Blanket to Binoculars

20 September 2022 – Remember Port Hardy? A 16-hour ferry ride to get there from Prince Rupert; a midnight-plus arrival; and a no-foolin’ early departure that very morning.

Why? you may ask.

To catch another ferry.

Port Hardy – Campbell River

We do not complain.

We are aboard the K’ulut’a, making the 40-minute hop from Port McNeil to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. Our destination is the U’mista Cultural Centre, whose mission is to strengthen the culture of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. It houses — among other resources — an important collection of repatriated potlach and other ceremonial objects.

By chance, I receive an introduction to the culture of the potlach during our ferry ride.

It is with their permission that I fall into conversation with these two young women, learn something of the work they are doing, and take these photos (which I also send to them). They are finishing a blanket that will be draped around a two-year-old’s shoulders as part of ceremonies to be held this evening in the Big House. “Just during the ceremony,” they explain; “then it will be put away.” They work as they talk. “This is my great-grandmother’s design — wolf, because that is our clan,” says one.

They attach the last buttons as we begin to pull into Alert Bay. “Thank you!” I say. “Enjoy your visit to U’mista!” they say.

We are a few minutes early for our appointment to visit the Cultural Centre, which is being opened today only for our small group. While waiting, we walk about the adjacent park and play area, where inviting swing ropes hang from trees and the waterfront glimmers through the lingering mist.

Later, as we watch a documentary about the power and significance of the potlach ceremony (“We dance to celebrate life, to be grateful for what we have, to show our history”) and then walk quietly past the Potlach Collection (items laboriously repatriated from the private and institutional hands that had seized them), I think how the ceremony has endured despite everything — how I saw it alive and potent, literally taking new shape and presence in the hands of those two young women.

The mist lifts, the harbour and its boats sparkle in the sunshine…

I peek under the wharf, I am rewarded with fading but still strong murals…

and then we ride the ferry back to our waiting van.

Walk-about time and lunch in Telegraph Cove (fresh halibut), and on to Campbell River and a quiet lodge looking across a channel to Quadra Island.

Campbell River – Victoria

A civilized (as opposed to Silly O’Clock) start, with time to stand on a wharf for a bit and think about nothing at all.

Away from the beach, into the forest: we visit nearby Elk Falls Provincial Park and wind along the trail, through the trees, down and down.

With more down to come, right over there

Completed in 2015, this suspension bridge is 60 metres long and hangs a good 60 metres above the canyon bed.

Which helps explain the scale of the protective mesh.

I think of trying to yoick my camera above the wall, but change my mind. An eager boating friend recently watched her camera slip from her fingers and spiral out of sight, lost to the ocean floor. I don’t wish to follow her example, here in a canyon. So… I settle for mesh-wrapped falls.

We drive on down-island, increasingly rejoining the busy urban world as we draw closer to Victoria. Then it is abruptly peaceful once again — our hotel is tucked in quiet surroundings on the West Victoria side of the Inner Harbour.

I meet a city-based friend for walkies & dinner. We prowl the Old Town, reading 19th-c. dates on heritage buildings, discovering street art in alleys, finally doubling back along Wharf St. as dusk begins to deepen.

He sets me a challenge. “Art hidden in plain sight,” he says, and then — vastly amused — plays the old “Cooler, warmer, frigid, hot” game with me until I finally see what I am supposed to see.

I yelp with delight. The Hands of Time: Holding Binoculars, by Crystal Przybille. What could be more perfect? Just one of 12 bronze sculptures of life-sized hands dotted about the city, each set of hands doing something appropriate to the location. As we scoot off to Virtuous Pie for pizza, I make a private vow to return tomorrow, and see the sculpture — and its harbour view — by daylight.

Post-pizza, it’s back to West Victoria for the night via the Johnson St. Bridge. This bridge is technologically impressive — at 46 metres, it is one of the longest single-leaf bascule (rising/falling by counterweights) rolling bridges in the world — and sculpturally beautiful. Technically single-leaf, and visually as well.

We admire its night-time drama…

and then make use of its functionality, to walk our way back to West Vic.

Victoria-Vancouver

Eleven days, 3000-plus kilometres, and whoosh, today is the last day.

Tour-by-van in the morning, including the breezy southern tip of the entire island, in Clover Point Park.

Later, I pass on the Butchart Garden option, consider a revisit to the charming in-city Abkhazi Garden… and settle instead for my first-ever visit to the Royal British Columbia Museum (where I am captivated by the Natural History section), followed by more lazy exploration along the Inner Harbour.

