The best books on Vancouver Canada

5 authors have picked their favorite books about Vancouver Canada and why they recommend each book.

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Who Killed Janet Smith?

By Ed Starkins,

Book cover of Who Killed Janet Smith?

Janet Smith was a young Scottish housemaid who was murdered in the home of her well-to-do employer in 1924. Never solved, the murder is one of the most celebrated crimes in Vancouver history, featuring political corruption, racial animosity, sex, drugs, and jazz. The book is a wonderful evocation of life in the city in the 1920s when it was emerging from world war and recession and finding its feet as a cosmopolitan community with pretensions to economic leadership. This is one of the first books I ever read about Vancouver history and it remains a favourite.


Who am I?

When I was a kid growing up in Vancouver my parents had a collection of books arranged on shelves around the living room. The only one I remember taking down and actually reading was an early history of the city. I recalled being impressed by the simple fact that someone had thought my hometown was interesting enough to write about, not something that was self-evident to a cocky teenager. Many years later, some two dozen books of my own under my belt, I decided maybe I’d earned the right to take a crack at the city myself.


I wrote...

Becoming Vancouver: A History

By Daniel Francis,

Book cover of Becoming Vancouver: A History

What is my book about?

The first full account of the city’s history in several decades, this book follows the evolution of Vancouver from a tiny mill-town at the edge of the continent, through decades of racial strife, economic transformation, and physical shape-shifting to its emergence as a modern world metropolis. I try to capture the main themes of the story without neglecting some of the colorful personalities who shaped the city with their industry and perseverance.

Death by Unknown Event

By Danielle Elliot,

Book cover of Death by Unknown Event

Unspooled as an episodic series, Danielle Elliot traces the true story of one woman’s long-running nightmare in Vancouver. Police received hundreds of complaints about a stalker and then repeatedly arrived at shocking scenes. But authorities began to doubt the victim’s claims—until she was found dead. I’ve long admired the hard-boiled writing of Ross Macdonald and Margaret Millar, and I don’t think it is only the Canadian setting that makes Death by Unknown Event remind me of their work, but rather the psychological intrigue. Except the twisting plot of these 12 episodes is no work of fiction—sometimes life just can be that strange.


Who am I?

Crime is intrinsically interesting. From an early age, we’re taught behavioral norms. Hearing of transgressions, we ask, “How’d this happen?... Is it true?... What’s the deeper meaning?” Audiobooks also have a unique ability to engage us. With my reporting background plus a historical novel under my belt, I began researching the real-life case behind Takers Mad, aiming to bring it to life with the intimacy, suspense, and power of an audio drama. Then I was gobsmacked to find fresh evidence in this Gilded Age murder. Now, with Khristine Hvam’s ultra-talented narration, I hope our work entertains and also leads listeners to ponder vital questions—just like the best crime audiobooks.


I wrote...

Takers Mad

By Luke Jerod Kummer,

Book cover of Takers Mad

What is my book about?

A tantalizing drama available exclusively on Audible, Takers Mad guides listeners down a shadowy path to explore a true-crime pulled from New York’s gritty past. As newspapers reported in the 1890s, a woman dubbed "Shakespeare" was found dead in a seedy hotel along Manhattan’s waterfront. The chilling scene recalled for press and police alike Jack the Ripper’s victims in London. After panic quickly spread, the city only sighed relief when detectives abruptly arrested an Algerian immigrant for the crime. But the question lingered—did authorities catch the right man?

Based on the author’s fresh research findings in this infamous real-life case, Takers Mad is a ruminative, atmospheric, and sometimes morbidly funny work of historical and literary suspense.

Stanley Park's Secret

By Jean Barman,

Book cover of Stanley Park's Secret

The secret of the title refers to the fact that Vancouver’s most famous landmark, Stanley Park, was home to many Indigenous people before they were dispossessed and removed from the park following the creation of the city. Jean Barman is one of British Columbia’s leading historians and she combines her skill as a researcher with many hours of conversation with descendants of the original families to write a path-breaking book. Reading it was a watershed moment in my own understanding of the city.


Who am I?

When I was a kid growing up in Vancouver my parents had a collection of books arranged on shelves around the living room. The only one I remember taking down and actually reading was an early history of the city. I recalled being impressed by the simple fact that someone had thought my hometown was interesting enough to write about, not something that was self-evident to a cocky teenager. Many years later, some two dozen books of my own under my belt, I decided maybe I’d earned the right to take a crack at the city myself.


