Canada's most westerly province, British Columbia is sandwiched between the Rocky Mountains on the east and the mighty Pacific Ocean on the west. It's also bordered to the south by the USA and to the north by the Northwest and Yukon territories.
Its location on the Pacific Rim ensures that British Columbia has a rich blend of cultures. Together with the area's own rich indigenous heritage, this diverse makeup makes for interesting towns and cities with a cosmopolitan ambience.
The combination of sea and mountains, together with the broken coastline sporting hundreds of islands and inlets, gives the province a varied set of natural attractions and recreational opportunities, from world-class winter sports to sailing or hiking in tall forests.
It is especially attractive to travellers who enjoy the great outdoors, particularly because a good transport infrastructure of ferries, charter boats, trains, and well-maintained roads makes it possible to access all the best wilderness spots in British Columbia with ease and comfort.
British Columbia is home to four national parks, seven provincial heritage sites, many nature reserves, and the scenic Cariboo Chilcotin Coast. The coast has a number of beautiful fjords and is a popular destination for canoeing. The volcanic mountains of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park provide trekking opportunities while the Kootenay Rockies boast some of the best skiing and snowboarding in Canada.
The provincial capital of British Columbia is the city of Victoria, situated on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. But its largest and most populated city is Vancouver, known as Canada's 'emerald jewel' because of its green-blue vistas of mountains and sea.
British Columbia's tourist attractions are a hard-hitting combination of stunning natural assets and cosmopolitan cultural experiences. The province stretches between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains, encompassing some magnificent landscapes and protected areas of great beauty.
Parks worth exploring include Glacier National Park, Yoho National Park, Kootenay National Park, Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, and Mt Revelstoke National Park, to name just a few. Lakes, mountains, glaciers, epic walking trails, ski slopes, and hot springs await adventurous visitors.
The city of Vancouver attracts many travellers with its wealth of cultural attractions, fun nightlife, and spectacular setting. The historic hub of Gastown displays a Victorian character in this otherwise modern city. The capital of British Columbia, Victoria, draws visitors to Vancouver Island, which also boasts a number of quaint towns and the ubiquitous British Columbian natural beauty.
Ski resorts, like the famous Whistler Blackcomb, draw winter sports enthusiasts from all over the world, and there are also many friendly resorts with slopes for beginners, where the locals flock to learn.
The pride of Vancouver's network of parks and gardens, Stanley Park covers 1,000 acres (405 hectares) and is one of the largest parks in any urban centre in North America. Situated in the heart of Vancouver's densely populated West End, it stretches out on a peninsula and surrounded on three sides by water.
Stanley Park is at once a refuge for visitors seeking a brief escape from the urban jungle, a showcase for the natural beauty that surrounds the city and an entertainment centre. The park is criss-crossed through its dense rainforest interior by miles of wide gravel paths surrounding Beaver Lake and Lost Lagoon.
It is home to hundreds of migratory birds such as Canada geese, swans, and ducks, and large populations of racoons, squirrels, skunks, and coyotes. The park has a miniature railroad, putt-putt golf course, and an aquarium. It is also possible to walk, jog, cycle, or rollerblade around the long seawall that encircles the perimeter.
In the west of Vancouver at the University of British Columbia on the cliffs of Point Grey, totem poles mark the way to the Museum of Anthropology, world-renowned for its displays of Northwest Coast First Nations art.
One of its main features is the world's largest collection of works by internationally acclaimed Haida artist Bill Reid, including his famous cedar sculpture 'The Raven and the First Men'. In the museum's unique Visible Storage Galleries, more than 15,000 objects and artefacts from around the world are arranged according to culture and use. In the grounds of the museum are two Haida houses, showing the dramatic beauty of traditional Northwest Coast architecture.
Vancouver's Chinatown is not only a strong, established ethnic community, but also a popular tourist attraction and prosperous commercial district. Its bustling streets are full of colour and commerce; even the pagoda-topped telephone booths add to the atmosphere. Shop displays spill onto the pavements, and tables groan with the weight of exotic foodstuffs and the strange wares of the Chinese apothecaries.
The Sam Kee Building in Pender Street is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the narrowest building in the world, at only six-foot (two metres) wide. This was the result of a local property owner reacting to the expropriation of most of his land in 1912 for the widening of the street: Chang Toy decided to build what he could on the remaining tiny strip.
