Selfie sticks bloom beneath Vancouver’s cherry blossoms, as petal power goes global

It’s springtime in Metro Vancouver, and selfie sticks and tourists are springing up under the canopy of the area’s famous cherry blossoms.

On Sussex Avenue in Burnaby, east of Vancouver, five smartly dressed women set up an iPhone on a tripod under a bush of flowers.

One puts on a green scarf, then pauses to give instructions to her friends, adjusting their angles, and that’s it, for the perfect shot. They were too busy in a series of poses, hands on hips, to talk.

Linda Poole, founder and creative director of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs April 1-23, is no stranger to such scenes.

She recalled getting off tourists at Queen Elizabeth Park, one of Vancouver’s most popular flower-viewing spots.

“They’re really dancing and singing and modeling and posing under the flowers. It’s really cute. I see that all the time,” Poole said.

Vancouver’s cherry blossoms have become a national and international tourist attraction, with Chinese tour companies offering thousands-of-dollar viewing packages to compete with more traditional spots like Tokyo and Kyoto in Japan.

Edward Xie, manager of travel agency First Express Travel in Richmond, British Columbia, said his company promotes Vancouver flower viewing in the international market.

Tour guides pick up tourists from China and the United States at the airport and drive them around the city’s best cherry blossom viewing spots, he said.

First Express’ eight-day, seven-night trip from China to Vancouver and Victoria, dubbed the “Twin Cities Blossom Viewing” tour, costs 33,603 yuan ($6,580).

“Enter a colorful world, watch flowers and whales, and roam freely outdoors. Experience the romance of pink cherry blossoms and feel the atmosphere of April on Canada’s west coast,” reads the ad.

Vancouver’s flowers are famous in East Asia, and the city’s trees also originated from here. The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival includes a cherry blossom walking tour in the Kitsilano neighborhood in Mandarin. Like the English tour, it’s fully booked.

In the 1930s, the mayors of the Japanese cities of Yokohama and Kobe presented the Vancouver Park Board with 500 cherry trees in recognition of Japanese Canadians who served in World War I, Poole said.

Now, Destination Vancouver says there are more than 40,000 cherry trees in the city.

Xialin Liu, president and chief executive of Panasia Holidays, a Calgary-based travel company, said cherry blossom viewing is very popular among Chinese-speaking domestic tourists, many of them from Edmonton and Calgary.

“For them, exploring the local cuisine while viewing the cherry blossoms was like the perfect combination, because Vancouver is also known for its food,” Liu said in an interview conducted in Mandarin.

Cities like Kyoto and Washington, D.C., may have a greater international reputation, but Xie said many tourists who visit Vancouver also have family in the city.

“It’s very common to take pictures under cherry blossom trees – everyone loves it,” Xie said.

It’s not just tourists who are drawn to the flowers that fall like pink snow when the breeze blows.

Burnaby resident Emmanuel ST Yu walked under the cherry blossoms in Burnaby with his wife Connie, saying the cherry blossoms reminded him that living in B.C. was a “blessing”

“Walking around to see the cherry blossom trees is an annual tradition in my family, and we’ve done it for 11 consecutive years. We never get tired of it,” Yu said in Mandarin.

“Flowers are always so easy to cheer us up and remind us how lucky we are to live here.”

With more than 2,700 cherry blossom viewing spots throughout Metro Vancouver, the choice can be overwhelming, said Jordan Liu, British Columbia director of the Tour Guide Training Program for the Canada Pacific Inbound Tourism Association.

But he has some favorite spots — Gravely Street in Vancouver’s East End, West 22nd Avenue, Nelson Street in downtown, Yukon Street and outside Vancouver City Hall.

On West 22nd, Sophie Chan said she took multiple buses from her home in Surrey to the neighborhood. The slight undulation of the street allows for a view of a corridor of blooming trees stretching into the distance, a favorite location on Instagram.

The secret to a good photo of cherry blossoms is patience, Chan says — you need to wait for the right moment, the right light, and the right wind for the petals to fall.

Angela Hong lives at 22 West. It’s a mixed blessing – flowers make her feel “calm and peaceful”, but hordes of photographers can be loud and “very annoying”.

She said it was great to see people out and enjoying the season, but they needed to be aware that there were people living nearby.

Retired mechanical engineer Kenneth Kwan, 84, stood outside his home on Sussex Avenue in Burnaby, wearing a straw hat, posing for photos.

He said the flowers made him feel alive after being hospitalized with an illness for more than six weeks last year.

“My friends from San Francisco will be visiting me in Vancouver soon. I will show them around the city, including the cherry blossoms near my house,” Kwan said.

“Friends, flowers and laughter are the best.”

This story was produced with funding from Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Nono Shen, Canadian Press

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