacific Salmon Foundation
Established in 1987, this Vancouver-based charity works to conserve and restore wild Pacific salmon throughout British Columbia. A large part of their work includes granting money to community groups who work to rehabilitate salmon spawning habitat. They also do educational programs and research such as their Salish Sea Marine Survival Project they’re currently operating, which is looking into the reasons why the salmon fishery collapsed in this particular waterway.
Simon Fraser University
One of the larger post-secondary institutions in the province. Their main campus is up on Burnaby mountain but they also have smaller ones in Vancouver and Surrey. Historically known for breeding political activism, recently that reputation showed its face again as professors and staff actively engaged in opposing the twinning of the oil pipeline that is in close proximity to the main campus. One of those professors, Lynne Quarmby, even got arrested during an act of civil disobedience to make her point.
The Social Planning and Research Council of BC
Established in 1966, they work to make BC more accessible (for the poor, disabled, etc) through advocacy, public education and research work.
Single Room Occupancy Hotel
Primarily (entirely?) located in the Downtown Eastside, an SRO is a hotel that offers “affordable” housing to those who need it the most. They are tiny, single rooms that generally don’t have private bathrooms or kitchens. Mostly protected by the City of Vancouver who generally sees them as an important piece of keeping at-risk members of society safe, many are owned by the Province of BC and run by non-profits like the Portland Hotel Society.
Skateboarding Total Rules Everything Else Totally Sucks (band)
A band that played “punk rock skater thrash” in the early 2000’s, their last full-length album was released in 2005 but they toured together until 2007.
United Chinese Community Enrichment Services Society
Foundation that was initially founded to “assist new Canadians of Chinese descent to overcome language and cultural barriers”. They now have a multicultural approach, working on settlement for immigrants and refugees, seniors care and affordable housing.
Terminal City Roller Girls
Vancouver’s kick ass roller derby league! Now in their 10th year, they’re a player-owned non-profit that’s home to 9 teams who regularly provide athletic entertainment as well as bettering our community as a whole.
Theatre Under The Stars
Non-profit that delivers live theatre shows to citizens at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park. They’ve been a Vancouver institution since 1940!
The official tourism organization for Vancouver which has been working for the past 100 years to market our city as “a destination for leisure, meeting and event travel”. They answer to more than 1,000 member businesses (who are all tourism-related) and run a visitor’s centre downtown, a ticketing agency where tourists can get cheap access to events, and they publish a fantastic blog (called Inside Vancouver) that’s aimed at giving tourists the inside scoop about what’s happening in Vancouver.
The University of British Columbia
The most well-known post-secondary institution in BC. Home to tons of groundbreaking research, sports teams and controversy, they have multiple campuses including their massive main campus on the 14.13 km² that make up the University Endowment Lands.
Union Gospel Mission
One of the cornerstone organizations that works to bring light to the Downtown Eastside. UGM is a charity that offers food, shelter, recovery programs and more. They have been delivering hope to people since 1910 when they first opened their doors at 10 Powell Street.
Vancouver Art Gallery
The largest art gallery in Western Canada, with perhaps the most unfortunate acronym in the country. They’ve been around since 1931 and in 1983 moved into the old provincial courthouse which they renovated with Arthur Erickson to the tune of $20,000,000. One of their biggest claims to fame (despite hosting many breathtaking international art exhibitions) is that the public space outside the North side of their building has long been protest central, with groups gathering to stick it to the man. The Occupy movement set up a shanty town here in 2011, causing an election issue and eventually being dismantled by the city due to health concerns.
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users
Only in Vancouver would there be a registered non-profit whose main purpose is “To improve the quality of life for people who use illicit drugs”. Some would argue that getting off of them would be the answer to improving people’s quality of life, and that an organization like this might further normalize hard drug use instead of encouraging users to recover. Others would argue that VANDU does important work in harm reduction, which is crucial. It’s complicated.
Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games
The name pretty much says it all but in case it doesn’t: this was the corporation that was formed to take $1.76 billion and make the Olympics and Paralympics happen here in 2010.
Vancouver Craft Beer Week
Going into its 7th year, this annual week celebrates all things craft beer in Vancouver, bringing together breweries and everyday craft fans alike.