I wrote...

Becoming Vancouver: A History

By Daniel Francis,

Book cover of Becoming Vancouver: A History

What is my book about?

The first full account of the city’s history in several decades, this book follows the evolution of Vancouver from a tiny mill-town at the edge of the continent, through decades of racial strife, economic transformation, and physical shape-shifting to its emergence as a modern world metropolis. I try to capture the main themes of the story without neglecting some of the colorful personalities who shaped the city with their industry and perseverance.

Vancouver Noir

By Diane Purvey, John Belshaw,

Book cover of Vancouver Noir: 1930-1960

Purvey and Belshaw are a husband-and-wife team of academics who know how to spin a great story for a general audience. Their book is an account of the “noir era” in the city, roughly 1930 to 1960. It is inspired by the black and white photographs of crime scenes and shadowy streetscapes that appeared in the daily press of the period. Reading it is like revelling in an old gangster movie. Amply illustrated.


Who am I?

When I was a kid growing up in Vancouver my parents had a collection of books arranged on shelves around the living room. The only one I remember taking down and actually reading was an early history of the city. I recalled being impressed by the simple fact that someone had thought my hometown was interesting enough to write about, not something that was self-evident to a cocky teenager. Many years later, some two dozen books of my own under my belt, I decided maybe I’d earned the right to take a crack at the city myself.


I wrote...

Becoming Vancouver: A History

By Daniel Francis,

Book cover of Becoming Vancouver: A History

What is my book about?

The first full account of the city’s history in several decades, this book follows the evolution of Vancouver from a tiny mill-town at the edge of the continent, through decades of racial strife, economic transformation, and physical shape-shifting to its emergence as a modern world metropolis. I try to capture the main themes of the story without neglecting some of the colorful personalities who shaped the city with their industry and perseverance.

The List of Last Chances

By Christina Myers,

Book cover of The List of Last Chances

A road trip provides a reliable narrative structure. But what makes each journey distinct is what the travellers see, do and learn along the way. This charming, funny book follows Ruthie, a recently single, down-on-her-luck 38-year-old as she accompanies Kay (70s) across Canada from Prince Edward Island to Vancouver, where Kay’s son wishes her to relocate. Kay doesn’t want to move, but if she is going to Vancouver, she has a list of ‘last chances’ for her and Ruthie to experience along the way. And thus an improbable friendship begins. Told from Ruthie’s perspective, this book reminded me of how much there is to discover on a road trip—the places we see, the people we meet along the way, and the person the journey inspires us to become. 


Who am I?

I’m a Canadian author who has been fascinated with how others see the world since I was a child. I was captivated by Charlotte’s Web. If pigs and spiders could be having unheard conversations, what else was I missing? I delight in stories that invite me into the distinct world of the narrator, so it’s no surprise that my novel, Entitled, is written from a unique perspective—that of a book. When done well, these stories let us see life through the eyes of someone else. If we all experienced our surroundings, just for a minute, as others did, perhaps there would be more humanity in this world. 


I wrote...

Entitled: Life isn't easy when you're a book

By Cookie Boyle,

Book cover of Entitled: Life isn't easy when you're a book

What is my book about?

The extraordinary adventures of an extraordinary book.

Entitled is a charming, humorous novel told from the perspective of a book seeking to find a home. As it is read, misplaced, loaned, and abandoned, our book, like its Readers, discovers love and heartbreak, loneliness and friendship, and ultimately becomes the author of its own journey. In the end, Entitled reveals the pull between the story we are born with and the one we wish to create for ourselves.

On the Farm

By Stevie Cameron,

Book cover of On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver's Missing Women

While Janet Smith was Vancouver’s shame in the 1920s, Willy Pickton was our boogeyman in the ‘90s. How did this pig farmer get away with murdering up to 50 women?—he was convicted of only six—because the women were sex workers and drug addicts that he picked up in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside and the police really didn’t give a shit. An investigative journalist, Cameron does a great job of outlining the botched police investigation and the department’s reluctance to believe it was a serial killer. Pickton is pure evil, and what I loved about Cameron’s work is how she not only gets into his head, but tells the stories of the victims, and in doing so, helps give them back a voice.