Another main attraction in Chinatown is the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, enclosed behind high walls, that was built in 1986 at a cost of C$5.3 million with the craftsmen and materials all imported from China. It is a quiet haven of walkways, pavilions, gnarled trees, water features, and natural rock sculptures. Next door to the Garden is the Chinese Cultural Centre with its elaborate gated entrance hand-painted in traditional colours.
Alongside Chinatown, the fascinating historic enclave of Gastown transports visitors back in time to envision the city in the days of old. Set in the central core of Vancouver, it has cobbled streets, antique gaslights, Victorian architecture, narrow alleys, courtyards, and hidden boutiques and restaurants.
Gastown was named after Vancouver's first settler and saloon owner, Jack 'Gassy' Deighton, whose historic hotel was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1886 along with much of the city. The fire swept through the town in less than an hour, leaving only two of the 400 or so houses standing.
Gassy has been immortalised with a statue in Maple Tree Square in Gastown. Another point of interest is the Lamplighter Pub in the Dominion Hotel, which was the first Vancouver inn to serve alcohol to women.
The Europe Hotel was the first fireproof building in western Canada, having been built just after the fire in 1892. Gastown keeps time with the world's first steam clock, which plays the Westminster chimes every 15 minutes on five brass steam-whistles inside its cast bronze case.
Transformed from an ugly stone quarry in the 1950s, the exquisite Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver now boasts lush gardens bursting with flowers, live theatre, the Bloedel Floral Conservatory, a restaurant, a Pitch and Putt course, and much more.
The park receives about six million visitors annually who come to enjoy a 360 degree view of Vancouver from its highest point, 505 feet (167m) above sea level. The Bloedel Floral Conservatory, with its characteristic geodesic dome, is home to more than 100 species of tropical birds that roam free in the area, as well as hundreds of species of exotic plants and flowers.
Other highlights of the park include the Quarry Garden, J. Seward Johnson's sculpture 'The Photo Session', the Lions Clock, and the arboretum, with its fine examples of indigenous trees from across Canada. Spring is an excellent time to visit the park as it becomes a riot of colour, with white and pink cherry blossoms and all sorts of flowers displaying their finest.
What was once a run-down industrial area in Vancouver is now a thriving entertainment and shopping hub, with a vibrant market central to the island's activities. It is accompanied by the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, a theatre, and a brewery.
The island is easily accessible, located in the middle of Vancouver under the Granville Street Bridge on the south shore of False Creek and linked by a road to the city. While it barely seems like a separate place, it's nonetheless a relaxing break from the city.
The public market is a riot of colours, smells, local produce, fresh meats and fish, flowers, tasty treats, crafts, clothing, and souvenirs are all on offer. The separate Kids Market is a must for children, with toy stores, games, and more, while the Maritime Market is a showcase for boat-builders, with a museum, supply stores, and tours.
Visits to the Granville Island Brewing Company and taste-tests of their brews are possible. For something more cultural, one can catch a show at the Island's theatre or enjoy a student art show at the Emily Carr Institute. The island has the biggest free waterpark in British Columbia, open May to September.
Perhaps the best way to enjoy the island, however, is to grab something to eat from one of the many stalls, choose a table outside and simply watch the people go by. Or one can take a self-guided tour, being sure not to miss the picturesque houseboats.
Situated in North Vancouver, Lonsdale Quay offers spectacular views of downtown Vancouver, its harbour, and the North Shore Mountains. There are also a variety of shops, restaurants, and an excellent public market.
The best way to experience the quay is to catch the SeaBus from Waterfront Station on Cordova Street in downtown Vancouver, a fifteen-minute ride that allows one to relax and enjoy the view, watch seaplanes land and see what cruise ships are in the harbour, before embarking on some retail therapy.
The market, though slightly smaller than that of Granville Island, boasts mouth-watering fresh goods, from seafood to fresh fruit and vegetables, pastries and sweets, and there is a wide range of restaurants available, including Mexican, Greek, Japanese, Indian, and more.