And by a wild-salmon taco lunch from the Red Fish Blue Fish kiosk, where I sit on a bench and watch water taxis come and go. (All very reminiscent of Go Fish! just west of Granville Island in Vancouver.)

One last thing to do, before rejoining the van for one last ferry ride.

See those binoculars by day!

So I do, and I give them a little pat.

Onto the van, down to Swartz Bay, onto the ferry, back into the van, trundle-trundle-trundle back into Vancouver…

And I am home.

Rain (and More Water)

18 September 2022 – Before we arrive in Prince Rupert someone asks, “What’s the weather like?” The answer is: “Well, it rains. And then sometimes it’s … ‘Oh! It’s not raining!'” We fall around laughing.

Prince Rupert

So we are not surprised, the following morning, to awaken to rain.

But we don’t care, because (a) we can dress for it, and (b) some of us are starting the day dry & comfy in the Museum of Northern BC. It is a magnificent introduction to this part of the world, and I recommend it to everyone who visits the city.

Late in the visit we pass through a gallery with an exhibition of recent works by local artist Suzoh Hickey. It includes a painting I want to show you (which I therefore downloaded from her own website), because it shows another face of Highway 16. Yes, it is the Highway of Tears, but it is also more than that — and that, too, is the way of the world. Both/and.

From the Museum, I look out over Prince Rupert Harbour…

and decide that’s where I’ll start a local walk. So I do.

It takes me past commercial docks toward old cannery buildings, now repurposed, down in Cow Bay…

where I hang over a wharf edge to eye a cluster of buildings. I am particularly struck by that patch of vivid blue.

Later I walk around the corner, and discover it is called Smiles Seafood Café, and dates from at least 1968 since that is the year of an old menu on display in one of the windows. I go in. I want a salmon burger.

I don’t get it, since they don’t offer it, but I’m happy to try my first halibut burger instead. And — while also busy with well-vinegared crispy chips — I shamelessly eavesdrop on local conversation. There’s the son working up in Alaska… the mother-in-law who just sold her home in Vancouver… the couple just back from a camping experiment with the kids. (“They loved it! Happy kids? Happy parents.”)

And back out into the rain, where I admire the whale-tail mural on the side wall of Johnny’s Machine Shop…

and the whale-tail bench almost next door.

I think it a one-off, but it’s not. It is the style of local benches, and once I understand that, I’m able to identify this handsome silhouette on the far side of a rain-deserted children’s playground.

We all put our heads down early this night, because we must be out of the hotel by 5:40 a.m. the next morning. Really. (“Silly O’Clock,” as English relatives of mine describe that kind of hour.) That day will be our day to travel the Inside Passage with BC Ferries.

Inside Passage

The rain is pelting down when I first get up (at Very Silly O’Clock), but merely drizzling by 8 a.m., when we get underway.

Good-bye Prince Rupert.

The trip will be 16 hours, Prince Rupert to Port Hardy at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, on a modern, spacious, safe & comfortable vessel provided with a number of distractions to while away all those hours. But, oh, it is still a great many hours!

Sunny/cloudy around 11 a.m., as we pass through the Grenville Channel…

and quite sunny indeed at 5 p.m., with ripples spiralling out to trace our course past the Dryad Point Lighthouse at the northern entrance to Lama Passage. Built in 1899, it still earns its keep: that light is visible for 29 kilometres.

Just take my word for the fact that we dock in Port Hardy about midnight.

It is very dark and we are stunned-stupid with travel. We are also busy being resolutely stoic at the news we’ll be making an early departure from Port Hardy! All in the name of further adventures.

The adventures justify the early start.

And that comes next…

Games, Tears and Heart

17 September 2022 – A long drive day, we’ve been warned: some 725 km from Prince George to Prince Rupert, smack on the Pacific Ocean. We arrived late in Prince George, we leave early, and I have only time to walk a few blocks before we take off.

The distinctive smell of a pulp-&-paper town fills the air as I admire the mural. Fresh air in the skier’s lungs, if not mine…

In 2015 Prince George hosted the Canada Games, and this building, now the downtown post office, was Canada Games House.

We roll through such different countryside from the previous few days, it takes conscious adjustment. Horse paddocks, logging trucks and great stacks of lumber…

and field after field of neatly rolled hay, drying the requisite period of time before being sealed into durable bundles.

Sidewalk-patio lunch in Smithers, our backs warmed by the sun and our bellies by perogi. (The immigrant mix in town guarantees a range of restaurants and excellent food. Four of us choose Ukrainian.) There is time for a brief bit of exploration, and I take advantage.