Who am I?

I’m a reporter, author of nine books, and the host and producer of the Cold Case Canada podcast. I fell in love with my city’s murky underbelly on a trip to the Vancouver Police Museum in the 1990s. Axe murders, murder by milkshake, Vancouver’s first triple murder—it was all there. I’ve tried to give those true crime exhibits new life by talking to law enforcement, relatives, and friends, digging up never-seen-before photos and documents, and wherever possible, giving the victims back their voice. I run the Facebook group Cold Case Canada where people share their thoughts, and in a best-case scenario, find leads that could help solve a murder. 


I wrote...

Murder by Milkshake: An Astonishing True Story of Adultery, Arsenic, and a Charismatic Killer

By Eve Lazarus,

Book cover of Murder by Milkshake: An Astonishing True Story of Adultery, Arsenic, and a Charismatic Killer

What is my book about?

When 40-year-old Esther Castellani died a slow and agonizing death in 1965, the cause was at first undetermined. But soon after, her husband Rene, a charismatic radio personality was charged with capital murder for poisoning Esther with arsenic-laced milkshakes so that he could marry Lolly, the station’s 20-something receptionist. Jeannine, the Castellani’s 11-year-old daughter became collateral damage. Initially, she clung to her father’s innocence, even committing perjury during his trial.

Rigorously researched, and often told from Jeannine’s point of view, Murder by Milkshake is based on dozens of interviews with family, friends, and co-workers and compellingly documents this sensational criminal case. Short-listed for the Bill Duthie Booksellers' Choice Prize (BC Book Prizes), Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award, and the City of Vancouver Book Award.

The Home Stretch

By George K. Ilsley,

Book cover of The Home Stretch: A Father, a Son, and All the Things They Never Talk about

When I read memoirs about aging parents, loss is usually an important theme; Ilsley's memoir stands out because his regret is for a closeness that never was. "Only now, as my father enters his nineties . . . and my aspirations of eldercare become more interventionist, has our relationship had a chance to deepen.

"And by deepen, I mean really begin to annoy each other."

Ilsley's relationship with his father is challenging. There are good reasons why Ilsley chooses to live in Vancouver rather than "home" in Nova Scotia. But his father is still is his father, and Ilsley commits. His writing is clear, candid, thoughtful, and so warm and funny. I loved this book.


Who am I?

I am a care aide (aka personal support worker) who has happily worked at an extended care facility for more than twenty years, and as such, I have been a compassionate listener to many a family member suffering from the tsunami of feelings involved when coping with aging parents or spouses, so I thought I would be well-positioned and emotionally prepared to cope when it was my turn to face my own mother's deterioration. How wrong I was! Thank goodness for the generous souls who write memoirs. Each of the books that I have chosen was an education and an affirmation to me as I tried to maintain my equilibrium while supporting my mother and my mother-in-law through their final years.


I wrote...

A Funny Kind of Paradise

By Jo Owens,

Book cover of A Funny Kind of Paradise

What is my book about?

A Funny Kind of Paradise is a novel about a strong, independent woman who, because of a debilitating stroke, ends up in an extended care facility, partially paralyzed, mute, and tube-fed. But Francesca still has a strong will to live, and a great sense of humour, and she is surprised to find herself deeply engaged in the lives the residents she lives with and the workers who look after them all. The daily routines and dramas Fran witnesses lead her to reconsider her past, in particular her role as a single parent to her children.

A Funny Kind of Paradise is a warm and insightful novel about one woman's opportunity for reinvention--for unconditional love, acceptance, and closure--in the unlikeliest of places.

All We Left Behind

By Danielle R. Graham,

Book cover of All We Left Behind

Of all my choices, this book is the most like mine in that it involves a Japanese-Canadian family removed from their home in British Columbia and forced into an internment camp during WWII. Hayden and Chidori are in love. But after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Chidori and her family are seen as the enemy. Longing more than anything to help them, Hayden joins the Royal Canadian Air Force believing it’s the swiftest way to bring the war to an end. Thoughts of Chidori are all that keep him alive. You’ll learn so much history as you absorb this story and cheer for its valiant characters.


Who am I?