There are also a variety of stalls selling all sorts of arts and crafts, souvenirs, and clothing, and the retail level boasts plenty of boutiques, a kids play area and specialty kids stores, topped by the Lonsdale Quay Hotel. A climb up the quay's signature red tower with its large Q on top is a good way to work off all the delicious food and to enjoy spectacular views of the city and mountains.
Established in 1931, the Vancouver Art Gallery boasts thousands of national and international exhibitions by a range of artists, sculptors, and photographers, housed in a turn-of-the-century heritage building in the centre of downtown Vancouver. The building also houses a cafe and shop.
National and international touring exhibitions take place regularly at the gallery, with works from Picasso, Rodin, Andy Warhol, and others. Whether you prefer the Old Masters or more contemporary artists, the Vancouver Art Gallery is well worth paying a visit. Check out the official website listed below for details on current temporary exhibitions.
Perhaps one of the best ways to begin one's visit to Vancouver is with a trip up the Harbour Centre Tower to the Lookout, where one can enjoy a 360 degree view of the city, Greater Vancouver, the North Shore Mountains, and even neighbouring Vancouver Island on a clear day.
A 45-second trip in the outdoor glass-fronted Skylift elevator delivers visitors to the Lookout and informative signs point out key attractions in the city and surrounds. As tickets are valid for the entire day and evening, visitors can also enjoy a cup of coffee while watching the sunset from the Lookout or see the lights of the city begin to twinkle below.
The tower is also home to The Top of Vancouver Revolving Restaurant, and visitors can enjoy the unique experience of dining above the city while the restaurant completes a full revolution every hour. The Skylift to the restaurant is free. The Harbour Centre itself is home to part of the Simon Fraser University campus, several shops, and a food court.
With 22 hectares (55 acres) and roughly 11,000 different plant species, VanDusen Botanical Garden is a spectacular showcase of the natural world, right in the heart of Vancouver. Landscaped gardens are laid out exquisitely and specific areas are cultivated to demonstrate botanical relationships or geographical origins, such as the popular Rhododendron Walk or the Sino Himalayan Garden.
One of the most popular events held in the garden is the annual Festival of Lights, when the beauty of the flowers is matched by over a million dazzling lights set up in order to celebrate the festive season. Choirs and carol singers, visits with Santa, a Dancing Light display on Lake Island in the park, the Golden Chain Walk, magicians, and tasty treats are all part of this family favourite, running from 9-31 December each year. Daily walking and cart tours are available in the garden from April to October at 2pm and also at 11am on Wednesdays.
Commercial Drive is as non-commercial as it gets, one of Vancouver's most eclectic and increasingly trendy neighbourhoods. What started out as a skid row for the lumber industry in the late 1800s swiftly became a neighbourhood of English tradesmen and shopkeepers with the birth of the interurban railway.
World War I brought an influx of Chinese, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants, and World War II saw a vast increase in the Italian population, earning the drive the moniker of 'Little Italy' for many years.
Diversity and energy are still the hallmarks of this area, and an afternoon is well spent exploring its various treasures, from all types of food to chic boutiques, second-hand stores, live music venues, and more.
Go ice-skating at the Britannia Community Centre rink or bowling at the Grandview Lanes, enjoy a delicious Italian gelato or espresso, or simply grab a table at one of the many bars or restaurants. There are always plenty of festivals and events going on too, such as the Parade of Lost Souls on the Saturday before Halloween, the Stone Soup Festival in May, and the Eastside Culture Crawl in November.
With well over a million visitors a year, the hundred-year-old Butchart Gardens remain a favourite and one of Vancouver Island's principal attractions. Situated about 14 miles (21km) north of Victoria, the gardens were begun in the early 1900s by Jennie Butchart in an abandoned limestone quarry owned by the family. Their fame soon spread and attracted thousands.
55 acres are open to the public to be explored and visitors can wander the paths through exquisitely laid out gardens, including the Sunken Garden (the original garden started in the quarry), a Japanese Garden, Rose Garden, and Italian Garden.
Spring and autumn are perhaps the best times to visit: the gardens become a riot of colour, although winter and summer hold their own delights. Every Saturday, from the beginning of July to the end of September, the Gardens are transformed by a dazzling fireworks show, as well as a recital on the self-playing, rare Aeolian Pipe Organ and the Night Illuminations light display.