I am of course drawn to this powerful mural, wrapping two sides of the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre.

I have to read the signage, to make the necessary connections.

I know we are on Highway 16, a section of the Yellowhead Highway, but I do not equate it with a term that I have heard, but not situated: the Highway of Tears. In driving between Prince George and Prince Rupert, we are travelling the length of the Highway of Tears.

Here is one section of what I read on the long, street-side wall.

One can quibble about the exact range of years and the exact number of women and girls, but the acronym MMIWG tells you the large truth: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Lack of money, private vehicles or public transport all make it tempting to hitchhike. According to Carrier Sekani Family Services, between 1989 and 2006 on this stretch of highway, nine young women were found murdered or went missing, all but one of them indigenous.

I read more about this mural, part of the larger At The Heart project, funded 2020-2021 by the Federal Dept. of Women and Gender Equality. That long wall is the Resilience Wall, with its image of the healing power of the sun, the animals from each of the clans affected, and stylized butterflies, dragonflies, feathers and indigenous healing plants.

The wall facing the alley is the Lost Ones Wall.

The rings radiating around the female moon symbolize the continuing impact of the trauma for these families and communities; the red dress is dancing regalia, to honour the lives and memories of the women lost; rain drops are tears, with falling rain a reminder that tears also have the power to help heal. The grizzly family honours the clan on whose land this building stands.

We drive on.

In the final stretch, close now to Prince Rupert, we make a brief stop in a roadside park that allows glimpses of the Skeena River. Like us on its way to the Pacific Ocean, this river is home to salmon (Sockeye, Pink, Chinook, Coho and Chum), trout (Rainbow and Cutthroat), Dolly Varden char, and sculpin and stickleback and more.

It is, says the signage, the River of Mists.

My heart is still with the Highway of Tears.

Rock, Water, Ice, Sky, Fir Trees

15 September 2022 — The basics. Rock + water + ice + sky + fir trees. The elements of our journey from Banff to Jasper, and then from Jasper to Prince George.

Almost to Prince George. You’ll see.

Banff – Jasper

Lake Minnewanka, with all those elements in play, plus freedom to scuba dive.

Dams twice raised the level of this glacial lake, once in 1912 & again in 1941. This created additional hydro-power as desired, but in the process first submerged the indigenous community on the original shores and subsequently the first dam and bridge pilings as well. I can imagine the attraction of hovering over all this drowned history, but still find it somehow disrespectful.

Bow Lake next, again all those elements. (Minus scuba diving.)

And oh, that sky.

Again and again, fir trees against folds of rock, against the sky.

Also again and again, water falling across rock, through trees.

Ice.

Joining many others, we ride specialized vehicles up onto Athabasca Glacier, on the Columbia Icefield. I was last here 39 years ago, when the glacier was larger and the human presence much smaller. Parks Canada suggests the ice is receding some 5 metres a year, while aggressive new management of the site now shuttles very large numbers of people up and down again in rapid succession. (Note I am not suggesting the latter causes the former; just saying that they co-exist and I don’t like either.)

This photo therefore, while un-retouched, is also misleading. Had I spun on my heel, I would have shown you the mob scene at my back.

Back at the Discovery Centre I queue for coffee. It gives me time to contemplate this sign on the countertop — one I am to see it frequently, over the next few days. Very literally a sign of our times.

Let us agree that kindness is, or should be, as elemental as rock/water/ice/sky/fir trees.

Back to our own little van, on to Athabasca Falls.

Lots of rock. Lots of, specifically, Gog quartzite rock, the hardest rock in this region’s geology. It means that when the Athabasca Valley Glacier inched over this cliff during the last glaciation, the rock was not pulverized.

Instead…

it broke off in great chunks.

I love this. I am mesmerized.

We then follow the Athabasca River, on to Jasper.

We may be stopping for the night, but the river has barely begun. It rises on the Icefield and then makes its way north for some 1,538 km. Over that long journey, its waters empty first into Lake Athabasca, then into Great Slave Lake in the NWT, on into the Mackenzie River and, finally, into the Arctic Ocean.

Jasper-Prince George

A civilized start, 9-ish in the morning, with female elk grazing at the highway sign…

and a smoke-hazed sun rising above the mountains. (No worse than haze. The town is safe.)

We take a cruise on Maligne Lake. Not a mob scene! A modest boat for our modest number — though there is nothing at all modest about the world that surrounds us.

