Chan Hon Goh, Vancouver

My Vancouver: Celebrities Reminisce About the City They Love

by Laura Goldstein -

As one of the most desirable cities in the world in which to live, Vancouver has played a pivotal role in the destinies of many athletes, performers and creative minds. Whether as a stepping stone at the beginning of their long careers and a safe harbour for immigrants to start again (Prima Ballerina, Chan Hon Goh) or reaching the pinnacle of their life’s work here (NHL’s ‘Captain Canuck’, now president of the franchise, Trevor Linden,) the celebrated personalities of this Vancouver Series all have one thing in common: MY VANCOUVER is immeasurably in their hearts.

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Chan Hon Goh, Vancouver

Chan Hon Goh is Director of the Goh Ballet Academy and Youth Company of Canada, in Vancouver. Photo: Sian Richards

Chan Hon Goh

“I remember leaving China with my parents at 8 years old, crossing the Pacific and staring at a piece of broccoli from my in-flight meal asking what that was,” laughs former National Ballet of Canada Prima Ballerina, Chan Hon Goh now Director of The Goh Ballet Academy and Youth Company of Canada in Vancouver. Skyping from Beijing where she was the Guest of Honour at The Beijing International Ballet & Choreographic Competition, Goh was invited by Madam Zhao Ruheng Artistic Director of the National Ballet of China. Ironically, both Goh’s parents were celebrated principal dancers with the same company in the ‘60s but when Western classical ballet was forbidden during the Cultural Revolution, immigrated with Chan in 1976 for a better life in Vancouver.

Although Goh’s life may appear superficially like a fairytale, her parents’ struggle as new Canadian immigrants had an enormous impact on their daughter growing up and her perseverance to achieve. “It was a very big decision for them to decide to leave China, then start a ballet school in my Aunt’s basement in 1978. There weren’t as many Chinese in Vancouver then and we grew up in a predominantly white neighbourhood.” “Even though I had completed grade 1 in China,” explains Goh, “I had to attend ESL classes here because I spoke no English at all.” Given ballet instruction by her parents, “Everyone at their dance studio was equal, and that really instilled the passion in me to succeed.”

After completing Sentinel Secondary School in West Vancouver, Goh started to take part in international ballet competitions. She was the first Canadian to receive the Silver Medal at the Genée International Ballet Competition in London, England.

Goh joined the National Ballet of Canada in 1988, becoming a principal dancer in 1994. Performing internationally, she received critical raves for her emotional depth and elegant interpretations in title roles in Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty, The Firebird, Madame Butterfly and La Sylphide.

“No one likes to think about retiring- ballet is such a short-lived career,” says Goh, “but after 20 years of dancing and thinking about my next step, Karen (Kain) said to me ‘refuel and energize and see where life will lead you.’ It was great advice,” she admits now. She and her husband, Chun Che (former principal dancer with the National Ballet of China,) and Vice Principal of The Goh Academy, started a business – Principal Shoes – designing pointe shoes and distributing to markets around the world. Then, with her parents ready to retire, how prophetic that Goh come full circle and accept the reins, becoming Director of The Goh Academy and Youth Company of Canada in 2010. “This appointment was very near and dear to my heart,” she confides.

“I love Vancouver- but one of the hardships of my work is having to be indoors,” says Goh. “We are so lucky to have good clean air here. We live in West Vancouver and have access to the seawall and great beaches. I try to take my 9-year-old son, Aveary to programs at the Vancouver Symphony and Art Gallery as often as possible.”

“Directing and producing The Nutcracker every year at The Centre with members of the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, is an amazing challenge for me,” admits Goh, used to being out front performing, she had to learn all the ins and outs of mounting the annual classic. “I wanted Vancouver to have the exceptional production that every large city in Canada enjoys.”

In 2013 in celebration of the Goh Ballet’s 35th Anniversary year, the family dynasty of dance (founders, Choo Chiat Goh and Lin Yee Goh with their daughter, Chan Hon Goh) were presented with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, by The Honourable Hedy Fry, in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the arts in Vancouver and Canadian culture.