Vancouver Community College
Vancouver’s most well known community college, specializing in ongoing education, direct entry into employment and career advancement.
Vancouver Coastal Health
The Lower Mainland’s publicly funded, regional health authority. From environmental health and protection to mental health and addiction to running hospitals, they do it all. We’d be in deep trouble if they didn’t run such a tight ship as they do over there. Many of you probably owe them your life.
Vancouver Film School
Private education company specializing in everything behind-the-scenes of Hollywood North. Standout alumni include Neill Blonkamp and Tara Spencer-Nairn. They have an unprecedented 8 campuses throughout the city.
Vancouver Heritage Foundation
Non-profit that works to promote the conservation of heritage buildings in Vancouver, doing regular tours as well as fundraising to build an endowment fund to protect heritage buildings in the future. Not to be confused with Heritage Vancouver which advocates for the same thing only with a bit more of an edge.
A place where “hackers, computer geeks, engineers, circuit benders, crafters, and other creative types can gather to share ideas, equipment, opinions, and beer”. Currently located at #104-1715 Cook St, anyone can be a member of this ultra creative community of likeminded nerds. One of the best things in Vancouver (not to be confused with the VHS that is the Vancouver Humane Society).
Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration Society
Founded in 2004, they put on the world’s first International Bhangra (a Punjabi dance form) event in 2005. Since then they have brought the joy of bhangra to all of Greater Vancouver through their annual festival, and an exhibition at the Museum of Vancouver in 2011.
Vancouver International Dance Festival
Annual festival that brings in different types of dance from all over the world, introducing audiences to many artists previously unknown to them.
Vancouver International Film Festival
Our largest film festival (think TIFF for the west coast), bringing in films from over 70 countries showing on multiple large screens around town. The non-profit that runs this annual behemoth is also in charge of the year-round programming of the Vancity Theatre at the Vancouver International Film Centre on Seymour Street.
Vancouver International Improv Festival
Not to be confused with the film festival (two I’s not two F’s), this is a celebration of improvisation theatre/comedy. With festival passes available for $50, VIIF gives Vancouverites a ton of bang for their entertainment bucks.
Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association
If you’re thinking of getting a cat, head to these grassroots folks! With a no-kill policy, they have 350 volunteer foster homes around BC who take in rescued cats until they find forever homes.
Vancouver Public Library
The City’s official library system, with 22 branches, making lifelong learning accessible to everyone. They recently opened up the Inspiration Lab where you’re able to book high-end recording studios and digital editing equipment, further democratizing the creation of digital media.
Vancouver Police Department
Do we need to explain this one? It’s the cops!
Oh okay fine, we’ll share a little-known fact about them: while they work to keep us safe they also have an online store where you can purchase items like this Dodge Charger keychain/USB memory stick pictured below.
Vancouver School Board
The board of education that presides over our city and its 54,000 students enrolled in elementary, middle school, high school as well as a handful of adult education centres. Mandated by law to provide a balanced budget for the district every year, the current trustees voted in favour of not balancing it for 2016 as a show of protest for what they see as a lack of funding. This resulted in a forensic audit by the province which is currently underway, putting the trustee jobs on thin ice; the Ministry of Education has the power to fire them for not balancing the budget, replacing them with an interim board until the next civic election in 2018. There’s never a dull moment in regards to education politics in this city!
Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
Their mission is to “enrich and transform lives through music” by presenting “passionate, high-quality performances of classical, popular and culturally diverse music” in 15 different venues throughout Vancouver, Surrey and Whistler. They put on 150 concerts every year, and attending one of them just may be the best reason to get dressed up and go out in this town.
Vancouver Tool Library
One of the best little co-ops in the city! The model is simple: members dues and donations of support a tool lending library where they can sign out whatever they need to get household reno/handy jobs done around the house, without having to own a bunch of tools.
Vancouver Whitecaps Football Club
Our MLS team! They have a long history in the city but their inaugural season in the big leagues was in 2010, and their home is BC Place. Their fans (it’s likely you’re one of them) are a passionate bunch, with multiple support groups popping up in the city over the years.
Vancouver International Airport
This one’s easy: it’s our international airport.