We hear about the French missionary who didn’t believe the indigenous people’s warning that a water crossing in this system was treacherous. When, mid-crossing, the priest lost all his possessions and nearly his life, he proclaimed these waters to be truly evil, truly malignant.

The name stuck.

You may well have seen a variation of the next photo, which I take when we stop at a point that allows us to approach Spirit Island on-shore. (It is in fact a peninsula except for a few high-water weeks a year.) This site was a two-month Kodak publicity poster in Grand Central Station in 1960, an iPad promotion photo in 2014, and on and on around the world, now whirling on social media as well.

Here you are, my very own 2022 version.

I like Maligne Lake a lot but, predictably for me, given that I’m a fool for rock, I like Maligne Canyon even more.

Look at it!

We follow a short trail, just over 2 klicks. It is mostly downhill, but with plenty of pay-attention-to-your-feet moments along the way. When not watching our feet, we yet again look down into the canyon, and yet again engage with rock, water, fir trees and sky.

Back into British Columbia.

Somewhere near that provincial boundary, we have also crossed the Triple Continental Divide. From a point on the south slope of Snow Dome, part of the Columbia Icefield, waters flow west to the Pacific, east to the Atlantic and (witness the Athabasca River) north to the Arctic Ocean.

We are not at any of those end points.

We are next at the Parks Canada visitor centre on Mount Robson. As it turns out, this is the only time on our trip that we will see a moose — and here a whole succession of them hang on the wall facing the toilets.

“Are you as big as a moose?” asks the poster.

Turns out I am, in moose height, about 6 months old (153-168 cm).

Outdoors, I admire as much of the Mount Robson complex as clouds allow us to see — and discover that this shiny picnic grounds spiral is neither a sculpture not the side wall of a children’s slide.

It is a climbing wall, where people heading up the mountain can test their skills.

We are not heading up the mountain. We are driving to Prince George.

While still some 120 km east of Prince George, we stop to walk the boardwalk in British Columbia’s newest park, the Ancient Forest / Chun T’oh Whudujut Provincial Park. It protects a small portion of the world’s only inland temperate rainforest, signage tells us, and the boardwalk leads us past thousand-year-old western red cedars.

We have left the world of hard-edged beauty, and re-entered a world where rock is softened with the textures of moss and lichen.

Tonight, Prince George. Tomorrow, Prince Rupert and the Pacific Ocean.

Fire and Water

11 September 2022 – It started with fire, on Friday the 9th, and the threat of more to come.

I’m passing through Hope, BC, with 10 other people — nine fellow tour members and one Discover Canada van driver. It is more specifically a caffeine stop, since we left Canada Place in downtown Vancouver at 7 a.m. and have been driving east since then.

A wonderful trip, two days into it I know I chose well. We will spend 11 days looping north-east through Kelowna to Banff; farther north but now west to Jasper; even farther north and even more west through Prince George to Prince Rupert back on the coast; then south (thank you BC Ferries) down the Inside Passage to Vancouver Island; yet more south down the island; and finally one more ferry loop and short drive home to Vancouver.

All those mountains, all that coast, it promises to be spectacular. For me, it means some new territory and lots of revisits to much-loved territory from decades back.

For all of us, whatever our background and experience, it means the sombre reality of travelling toward areas affected by wildfire.

And so, post-lattes, we stand on the banks of the Fraser River, looking across to the plumes of smoke from the wildfire discovered at 3 a.m. that very morning.

We watch three helicopters shuttling back and forth between the river and the fire, dropping their water buckets into the Fraser and then emptying them on the blaze. We’re in Banff, two days later, before we learn how viciously the fire continues to spread.

Saturday morning has us climbing through the arid landscape east of Kelowna. Below us, Kalamalka Lake in the Coldstream Valley. I wow at the big vista, but my heart loves the snake fence even more. (Memories of small childhood, and rural Quebec fields.)

On up, on east, a moment at the cairn for the Last Spike in Craigellachie, BC — the literal final spike that on 7 November 1885 “welded East to West” by joining the two concurrently built sections of the cross-country Canadian Pacific Railway. The human cost, we now acknowledge, was horrific (labour safety was unknown, and the dynamite teams of Chinese labourers imported for the purpose suffered most of all) — yet it is equally true that the engineering feat, given the terrain and the technology of the day, was extraordinary. Both true. And both now finally acknowledged.

And up some more. Another brief stop in the Rogers Pass (elevation 1,330 m.), an avalanche-prone area that now uses avalanche guns to trigger dangerous loads rather than wait for a potentially deadly surprise. I circle the avalanche guns on display at the Parks Canada site …

but spend longer contemplating the office windows full of red “restricted activity” notices. All because of wildfires.