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Jason Priestley, Vancouver

Jason Priestley, Photo Credit: Manfred Baumann

Jason Priestley

“Never become complacent – always challenge yourself,” emphasizes Jason Priestley, who penned his autobiography last year.

Priestley could have let his role as teen heartthrob Brandon Walsh, in the ‘90s hit TV series Beverly Hills 90210, lead him by the coattails indefinitely. Instead, the handsome 47-year-old with many diverse interests, chose to diversify his talents as a director, producer, stage actor and entrepreneur – often away from Hollywood’s incessant scrutiny.

Vancouver-born Priestley “Started in the business at 5 years old. My mom, Sharon Kirk, was an actress and acting coach. Film and TV in the ‘70s and ‘80s in Canada was still pretty small but I took everything I could get into from commercials to CBC-TV series including one episode (shot in Vancouver) of Danger Bay,” he laughs. Priestley made his feature film debut in 1986 in The Boy Who Could Fly, also shot in B.C.

After graduating from Argyle Secondary School in North Vancouver, “I moved to LA as fast as I could, getting roles on Airwolf, 21 Jump Street, Sister Kate and in 1990, Beverly Hills 90210.” The directing bug hit early: readers may be surprised to learn that Priestley directed 19 episodes of the popular series over it’s 10 – season run and that would provide the stepping stone for many future directing projects.

“I’ve always been a big fan of the band Barenaked Ladies – huge in Canada but not in the U.S. initially,” explains Priestley. “While living in California, I really wanted to help them and in 1998 I got in touch with them with the idea to direct a documentary Barenaked In America, while on tour. Front man Ed Robertson cites that as instrumental in their U.S. success. Later I directed their music video for their hit song, The Old Apartment. ”

Priestley made his feature film directorial debut with Cas & Dylan starring Richard Dreyfuss and Tatiana Maslany and finished his 4th season for Call Me Fitz for HBO Canada in which he stars, produces and directs.He’s currently co-starring in the 10-episode comedy, Private Eyes, filmed entirely in Toronto. He’s a wine connoisseur and is co-owner of Black Hills Estate Winery in Canada’s Okanagan.

A former racing car driver, Priestley was seriously injured in 1999 during a practice run at the Kentucky Speedway when his Indy Pro Series Car crashed into a wall at speeds of 180 miles per hour). Always challenged by the spontaneity of live theatre, he starred this year in the Canadian Stage premiere of David Mamet’s Race in Toronto. A serious wine collector, Priestley is directing and hosting the 3rd season of Hollywood & Vines, a celebrity wine series for the Travel Channel, with Vancouver pal, Terry David Mulligan.

“I love visiting Vancouver to see my friends,” says Priestley, married for ten years to make-up artist Naomi Lowde-Priestley, they have a eight-year-old daughter Ava and 6-year-old son Dashiell.

“I never leave town without eating at Vij’s – in my mind it’s the finest East Indian food in North America!”

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Rick Hansen, Vancouver

Photo: Rick Hansen Foundation

Rick Hansen

Inspired by the dream of creating an accessible and inclusive world and finding a cure for spinal cord injuries, Rick Hansen set out on a journey that would make history in 1985 – the Man In Motion World Tour.

For 26 months, he and his team wheeled over 40,000 km through 34 countries raising awareness about the potential of people with disabilities and need for spinal cord research. They raised $26 million and Hansen was heralded as a hero.

“Coming back to Vancouver when the World Tour ended in 1987 is something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. It was so special and inspiring to see the entire city in the streets welcoming me back, filling BC Place,” reminisces Hansen, a gold-medal Paralympian. “I was back there again with my family when the BC Lions won the Grey Cup!” laughs Hansen.