Other attractions and events in the park include an ice-skating rink and Twelve Days of Christmas display in December, and afternoon and evening shows and concerts in summer. Opening times and admission costs vary according to season so check the official website listed below for details.
One of the iconic images of Victoria is the much loved and well-visited Fairmont Empress Hotel, a fully restored Edwardian treasure that has seen visits from royalty, celebrities, and travellers from around the world.
Set on the banks of Victoria's Inner Harbour, the Empress is a grand and majestic building full of stories. It retains its Britishness through its traditional afternoon tea, a popular event with tourists and locals alike which began when the hotel opened in 1908.
Reservations up to a week or two in advance are essential and the dress code is smart casual. The Empress is centrally located, close to the Parliament Buildings, Royal BC Museum, the Victoria Convention Centre, and various shops and attractions.
It also enjoys a golf course and spa. This 'Jewel of the Pacific' is a definite highlight of any visit to Victoria, and for those who can afford it, it is well worth a stay. Just be warned, you may receive a visit from one of the hotel ghosts.
Built in 1893, the British Columbia Government Parliament Buildings were initially criticised as an unnecessary expense, but now constitute a major tourist attraction in Victoria, as well as serving as the legislative centre for the province.
Designed by 25-year-old architect Francis Rattenbury (who also designed The Fairmont Empress Hotel), these beautiful buildings and exquisite grounds are situated at Victoria's Inner Harbour, close to many of Victoria's other main attractions.
Various performances routinely take place in the grounds and visitors can enjoy the spectacular sight of the buildings at night, when more than 3,000 lights outlining the buildings create a fairytale picture. Tours of the buildings are available daily at regular intervals throughout the year and visitors can observe the House in session from the public galleries.
Once a simple fishing and logging town on Vancouver Island, Tofino is swiftly becoming a popular holiday destination for travellers from around the globe. The resort enjoys natural beauty, a mild climate, and plenty of outdoor activities, including kayaking, whale watching, and fishing. In addition to hot springs and gorgeous beaches, it also serves as Canada's premier surfing spot.
Tucked away at the entrance of the Clayoquot Sound, Tofino is home to the Pacific Rim National Park and islands with ancient primeval forests. Home to only about 2,000 locals, it serves as an ideal spot to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.
Hot Springs Cove, accessible only by air or sea, is open year round and visitors can soak in rock pools filled with boiling spring water cooled by ocean surf. Other popular sights include the Eik Cedar, an 800-year-old tree that was rescued by residents after it was condemned to be felled; the Tofino Botanical Gardens with acres of forest, shoreline, and gardens; and the Whale Centre Maritime Museum housing fascinating artefacts.
The Wickannish Interpretive Centre, containing interesting information about the region and the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, the area's original inhabitants, is well worth a visit. Tofino offers visitors the perfect combination natural beauty, fun activities, and relaxation.
Home to a vast array of aquatic mammals and animals, at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre you'll find sea otters, penguins, dolphins, sharks, whales, sea lions and many more exciting creatures.
Exhibits, displays and programmes are geared towards kids, including Clownfish Cove, with small animals, play areas, and costumes aimed at teaching children about the natural world and the importance of marine conservation.
The aquarium features a gift shop, cafeteria, and wheelchair access. Visitors of all ages should enjoy a trip to this well-organised and large aquarium, which consistently receives rave reviews from travellers.
Animal lovers of all ages will have a fabulous time exploring the Greater Vancouver Zoo. Boasting more than 500 animals from about 140 species, including lion, giraffe, black bear, bison, spider monkeys, coyotes, cheetah, hippo, lemurs and caracals, just to name a few.
Children will simply love watching all the animals and naming the ones they know. Kids can enjoy meeting a selection of reptiles, taking the safari mini train, listening to an educational talk, or even watching the lions and tigers being fed. Refreshments are available from kiosks and restaurants so nobody will go hungry. Allow at least a few hours to explore the zoo properly.
British Columbia's climate is extremely varied due to its diverse topography. The coastal region has a comparatively mild winter climate, with lots of rainfall. November and February tend to be the wettest months, while May and September are probably the best times to visit the coast.