And higher still. We’re now following the Kicking Horse River and somewhere in here cross both the BC/Alberta border and the Continental Divide. We’re at some 1,600 m. elevation and the river through the van window has the exaggerated winding loops of rivers at height of land.

It’s late afternoon by the time we reach Lake Louise, but it is also a sunny, abnormally warm Saturday afternoon, — and good grief, we might as well be jostling through the Louvre, straining for a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. All those decades ago when I lived in Calgary and could bop up to Lake Louise on a whim, I tell myself, it was not this crowded. And then I slap down my Old Fart tendencies, my Good Old Days tendences, and…

fall under the lake’s spell one more time. Because it is stunning. “Rock flour” created by glaciers grinding against bedrock hangs suspended in the water, reflecting the light and creating the glowing blues and turquoise.

I’m glad I saw it again, even if it did involve dodging & weaving along the pathways. It conjures not just summer memories, but also memories of being part of the media horde invited up to celebrate the winter reopening of Chateau Lake Louise. I’ve skated there, I think fondly to myself, as I turn to leave.

And then somewhere new: Moraine Lake. How could I have lived in Calgary, and never visited it? Doesn’t matter, I am here now. It is higher than Lake Louise, smaller, and, for me, more captivating. Perhaps because I’ve never seen it before? And the crowds are so much thinner?

I stand at one end, looking past the moraine (rock rubble deposited by glaciers) that gives it its name, and the equally trademark log jams, to the lake itself. Oh, that glowing blue water!

I have to read the signs, to learn about that log jam. Simple, once you know: winter avalanches sweep trees down onto ice-covered lakes; spring melt causes the logs to drift to the stream outlet and jam into place.

I walk farther down the lake, as I had done at Lake Louise, again marvelling at the colours. Perhaps because we are closer to sunset, everything seems to glow more intensely. I am caught both by the mountain reflections into the water, and by that final horizontal slash of intense turquoise, ‘way down there at the far end.

Which comes back to mind — though not immediately — the next day.

That’s today, Sunday, here in Banff.

I go for a nostalgic early-ish morning stroll along Banff Ave., eyeing past a wooden mother/cub carving to Mount Rundle, anchoring the village as it always has.

There is haze. We are aware of the Jasper wildfires to the north-west. So much water in our travels, these last few days, but, always, out there in the larger context, fire.

A morning tour: quick stop at the turreted and surreal splendour of the Banff Springs Hotel, a CPR hotel built in the 1880s in deliberate imitation of royal castles, in order to lure monied aristocratic visitors and start recouping some of the costs of railway construction. (“If we can’t export the scenery,” snapped Van Horne, entrepreneur behind the railway, “we will import the visitors.”)

And on to Bow Falls, tumbling water into Bow River that will make its way through Calgary and beyond. I climb to the lookout, listen to the glorious white noise of the rushing water and suddenly snap back from that near-meditative state to instead focus on the hard dynamics of rock and water. Great long spines of rock, vertebra upon vertebra, all laced together with water.

Another view of the Bow River a little later, looking down into the valley and picking out the Hoo Doos — the grey needles of harder rock exposed when the softer sedimentary layer is worn away.

There are the Hoo Doos, just mid-right in the photo, and, beyond that, the whole great sweep as the river courses on down through the valley.

I visit it yet again, this time on the section of the Bow Trail that follows its course within Banff itself.

I take this photo for all those iconic symbols smack on top of each other: turquoise water and trail bikes and canoes and, visible through the leaves, a Canadian flag. I don’t yet know that the canoes in this image — like my shot of Moraine Lake with its hard slash of turquoise — will soon take on extra meaning.

Very soon.

I follow a short-cut from the Trail to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, and tumble in the door, eager for whatever they choose to show me. I loved this museum when I lived in Calgary, I loved it during a visit in my Toronto years, and I love the fact I am right now about to visit it again.

Along with the permanent exhibits, there is a special exhibit simply titled Canoe. It presents paintings and 3D objects that trace the history of the canoe over 200 years, right from an 1820 watercolour to a 2018 acrylic. (Visit it yourself, for 3 minutes, with a CBC reporter.)

I love lots of what I see in this show, including Inuit carvings and folk art and a superb small study by Alex Colville and works by a range of other significant artists. However, it is a 1923 oil (Against the Current, Thomas Wilberforce Mitchell) of two men poling a canoe through some rapids that suddenly makes this show not just canoe history, not just Canadian history, but my own history as well.