“Vancouver is still the most wheelchair accessible city in the country beginning when the city hosted Expo’86 introducing the Sky Train. Our rapid transit system has continued to be a model worldwide for wheelchair and bicycle accessibility. From my perspective, the Vancouver International Airport has also worked very hard to improve accessibility because, let’s face it – it’s the first thing people visiting the city see and they’ve won international awards because of that.”

With the establishment of the Rick Hansen Foundation in 1988, funding has enabled the Rick Hansen Institute and in 2008 The Blusson Spinal Cord Centre to connect research scientists in Canada and around the world, improving the care and treatment of people with spinal cord injury.

Technology has paved the way for exceptional advances in every field and the Rick Hansen Foundation has developed an innovative web app that will impact tourism, business, restaurants and general accessibility for anyone with a disability.

“It’s an easy-to-use, interactive, digital media tool for rating the level of access to buildings and open spaces. Partnering with Richmond, B.C., they are recognized as the first Municipality in Canada to participate in the pilot program and complete professional ratings for 29 city-owned venues and public spaces.” explains Hansen.
Originally launched by the foundation in late 2011 and now available globally, it has more than 13,500 reviews of more than 17,000 venues, from 20 countries around the world.

“My hope is that every public building in Canada will be on planat.com to show the world how truly accessible they are,” says Hansen.

Based on a five-point rating system similar to consumer reviews found on travel websites, planat.com is focused on accessibility features from a mobility, sight, and hearing perspective. Available in English and French it also includes accessibility information from around the world. “At this time, reviews can be submitted and accessed through the web app available on a range of devices,” says Dan DeBeyer, Director of Planat for the foundation.

An accomplished fisherman, Hansen is the Founding Chair of the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society. In fact, some of his earliest memories are of fishing adventures with his grandfather, father, uncle and cousins. At the age of 15, Rick sustained a spinal cord injury on his way home from a fishing trip. Following his injury, fishing proved to be therapeutic and helped him realize that he was still an adventurer.

“When I visit the Vancouver Aquarium, says Hansen, “I’m blown away by the sturgeons’ prehistoric look- they’ve survived two ice ages- that’s worth preserving!”

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Farhez Rayani, Vancouver

Farhez Rayani, Lighting Director, Pixar Animation Studios. Photo courtesy of Disney • Pixar.

Farhez Rayani

Majoring in ‘scaring children’ at Monsters University never occurred to Kenyan-born Farhez Rayani as a specialty when attending Simon Fraser University in computer engineering and later Emily Carr studying animation in the ‘90s. Even as a 6-year-old computer wiz kid in Vancouver and obsessed with drawing and creating flip-books as early as grade one, the seeds of his future career were irrevocably sown.

As a  Technical Lighting Director at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California, near San Francisco, Rayani, 38, admits that although he always loved drawing, designing lighting effects is his true passion. “As soon as I graduated, I worked for Alias/Wavefront (now Autodesk) in Vancouver for 5 years. They created a package called Maya, which is a 3D animation program that the entire industry uses. Alias was always into lighting technology and that’s where I really began to specialize.”

With stints in Australia working on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Superman Returns for Rising Sun Pictures, Rayani was hired by Pixar in 2008. Since then he has worked on such recent box office hits as Up, Happy Feet, Toy Story 3, and Brave.

“For Monsters University we developed a new illumination technique on top of Pixar’s state-of-the-art software RenderMan that allows us to more easily create hundreds of realistic lighting effects in half the time,” explains Rayani. “I’m given a guide of sequences by the Director, Art Director and Director of Photography to create mood, emotions, etc. Think painting in layers. It’s so realistic that a lot of people thought we shot in live action then animated on top of that but it’s completely virtual! The lighting for Monsters University took almost a year and a half to create and 7 months for Blue Umbrella.” (that’s the short that appears prior to the feature with Rayani’s incredibly lit rain effects.) There are literally hundreds of lighting effects in each film. I was so lucky to work on both.”

