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My Hometown: Ladner, B.C.

“I had no idea this was here!” This is a common reaction when I introduce urban friends to Ladner’s Delta Street, with its shops so cute they bring to mind Main Street Disneyland rather than suburban Lotusland.

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Ladner's Delta Street is a great place to do some shopping or people-watching.

Ladner’s Delta Street is a great place to do some shopping or people-watching.

I had the same reaction five years ago, when we moved our sailboat to one of Ladner’s docks. Tying up the boat next to a waterfront thick with reeds and crowded with birds, I felt as though we’d unexpectedly acquired a country home.

Tucked off the Fraser River, less than 20 kilometres from the dense urban centre of Vancouver, the Village of Ladner has been around since 1873, when a wharf was built so farmers could ship produce to urban markets. The waterfront stayed the centrepiece as the village grew, and even today the harbour isn’t touristy-it’s jam-packed with fishing boats and tumbledown boathouses. The wharf seems almost reluctant to join the 21st century.

This hesitation to move forward is what makes Ladner such a nice place to live and such a surprising place to visit. Its quaintness isn’t something a tourist board dreamt up. Instead, the village feels like a charming secret.

Best place for harbour watching: Ladner’s dykes, which protect the river delta from floods, double as uncrowded foot paths through forests and wetlands. My favourite is one that heads into Ladner Harbour Park. Continue along Swenson Walk, past the pretty Wharfinger office, until you end up at a viewpoint looking out over Ladner’s busy waterfront.

Biggest little museum: As a connoisseur of small-town museums, I’ve visited a few gems over the years, but also taken in some pretty dull exhibits. The Delta Museum and Archives, housed in a 1912 Tudor-style heritage building, is one of the best. We always head to the top floor, where the waterfront is depicted, then work our way down through informative displays that highlight the village’s history.

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Small-town style

Small-town style

There are not many places left where you can dance around a maypole after spinning on a carnival ride. Fortunately, Ladner has kept its 114-year-old tradition of a May Day fair going strong. From the pancake breakfast to the May Day Parade (complete with the crowning of the May Queen), this is the type of small-town fair I loved while growing up, but had thought was long extinct.

Ladner’s Village Market happens in the village centre every other Sunday from June through September. Stalls selling the usual array of local arts and crafts line the streets. Live music gives the area a festive air. But it’s the fresh local produce-plump blueberries, juicy tomatoes and new potatoes-that keeps me going back.

Farm fresh finds: With its view of the North Shore mountains and distant high rises, the wooden-decked one-lane swing bridge that leads to Westham Island always transports me to another era. The dreamy mood that the pastoral farmlands evoke is perfect for berry picking at Emma-Lea Farms and exploring at Westham Island Herb Farm, an organic farm that invites you to stroll through the crops.

One for the birds: It is probably the best known feature of Ladner, and for good reason: the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary is an abundant stretch of wetland that serves as a poignant reminder of just how much we’ve altered the landscape. Located on a small island at the tip of Westham Island, the sanctuary provides a protected habitat for 287 species of resident and migratory birds. Our favourite time to visit is when the lesser snow geese are migrating (generally mid-October to mid-December and mid-March to mid-April).

It’s only when you raise your eyes to watch the massive flock lift in unison that you see Vancouver, in the not so far distance. You’re reminded of just how close the city is despite the fact it feels so very, very far away.