My father spent two university summers in the late 1920s on a small survey team that paddled the rivers of northern Saskatchewan for four months straight each year, their days in canoes and their nights in tents. My dad was proud of his ability to run rapids in a canoe, but (he wrote in his diary) he was awe-struck at the poling technique used by their Chippewa support team. They taught him, he practised, and he was as proud of that new skill as he was of his ability to handle the cumbersome survey equipment of the day.

That oil is my nostalgia moment; this acrylic is my right-now moment.

Summer Drift, 2018, by David Thauberger, has me jabbing my finger mid-air, the way we do when something really stops us in our tracks. Look! I breathe to myself. I see not just a canoe, an object of pure and perfect design… but, look, there are the horizontal slashes of turquoise water, bands of them in the distance, that I had seen at Moraine Lake.

So I come away from the show full of joy.

And I am subsequently sobered. A text from our tour guide advises us that yes, we will proceed to Jasper on Monday, despite continuing wildfires in the area. The town itself is safe, it largely once again has power, and the hotel wants us to come. But… they only have cold water. Be advised.

Nobody whines. Lack of hot water is nothing, compared to the devastation caused for others (human and wildlife). Had we been asked to stay away, we would have done so. Since we have been asked to honour the reservation, we will. It is their decision that our (and others’) arrival will help them recover, and that makes it the right thing to do.

Tomorrow, Jasper.

Labour Day with The Dude

5 September 2022 – I’m cutting through Dude Chilling Park and see the celebrations: one, two, three.

All around the Dude: baby-shower preparations.

Over closer to Guelph Street, two young women wearing ankle bells, one of them holding a drum and explaining a few last details before starting their dance.

Down by Guelph and East 7th, two slack wires slung among the trees, and two intent young practitioners.

I back up to the park boundary and install myself for a moment on Bei’s Mama’s Bench…

for the long view.

Female slack wire artist, left foreground; baby shower, left distance; female dancers right distance (one each side of a foreground tree); and the male slack wire artist over there on the right.

Here we all are! Chilling with our Dude, this bright Labour Day morning.

“On est bien ici”

28 August 2022On est bien ici reads the little plaque on a bench in Volunteer Park, foot of Macdonald Street, facing north into the waters of English Bay in Burrard Inlet. I agree, one feels extremely contented in this tiny parkette — but it’s just my departure point, not my destination.

I’m going to head down these steps, this breezy bright day …

for a walk along the wild foreshore (i.e. no paths, no development) on east to Kitsilano Beach.

I get my bearings, look west for a moment…

even plonk down for a further few moments onto this chair-shaped tree stump, because who could resist?

And then I start walking east.

“Nobody is happier than a wet dog on a beach,” I say to his amused owner…

“unless it’s a wet dog who has abandoned his pink toy bone in order to snuffle around for a lovely dead fish to roll in,” I add (memories of my beloved Kim-dog strong in my mind). “Shush!” she replies. “I’m not telling him there’s a dead seal farther along.” We agree to keep it our secret.

Rocks & stones & pebbles & seaweed & mussel shells & oyster shells…

and a quizzical couple who wave hands at it all and ask, “Why are there so many oyster shells, and no oyster beds?” We agree we don’t know, and further agree not-knowing does not interfere with our enjoyment. Not even slightly.

A sheer cliff face to the landward side…

and piles & more piles of huge logs, flung around like so many toothpicks by winter storms.

Quiet riffs of acoustic guitar float above the logs.

I eventually see a human head (and a guitar neck) poking above one great tangle of logs. I raise a thumb in appreciation; Guitar Guy says “Thanks!” and we chat. No, your music is not too loud; yes, I know you need to keep your fingers limber; yes, I bet it’s total joy to tuck down among the logs and make music on this beach. I think of adding his riffs sound a bit Leo Kottke-esque to me, but I’m not sure enough of my genre-ID skills to take the chance. (And now I wish I had…)

On east, a few more humans, who are a lot more visible. Yoga Girl and Backpack Boy and (far left) Phone Girl on Giant Stump.

Yoga Girl steps out of her pose, and begins to chant. Backpack Boy is startled, looks back to check it out, and then, reassured, with a shoulder twitch starts walking again.

Phone Girl was, is, and remains oblivious to the outside world.