“Vancouver has become a major city for home-grown computer animation talent or for U.S. and International companies to set up shop there, acknowledges Rayani. “Pixar has a studio in Vancouver where they specialize in short films that support our movies. I think that VFS (Vancouver Film School) has gained huge credentials in the quality of their work that they produce and the grads that are coming from there and from Emily Carr have a great reputation.”

With his daughter in tow, Rayani tries to visit his large extended family in Vancouver at least once a year. “Vancouver is so beautiful and we try to go boating around English Bay, biking and hiking. I also like to visit Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Gardens, Museum of Anthropology at UBC and Queen Elizabeth Park. I’m afraid living in California has softened me about skiing but my daughter loves the snow at Grouse Mountain.”

“Eating is very important to us,” he laughs, “and we love seafood. Our family favourites are Original Tandoori 7215 Main St., and Jambo Grill on Kingsway, for African food.”

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Steve Podborski, Vancouver

Steve Podborski: Chef de Mission 2014 Sochi Winter Games | Photo: Canadian Olympic Committee

Steve Podborski

The world was watching in 1980. Careening down a blistering course at 145 kilometers per hour in bone chilling weather with degrading visibility, Steve Podborski was one of the five Crazy Canucks on the Canadian Alpine Ski Team (along with Dave Murray, Ken Read, Dave Irwin and Jim Hunter), so dubbed by European media for their reputation for taking unprecedented risks. ‘Pod’ was the first North American male to win an Olympic medal in downhill skiing, bringing home bronze in the 1980 Olympic Winter Games at Lake Placid and 8 individual World Cup wins.

“I remember visiting (the late) Dave Murray out here when we were practicing for World Cup and he said ‘ just tell everyone who asks you about Vancouver that it rains all the time, because it’s so amazing, we don’t want anyone else to move out here!’”

Podborski, who would later became the Assistant Chef de Mission for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, remembers the excitement of being part of that original bid for the Vancouver Olympics, announced in Prague, July 3, 2003:

“Standing with Prime Minister Chrétien, bid president, John Furlong, Wayne Gretzky, Premier Gordon Campbell and many other supporters in Prague when the IOC President Jacques Rogge announced that Vancouver had been selected to host the 2010 Winter Games, the crowd just exploded here and at home at the live broadcast at GM Place in Vancouver!” (now Rogers Arena .)

“Then, just before the 21st Olympic Winter Games opened, another memorable moment for me was during the Olympic Torch passing in Whistler, just prior to its arrival to light the cauldron in Vancouver, when Free-Style Skiing Champion Julia Murray (and Dave’s daughter) passed the baton to me. Dave would have been so proud.”

After 20 years in Whistler, Podborski and family have lived in Vancouver’s Fairview Slopes for five years, overlooking Granville Island with views all the way to Olympic Village. Today, at 55, he’s still buff but a little less of a daredevil. Appointed Chef de Mission for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games in Russia, his duties included spokesperson for Canadian athletes at the Games, and worked with the COC in preparing them for the Olympic environment.

When not travelling, Podborski loves spending time with his family “mountain biking on the Endowment Lands near UBC, cruising through Steveston, visiting Iona Beach and grabbing a burger at Romers Burger Bar in Kits – the best burgers in the city!”

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Ashleigh McIvor and Jay DeMerit, Vancouver

Ashleigh McIvor and Jay DeMerit biking on the Vancouver seawall

Ashleigh McIvor & Jay DeMerit

A mutual sponsor played cupid for two of Vancouver’s most heralded athletes while they watched a hockey game from the Bell Suite at Rogers Arena. Whether a match made in endorsement heaven or serendipity, Ski-Cross Gold Medalist, Ashleigh McIvor and Jay DeMerit, former Captain of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC tied the knot on August 25th 2014.

“The 2010 Vancouver Olympics was just a magical experience for me,” reminisces
Whistler-born McIvor. “I felt so calm – not nervous just excited-at the start gate and I felt the whole country was behind me before the race. I wanted to go out and have fun with it. It was just tremendous to win at the Vancouver Olympics because it was the first time that the International Olympic Committee agreed to debut ski-cross at the Games,” she explains.

