Vancouver: A Boutique Hub for Crypto Early Adopters

This small and picturesque coastal city has plenty of crypto jobs, companies and events. But the No. 13 spot in CoinDesk’s Crypto Hubs 2023 is handcuffed by regulatory uncertainty in Canada, generally, that recently has led to national exits of major crypto exchanges Binance, Bybit and OKX.

AccessTimeIconJun 27, 2023 at 11:15 a.m. UTC
Updated Jun 27, 2023 at 12:08 p.m. UTC
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The only Canadian hub to make it into our final ranking, Vancouver had a strong showing in per-capita opportunity measures including crypto jobs, companies and events, as well as a particularly high score for quality of life, in our enabler category. But like its neighboring U.S., Canada’s crypto regulatory structure score was just middling, sitting at three of a maximum score of five. The regulatory criteria, part of the drivers category, is the most heavily weighted at 35% of the total score. Another drivers criteria, the crypto adoption score, was similarly average. This pulled Vancouver to 13th place overall.

For more on the criteria and how we weighted them, see: How We Ranked CoinDesk’s Crypto Hubs 2023: Our Methodology.

Data breakdown for Vancouver in Crypto Hubs 2023 ranking
(Ian Suarez/CoinDesk)

Despite its relatively small size, Vancouver, Canada punches above its weight when it comes to its attractiveness as a tech and crypto hub.

Not only is the City of Glass one of the world’s most livable cities, but also a hotspot for early crypto adoption. It is home to the world’s first bitcoin ATM, installed in 2013 by Robocoin, as well as CryptoKitties developer Dapper Labs and some miners, including Hive Blockchain (HIVE).

The city in southwest Canada, just over the border with the U.S., is a “growing hub, but not fully global yet,” said Al Leong, a chief marketing officer and board member for Web 3 companies who spends several months out of the year in Vancouver

Broadly speaking, Vancouver saw the biggest growth in high-tech jobs in 2020 and 2021 compared to any other city in North America, according to commercial real estate firm CBRE. That’s likely thanks to its relatively low tax rates, world-class aities and diverse population. Geographical proximity to Microsoft’s hometown of Seattle, Washington and stunning natural beauty does not hurt either.

Crypto natives will find signs of grassroots adoption of Web3 and crypto throughout the city. An art installation launched two years ago transformed the underside of a bridge into an augmented reality experience exploring blockchain, thanks to Colombian artist Jessica Angel. Vancouver is also home to at least three bitcoin and one Ethereum meetups, said members of a 200-member Telegram group chat related to a broader crypto meetup.

“Vancouver has greater access to the Asia Pacific hubs and networks and seems to act as a launchpad for other jurisdictions, but works in coordination with Toronto to some degree,” Leong said. Historically, Vancouver has had a large Asian diaspora, including making a claim as a hometown of Changpeng Zhao, the founder and CEO of Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange by trading volume. Zhao moved to Vancouver at the age of 12 from China, and grew up there until he left for university in Montreal. When he is referred to as Chinese, he corrects the speaker, and says he has Canadian citizenship.

The sword of Damocles

CoinDesk’s Crypto Hubs 2023 placed a heavy weight on the structure of each locale’s crypto regulations and grassroots adoption of crypto. Unfortunately, these were two criteria where Canada – and therefore Vancouver – scored relatively low. Indeed, in May Binance announced that it would cease operations in the nation, citing the challenging regulatory environment.

“We had high hopes for the rest of the Canadian blockchain industry,” the company announced. “Unfortunately, new guidance related to stablecoins and investor limits provided to crypto exchanges makes the Canada market no longer tenable for Binance at this time.”

Regulators in Canada tightened rules for crypto operators in February, leading to the high-profile exits of two other major crypto exchanges Bybit and OKX, as well as crypto firms and Paxos.

This has left space for competitors like U.S.-based Kraken to gain market share and help contribute to shaping future regulations. Kraken’s Managing Director for Canada Mark Greenberg said he appreciated the attention given to users’ security in the country's policy mandates, but argued the limits on trading offerings makes it difficult to find areas to expand into.

Meanwhile, Canada’s tax authority says it is “updating” tax rules for crypto, giving little details on what that means. British Columbia, Vancouver’s province, imposed an 18-month moratorium on new mining operations in December 2022, citing the increased demand for energy.

Although there are policy changes affecting businesses across the country, it's likely Canada's answer to Silicon Valley will continue to play a pivotal role in the development of this technology.

Edited by Jeanhee Kim and Bradley Keoun.


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Eliza Gkritsi

Eliza Gkritsi is a CoinDesk contributor focused on the intersection of crypto and AI.

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