I’m a Canadian author and I set my novels here. When I first attempted to write a book, I chose historical fiction because I thought it would be easier to get my characters into trouble—without cell phones and other modern conveniences to bail them out. I wasn’t wrong. However, the research involved with writing good historical fiction soon gave me a whole new appreciation for the genre and I was hooked. I find the WWII era far enough in the past to provide historical insight into humanity’s many weaknesses and strengths, yet near enough to make it relatable. I’ve been thrilled with the feedback on my faith-based stories.


I wrote...

Rose Among Thornes

By Terrie Todd,

Book cover of Rose Among Thornes

What is my book about?

When forced by her government to leave her beloved home in Vancouver and move to the Canadian prairies to work on the Thornes’ sugar beet farm, budding pianist Rose Onishi’s dream fades to match the black dirt staining her callused hands. When Rusty Thorne joins the Canadian Army, he never imagines becoming a Japanese prisoner of war or surviving the war only to encounter the Japanese on his own doorstep. Can Rose and Rusty overcome betrayal and open their hearts? Or will the truth destroy the fragile bond their letters created?

Along the No. 20 Line

By Rolf Knight,

Book cover of Along the No. 20 Line

This unusual book is a tour through the working-class city in the middle of the last century. This is a portrait of Vancouver when working people occupied the waterfront, instead of glittering condo towers. Knight imagines taking a trip on the old No.20 streetcar that once ran the length of the city’s eastside waterfront, painting an evocative portrait of the mills, docks, flophouses, and beer parlours that occupied the strip. Then he turns the book over to a series of personal reminiscences from men and women who called the neighbourhood home. Vancouver prides itself today on being a world-class destination for the global super-rich. This is where it came from.


Who am I?

When I was a kid growing up in Vancouver my parents had a collection of books arranged on shelves around the living room. The only one I remember taking down and actually reading was an early history of the city. I recalled being impressed by the simple fact that someone had thought my hometown was interesting enough to write about, not something that was self-evident to a cocky teenager. Many years later, some two dozen books of my own under my belt, I decided maybe I’d earned the right to take a crack at the city myself.


I wrote...

Becoming Vancouver: A History

By Daniel Francis,

Book cover of Becoming Vancouver: A History

What is my book about?

The first full account of the city’s history in several decades, this book follows the evolution of Vancouver from a tiny mill-town at the edge of the continent, through decades of racial strife, economic transformation, and physical shape-shifting to its emergence as a modern world metropolis. I try to capture the main themes of the story without neglecting some of the colorful personalities who shaped the city with their industry and perseverance.

The Beggar's Garden

By Michael Christie,

Book cover of The Beggar's Garden: Stories, The

Christie’s stories are set in downtown eastside Vancouver, a neighbourhood notorious for junkies and homelessness. Of course, the realities are much more diverse. 

These stories focus not only on the down-and-out but also on shop owners and others trying to make a go there, the traumatic things they witness and experience, and the guilt of surviving there. In prose that is sharp and witty, yet evocative and illuminating, he shows every character to be struggling, regardless of their situation. 

It is a very real look at completely believable characters. And he sees them very clearly, shows their humanity, and finds compassion for all of them.


Who am I?

I’m a short story reader, reviewer, and writer. Short stories are a powerful form, combining the distilled intensity of poetry with the depth of character development. They allow enough space to get to know a character, feel the pain of their disappointments, to root for their ultimate success. Such moments reflect broader realities of a culture, a society, a people. A single-author collection gives great insight into a writer’s abilities and style. My own debut collection was a finalist for the Alistair MacLeod short fiction prize and is critically acclaimed, so hopefully, that means my careful reading of these collections has taught me a thing or two


I wrote...

Boy with a Problem

By Chris Benjamin,

Book cover of Boy with a Problem

What is my book about?

Shortlisted for the prestigious Alistair MacLeod Prize for Short Fiction, the jury had this to say: "In Boy with a Problem, Chris Benjamin parses some of the major political issues of our times through the flawed, driven, often lonely characters he inhabits. They discover that nothing is ever as ethically easy as it appears. In many of these dozen stories of messy morality and questionable action, characters unravel their own motivations, learn the impossibility of escaping the past and face the very human costs of justice. They become intimate with the light that death sheds on life in their efforts to live it at all, if not well." 

These 13 short stories by award-winning author Chris Benjamin are about love, loss, failure, and acceptance.

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