With 11 World Cup podium honours she was forced to retire from competitive racing in 2011 because of a serious knee injury but continues to participate full throttle in absolutely everything she does.

The athletic dynamo who has parlayed her experience into modeling, commentating and public speaking engagements is still a self proclaimed “endorphin junkie.”

“Jay and I love cruising around Indian Arm seeing the waterfalls cascading into the ocean or we’ll rent a boat from Granville Island or Coal Harbour and go to Deep Cove kayaking and have a picnic. I’ve done the Grouse Grind several times and get my workout hiking up but because of my knees, take the gondola down. I always make sure I take my out-of-town guests up there.”

Wisconsin-born DeMerit played for four years in Vancouver as Whitecaps FC Captain and retired in 2014 after a series of injuries. “The Whitecaps are the oldest soccer team in North America and they really put soccer on the map here,” says DeMerit. “I wanted to come to Vancouver because of the culture and the fans here are amazing- they really enjoy the sport and know when to chant.”

He’s the star of the documentary Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story (Netflix) a tale of his enormous perseverance trying to grapple his way into the competitive British football leagues after college, eventually realizing his dream to play in the 2010 World Cup. The film ran in over 200 theatres in the U.S. and in 2012 won the Rising Star Award at the Canada International Film Festival in Vancouver.

While both athletes do a lot of charitable events, “I really want to develop the Rise & Shine Foundation in the near future,” says DeMerit “and hope Ashleigh will work with me to use our sports to inspire kids to work harder to attain their goals.”

“We live in a funky condo in Gastown,” says McIvor, “with an amazing view of Burrard Inlet and the North Shore Mountains and there are so many great bars and restaurants within walking distance like the Cork & Fin for oysters or The Flying Pig in Yaletown. Ashleigh and I really like to go to the Vogue Theatre too,” adds DeMerit.

“And of course, I really love to go to the Whitecaps’ games,” laughs McIvor. “It’s so much fun!”

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Terry David Mulligan, Vancouver

Terry David Mulligan, veteran radio and TV broadcaster, actor and wine connoisseur.

Terry David Mulligan

It seems Vancouver’s Terry David Mulligan has lived multiple lifetimes with hundreds of yarns to prove it. From Royal Canadian Mountie to eclectic radio host; film and television actor; 14-year Western correspondent and VJ for Citytv’s MuchMusic then host of MuchWest; author and wine connoisseur.

“I’ve interviewed almost everyone,” quips Mulligan matter-of-factly and immediately jumps into a barrage of great anecdotes and juicy trivia. “I had a great working relationship with Janis Joplin. She’d break out the bourbon in a taped interview – drink me under the table- but I’d get so drunk I could only use the first half of the interview!” he admits.

“I had to record three interviews with Jimi Hendrix in Vancouver in 1968, I was so nervous. I didn’t realize until after the interview that he spent summer’s here in Vancouver at his grandmother Nora’s house. I thought he came from London. That experience made me a better interviewer.”

His book, Mulligan’s Stew published in 2011, is the ultimate smorgasbord of rock ‘n roll anecdotes during Vancouver’s summer of love: hanging out with Cheech and Chong or shopping with Jim Morrison on Davie Street. “ Morrison was looking for Hemingway books and Beatle boots and was always quoting poetry- very hard to make sense of what he was saying,” reminisces Mulligan.

Born in New Westminster, B.C., Mulligan’s first career was as an RCMP officer in Red Deer, Alberta from 1960 to 1964. “But I just wanted to be involved with music and got pulled into radio,” he says. “When I phoned my Dad to tell him I had left the Mounties, he didn’t speak to me for a year.”

Mulligan’s passion for music was obviously contagious- he was given the opportunity to create and program Canada’s first underground rock station CLKG-FM, now CFOX. For 15 years he has produced and hosted Mulligan Stew, a weekly 2-hour music program of hot tracks for Alberta’s Public Radio Network, CKUA and The Tasting Room, a travel, food and wine show, for BC Radio.