She has her phone, and her two busy thumbs, to connect her to her ether world…

I’m taking a small gamble as I walk on east. i’ve passed what might be the last staircase to the city above, and a young woman headed west confirms the only way up beyond here is a rock scramble plus steep sandy track by the Kitsilano Yacht Club pier. But hey! I say to myself, it’s all walking. (The long-ago observation of my Tuesday Walking Society co-founder, and only other Society member, who rightly took the position that since we were out for a walk, it didn’t really matter whether we were advancing per Plan A or back-tracking in a hastily concocted Plan B — walking is walking.)

In time I’m approaching the pier and the rock scramble. I’m still far enough from it to tell myself it’ll be easy-peasy… until I see a woman very carefully, very laboriously, very one tricky-step-at-a-time, make her way down the sandy slope and over the rocks. Nope! Not even with my trusty walking poles! It’s Plan B time, and I backtrack to the steps at the foot of Trafalgar Street.

Where I climb back up to Point Grey Road…

and walk along the leafy-groomed-lushly-landscaped road for a while.

I pass a huge sunflower hosting two very happy bees…

and then curve around the side of Kitsilano Beach at Balsam Street, where I see the outdoor saltwater pool hosting happy swimmers…

and then, back up on Broadway, I allow a passing bus to host a very happy me.

Words & Meaning

27 August 2022 – I think we need to make a careful distinction between “democracy” and “freedom.”

They are not synonymous.

“Democracy” is social and reciprocal. It is a contract between individuals and their society, with defined rights and responsibilities for each vis-à-vis the other.

“Freedom” is personal and unilateral. Its focus is individual self-determination.

“Democracy” necessarily includes defined freedoms. “Freedom” does not necessarily include democracy.

Downtown

15 August 2022 — We’re downtown, giving ourselves an architecture tour-by-ricochet — i.e., loosely inspired by one of the City’s self-guiding tour maps, but then wildly divergent, following our own curiosity as we go.

It’s almost a reintroduction to downtown as well, because neither of us has been down here much since COVID hit town. We see a lot that’s either new, or had slipped from memory. And on top of all that, we’re of a mind to gawk, and to appreciate.

Look! TELUS Garden! Completed in 2016 (Gregory Henriquez, design architect), and belonging (I say this approvingly) to what I think of as the school of Twisted Cereal Box.

Basically rectilinear, like any well-behaved cereal box — but then twisted here, thrust there, and finished with a swoop. Which then offers us all this lovely energy & play, still with simple lines.

(Need I add I know nothing about architecture? Pure personal opinion.)

We continue along West Georgia, and stop flat to stare at what now greets us at Homer Street. Definitely new, not forgotten. Once again rectilinear, once again with a twist. But very different from TELUS Garden.

Meet the Deloitte Summit office tower, open early this year, with Merrick Architecture as Executive Architect. My mind jumps back more than half a century to early Moshe Safdie, and the stacked-box design of his Habitat ’67.

It’s only later I appreciate my Safdie moment. At the time, all I see, as I draw closer, is a dramatic juxtaposition of forms — jutting cubes on the right, smack up against Library Square and the rounded, Roman Coliseum curves of the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch.

Later, I do my homework. I learn that the 1995 Library Square complex (VPL + Federal Office tower on the left + public plaza) was the work of… Moshe Safdie & Associates. I hope you’re as amused by this as I am.

Another juxtaposition, this time from West Pender as I eye this pair of buildings the other side of Victory Square. One is heritage; the other new-ish and an effort to combine redevelopment with both private gain and public good.

On the left, the Dominion Building: 13-storeys, steel-framed (a wonder in its day) and, when it opened in 1910, the tallest building in the British Empire. On the right, Woodward’s 43 (aka W-43): sympathetic lines & tones, considerably taller (43 storeys) and completed in 2009. The former, considered by some to be haunted (well, so they say); the latter, considered by some an example of how hard it is to do good and do well at the same time. (A Westbank Project with Henriquez Partners, it is a mixed-use tower, with both market and non-market residential units, and part of the larger redevelopment and repurposing of the old Woodward’s footprint.)

We continue north to West Hastings, to 601 West Hastings to be precise, where we run our eyes up this newly-completed 25-storey office tower and then slide ourselves in under its welcoming street-level canopy.

No tower name that I can find, apart from the street address, but online recognition that it is the work of B+H Architects, and that it offers commercial mixed-use facilities while retaining (says the B+H website) “a useable community plaza.”

I wouldn’t quite call this a community plaza…

but it is at least open to the street, and very peaceful once you tuck yourself inside. A wall of light & colour; a watercourse the length of that wall; and, in lieu of benches, a number of bum-friendly sitting stones.