Vancouver enjoys a maritime climate, with relatively mild winters and warm summers. Although winters can be notoriously rainy, there are often long periods of continuous sunshine in the summertime when visitors come to explore the region's natural beauty. Snowfall is rare in the city, but is more than adequate for the ski slopes on the Coast Mountains to the north.
The interior to the east of the Coast Mountains has a much drier climate, with warm summers and cold winters. The Rockies enjoy a warm to hot summer from May to September, with heavy snowfalls during winter. The northern part of the province has generally much colder winters and cooler summers than the rest of British Columbia.
Offering a warm ambiance and a diverse menu to complement its urban environment, patrons at Brix can sample anything from a Four Cheese Cannelloni to Quebec Wentzel Duck. Accommodating night owls, Brix also offers a gratifying late night menu comprising of spring rolls; Seven Spice Seared Ahi Tuna; and oven-baked pizza with chorizo sausage, black tiger shrimp, fresh pineapple, and other toppings. Brix is ideal for dinner with friends or a romantic date. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Situated in the trendy Yaletown, the Glowbal Grill and Satay Bar serves inventive and delicious cuisine in a stylish yet sophisticated setting. With the option of formal fine dining on white linen tablecloths or funky dining, this restaurant caters to a variety of people. Try the Kobe meatballs with truffled spaghetti or the Seven-spiced rare Ahi tuna, and round off with the warm Brazilian chocolate coffee cake or the Maple Macadamia nut flan. Reservations are recommended.
Serving the largest selection of oysters, lobsters and prawns as well as delicious steak, the Blue Water Café is frequented by many celebrities, both local and international. With elegant décor and flawless service it's no wonder this restaurant is perfect when trying to impress a date or business associate. Try the White Sturgeon with red beet agro dolce, pumpernickel crust, chioggia beets and cauliflower puree, or the Beef Tenderloin served with porcini mushrooms, green chard and macaroni gratin with blue cheese. Reservations are recommended. The restaurant is open from 5pm till 11pm, with the Late Menu available till midnight.
Nestled away in an old mansion located in downtown Vancouver's Yaletown district, this stylish Italian eatery evokes a 1930s charm and sophistication while serving delicious, inventive and expertly presented dishes. Try the Osso Buco, Filetto di samone or the Filetto di manzo Con porcini. You won't be disappointed. Lupo is open daily for dinner. Reservations are recommended.
Wraparound windows afford stunning views of downtown Vancouver and the surrounding mountains at this sophisticated Canadian restaurant in Queen Elizabeth Park. Serving up tasty food at reasonable prices, Seasons in the Park is a Vancouver gem for both locals and foreigners. Try the Miso Soy Marinated Black Cod drizzled with pineapple chive vinaigrette and served with jasmine rice, and for dessert the much-loved Sunburnt Lemon Tart is a must. Dinner reservations offer views of the twinkling city lights and at lunch you can admire the leafy park and snow-capped mountains from the circular patio.
A charming Greek restaurant serving good no-fuss Greek food, Pasparos Taverna is a great place to meet with family and friends. A family business operating since 1974, Pasparos offers a warm atmosphere and mouth-watering homemade Greek cuisine, just as you'd find in Greece. With warm fresh breads, dolmades, roast lamb, superb Tzatziki, Avgolemono soup and a selection of souvlakia (kebabs), patrons are spoilt for choice. Combine that with top-notch service and a good Greek winelist (wine by the glass included) and you have all the ingredients for a successful restaurant. Open Monday to Friday for lunch, and daily for dinner.
One of Vancouver's best dining experiences, Guu with Garlic is part of a unique Japanese Tapas chain that is taking the city by storm. With a perfect ration of small portioned dishes at affordable prices, patrons can sample a handful of different dishes before getting full or feeling the weight on their wallet. The open kitchen and cheerful waiters add to the electric mood, as do the exotic cocktails and experimental drinks. Recommended dishes include the duck salad, assorted carpaccio, baked oysters, prawns and calamari. Don't miss the daily specials sheet on loose-leaf paper with even more delectable dishes. Open daily for dinner, reservations are recommended.
On Vancouver's north shore is the year-round mountaintop playground of Grouse Mountain, just a 15-minute drive from the downtown area across the Lions Gate Bridge. Ascending the mountain is part of the adventure in the Super Skyride, a passenger tram that glides up the steep mountain slopes carrying visitors up 3,700ft (1,100m) above sea level in just eight minutes.