Next time you are watching the X-Files (shot in Vancouver) or The Fantastic Four amongst many others, don’t be surprised to see Mulligan in a character role.

He was named Broadcaster of the Year in 2012 by the British Columbia Association of Broadcasters.

“We had a beautiful old renovated farmhouse on the Naramata Bench in the Okanagan for 4 years but when our kids moved to Salt Spring Island, we wanted to be closer to them and our grandchildren, so my wife Meg and I moved back to a heritage home in North Vancouver,” says Mulligan who produces many of his broadcasts from his home studio.

Irreverent, opinionated and very witty, Mulligan championed the government’s ban on cross-border wine shipping by driving into Alberta with 10 bottles of B.C. wine. (He wasn’t prosecuted and continues to be a staunch supporter for Parliament to overturn the antiquated law dating back to Prohibition.)

He and good buddy, fellow Vancouverite, Jason Priestley, “ we met years ago when we’d audition for acting roles at the same time- me in the Dad roles – he as my kid, ” collaborate on a celebrity wine show, Hollywood & Vines shot on locations all over the world. Now in it’s 5th season, it’s syndicated on the UK’s Travel Channel and Super Channel in North America.

“We wanted to demystify wine for people- make it fun and entertaining. Jason is so well versed about wine, he could be a sommelier,” says Mulligan. “He has over 5,000 bottles in his home wine cellar! He’s the pro – I’m the schmo who just co-hosts and edits.”

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Trevor Linden, Vancouver

Trevor Linden, retired, former Captain of the Vancouver Canucks, is an avid hiker, skier and cyclist. Photo Credit: Damian Cromwell

Trevor & Christina Linden

“I remember that last game very clearly,” reminisces President of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team and their former Captain, Trevor Linden of his final NHL game, April 5th 2008 against the Calgary Flames when #16 stepped on the ice for the last time in GM Place (now Roger’s Arena) Vancouver.

“It was really special because nothing had been previously announced officially that I was retiring that day, but the fans started to chant as soon as I came out and gave me a standing ovation. Then I did a victory lap after the game- it was so exciting.”

Vancouver City Council said that they would honour Linden by declaring the date of his jersey retirement to be ‘ Trevor Linden Day’ in Vancouver and Canuck’s management changed the Gate 5 entrance for players and VIP’s to Gate 16.

Playing centre and right-wing for four teams (two separate stints with the Vancouver Canucks), Linden’s legendary 20-year hockey career is a litany of awards & accolades including leading the Canucks to back to back Smythe Division titles; elected President of the National Hockey League’s Players’ Association for eight years; and a member of the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and 1998 Olympic Team in Nagano, Japan. He was awarded the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 1997 for leadership and humanitarian contributions on and off the ice; 2008 NHL Player of the Year and the Order of Canada in 2010.

Linden’s commitment to charitable causes off the ice through BC Children’s Hospital and his own Trevor Linden Foundation focusing on at risk kids, has greatly contributed to the Vancouver community.

“The thing I love about the West Coast is that people are crazy about the outdoors, enthuses Linden, “and almost every sport imaginable is either within the city with incredible bike paths downtown or just a couple of hours away.” A huge fitness buff himself, he opened Club 16 Trevor Linden Fitness gyms in 5 locations including bike rentals in downtown Vancouver.

An avid skier, hiker and member of a guys-only cycling group, “We do the GranFondo cycling event from Vancouver to Whistler every year,” says Linden. “It’s pretty grueling.”

“Trevor and I love to cycle to Lion’s Gate Bridge or along the seawall,” says his wife, Vancouver-born Christina Linden who grew up in Burnaby. She’s the co-owner of Basquiat, a hip women’s clothing boutique in Yaletown. “We also like to eat out a lot and go to Lolita’s for great Mexican food near English Bay, L’Abattoir in Gastown and Hawksworth in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia.”