We’re back on the street and walking away when I snag on one final, truly wonderful, touch.

This, the lettering solemnly announces, is the doorway to the 60l Grind.

“Grind”? It is a reference every Vancouverite (or visiting hiker) will immediately catch. The Grouse Grind is a 2.9 km trail straight up (very up) the face of Grouse Mountain; the 601 Grind is 549 steps straight up this building.

More West Hastings, now between Hornby and Howe streets. And more juxtapositions. On the right, the quietly ornamented but still quietly rectilinear lines of heritage architecture. On the left…

the 2011 Jameson House, where bubbles come out to dance with the world of rectilinear. In the process they stack 26 storeys of apartments over 8 storeys of office over shops. Everybody seems to be enjoying the dance.

(There is even more juxtaposition than my eye takes in at the time. The Jameson House project includes restoring the 1921 Ceperley Rounsfell Building and retaining the façade of the 1929 Royal Financial Building as well.)

We walk on west, then pause to admire a long view of one of the city’s most iconic heritage buildings.

Down there at West Hastings & Burrard , glowing in the afternoon light, still dominant though long since out-towered by many other buildings — it’s the 21-storey Marine Building, which opened in 1930 and is considered the city’s best surviving example of Art Deco style.

Leaning in from the far right, the Edwardian-era Vancouver Club, which opened in 1914. Behind it, a more recent building whose tones (like W-43) are sympathetic to its heritage neighbour.

On the left behind the Marine Building, a 35-storey twist of soaring glass, the MNP Tower, which opened in 2014.

We walk on, and eventually crane our necks upward, following the soar. (Credit here to my friend, whose camera caught it better than my own.)

Then, necks and all, it’s back to ground level — and, look at that, at West Hastings near Thurlow, it’s also back to this year’s Vancouver Mural Festival.

We climb up the steps and we climb back down the steps; we thank the VMF in general and Laura Jane Klassen (Studio LKJ) in particular for this latest addition to city art and cheer; and then…

we head home.

Behind the Paint

11 August 2022 – There are the murals, and then there are the stories that take you behind the paint on the murals. I’m reminded of this when I join the Mount Pleasant-area mural tours offered this week by Vancouver DeTours, the VMF guided-tour partner.

I already knew the murals; I didn’t know the stories.

For example: big, bold Courage, in an alley I often pass angling down Kingsway near East 11th. I even know, because I can read signage, that it was created in 2021 by Ariel Buxton.

What I don’t know is that she created it in collaboration with Rabble Rousers, a group of young adult mental health advocates, and that it faces a youth mental health facility housed in the building opposite. The powerful one-word main theme is supported by smaller images, each important to the young people involved. A yellow rose, a cactus, a shamrock and, here on the mural’s east edge, an acorn topped by a butterfly.

As we’re being given this background, I notice a tour member waving vigorously. Big smile on his face. I turn. Arms attached to a whole window-full of faces in the building opposite are waving at us. We wave. They wave. Everybody waves some more.

And then we walk on.

On down that same alley, closer now to Watson Street, a 2018 mural by Pakistan-born Sara Khan. It is called Recycled, for reasons that escape me, and flows strong colours and dream-like images across the wall.

We learn that when the sketch went to the City for final approval (many partners, many steps), the reclining male figure was anatomically correct. When he came back, he was a Ken-doll.

Okey-doke. (Many partners, many steps, and the art of the compromise.)

But ever since, again and again, anonymous citizens have crept forth, paint brush in hand…

to restore his manhood.

One of the tours takes us past the 2022 Melanie Jewell mural I showed you in my murals teaser post, From Bach to Bears. Remember?

Now I learn that the bears, while deliberately painted in folk-art style, are much more than (as I called them) “adorable.” Each one represents a member of this Northern Dené artist’s family; together, they resonate with deeper meaning.

This cuddling pair, for example, represent her grandmother and mother.

They loved each other. They were both, one generation apart, survivors of the residential school system. And when Jewell’s grandmother unexpectedly fell ill and was dying, her mother — at the time a small child away at school — could not come home for one last visit.

There are more stories, other places. Happier ones, for example the time requesting shop-owner permission to paint on her back alley wall ultimately led to the City installing lighting in that alley as well. Upshot: the woman finally felt safe going out to her car in that alley late at night — and even had something beautiful to look at.

So by the time I’m trucking back down Kingsway, I have a head full of stories to go with my eyes full of murals.

And then — right there on the sidewalk in front of Budgie’s Burritos — I see one more.

Well, if they say so!

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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