At the top, apart from magical views of the city below, is the Theatre in the Sky, which offers a high-tech presentation about Vancouver. There is also a cedar longhouse called the Hiwus Feasthouse that offers the chance to experience native West Coast culture with displays of dancing, storytelling, chanting, and native cuisine.
There are hiking trails up the side of Grouse Mountain and on the east side one of them features the Grouse Grind, which is billed as the world's biggest stair-climb. Mountain biking is also a popular pursuit on the mountainside, as is, of course, skiing and snowboarding in the winter months.
Built in 1889, the Capilano Suspension Bridge is one of the Vancouver's oldest and most popular tourist attractions. With plenty of activities and sights in the park, there are endless opportunities for park visitors.
Stretching 450 feet (137m) across and perched 230 feet (70m) above the Capilano River, the bridge was originally made of cedar planks and hemp rope. But now, it's a more sturdy construction of reinforced steel and concrete; though still not for the faint-hearted.
A recent addition to the park is the Treetops Adventure, where elevated suspension bridges allow visitors a spectacular view of the rainforest, while they walk above the forest floor between Douglas fir trees.
Other attractions in the park include a story centre; a First Nations Cultural Centre where visitors can see carvers, weavers, and beaders at work; a large collection of First Nations Totem Poles; and guided tours of the rainforest. Admission includes all these sights and activities, and there are also several food options and a shop.
Tucked in the Strait of Georgia, in between Vancouver Island and the mainland, are the picturesque Gulf Islands. More than a dozen of these long, thin islands, and numerous islets, can be found on Canada's West Coast and each island has its own character and beauty, making them well worth a visit.
The islands are home to artists, writers, retirees, and those seeking a more community-based lifestyle, with many Vancouverites escaping to holiday homes tucked in the rainforest. Large parts of the islands have been designated as marine parks, preserving the land for the numerous native birds and animals.
Bowen Island is only a 20-minute ferry ride from West Vancouver's Horseshoe Bay and visitors can enjoy a stroll from Snug Harbour, past the historic Union Steamship Company store, grab a bite to eat, or take a walk in the Crippen Regional Park.
Galiano Island is the second biggest of the group and is about the size of Manhattan Island in New York. Only 50 minutes away on the Tsawassen Ferry on the Lower Mainland, Galiano Island draws all sorts of visitors who come to picnic in Bellhouse Park; take a walk through the lush rainforest up to Bluffs Park to enjoy spectacular views of neighbouring Islands; indulge in a spot of fishing, kayaking, or golf; or visit one of the local galleries or shops. Many of the islands host events and festivals each year, where the community spirit and laidback atmosphere typical of the Gulf Islands is evident.
The San Juan Islands form one of the best boater paradises in the world. The hundreds of islands are separated by nationality but are part of the same scenic and rugged archipelago, located off the northwest coast of Washington State.
Much of the area is in a rain shadow behind Vancouver Island, making a surprisingly dry and sunny reprieve in the northwest. Little island communities, great wildlife, and the open water provide a real and intuitive disconnect from the mainland.
Frequent government ferry services connect the mainland and larger inhabited islands to each other, but others can only be visited by smaller shuttle boats and yachts. Friday Harbour is San Juan's largest town and an enchanting tourist destination. Anchorages are bustling throughout summer, but largely empty in other seasons. Yacht charters are available out of Bellingham.
Home to the celebrated Othello Tunnels, the Coquihalla Provincial Park lies just outside the town of Hope and about an hour's drive east of Vancouver. This quintet of railway tunnels which traverse the steep-sided Coquihalla Gorge were built for the Kettle Valley Railway and today offer visitors a fascinating insight into the history of the area, as well as a wonderfully scenic and unique hiking experience.
While the Othello Tunnels themselves are dark and dank (flashlights are recommended), the two-mile (3.5km) railway trail also crosses above thundering rapids and cuts through impressive, nearly 1,000-foot (300-metre) granite rock faces. The Othello Tunnels are an accessible and highly rewarding day trip from Vancouver, offering visitors of all ages a great mix of exercise and adventure.
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