Another Day, Another Alley

18 August 2018 – An alley was not the plan. The Tuesday Walking Society (Vancouver Division) was out in full twosome force, and the plan was to improve our minds with a hit of heritage architecture.

Specifically, a tour of the interior of this theatre, the largest in Canada when it opened in 1927 …

and once again a sparkling major theatrical presence in the city, following its restoration in the mid-1970s.

Scheduled tours all summer long, arrange ahead or just drop in; all fine.

Except when there is a film shoot that same day. As a polite little notice in the window informs us.

Never mind. We can adapt. If the theatre’s heritage interior is not available, we will console ourselves with its heritage alley right next door.

Welcome to Ackery’s Alley, nick-named for Ivan Ackery, who ran the Orpheum 1935-69 and helped visiting celebrities slip out a side door into the alley when they wanted to avoid adoring fans. Like the theatre itself, the alley deteriorated over time, and stayed scruffy a lot longer.

Until this very summer, in fact, when it became the second of the City’s downtown paint-the-alley projects. It may still be a service alley, but it’s now snazzy as all-get-out.

Good information, yes? Though perhaps you didn’t really need to have that last bit spelled out.

Great waves of colour undulate their way right up the walls …

and all over the recycling bins.

Anti-pigeon spikes are firmly attached to every horizontal surface.

Which, as Mama Pigeon discovers, makes them the perfect fence to support her nest and keep the babies from tumbling out.

I am not sympathetic to pigeons — the sight of them has me humming Tom Lehrer’s ditty, Poisoning Pigeons in the Park — but I catch myself applauding Mama P. for her ingenuity.

We repeatedly have to stop gawking at the alley’s paint job and leap out of the way of delivery trucks, threading their way through the narrow space, guided by Useful Guy working the film shoot.

He gets a moment to breathe between vehicles; that gives us a moment to admire his arms. He’s as snazzy as the rest of the alley!

And then finally away we go, Frances & I, walking on north through town, vaguely planning to reach Burrard Inlet somewhere around Canada Place, where we will then — probably — follow the seawall west for a bit.

An hour or so later, the time accounted for not by kilometres walked but diversions enroute, we reach Canada Place. The cranes on the Port of Vancouver’s Centennial Pier punch a dramatic orange through the haze, but the Coast Range Mountains, just across the Inlet, are almost totally obscured.

It is not a romantic mist, it is not Rain City about to have a rainy moment. It is wild fire smoke.

More than 500 fires are burning province-wide as I write this. We pause a moment, think about all the displaced people, all the exhausted fire fighters, all the terrified wild life, all the trees … all the loss.

We are sombre as we walk on.

Our mood doesn’t lighten until we pass this notice on a blocked staircase.

Oh! Sorry! is that one image too many? Am I boring you?

I apologize…

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5 Comments

  1. No, that last one made me smile. But not the one before it. The haze is bad….this morning it seemed OK, not great but not horrible, but I just got another whiff of smoke in the air, and i know it’s going to concentrate as the afternoon wears on….and if I drive east, those beautiful foothills will be barely visible, the mountains completely obscured. Time for a stiff breeze!

    Reply
  2. Have to say that I was appalled by my first sight in December of “Ackery’s Alley” on the east side of north Granville, as seen from the mouth of Smythe Street. To my perhaps jaundiced eye, the colour scheme and design (dried blood colour pavement & stylized fumes of nausea) was macabre—a Futurist’s grim vision of an abattoir, I thought.

    Truly, though, my impression was somewhat informed by my negative attitude about this sort of “placemaking” in general. It looks too much like a cheap and superficial attempt to distract residents from the steady loss of meaningful livability in cities like Vancouver—for all but the most affluent, that is.

    Reply
    • I might have made some different choices for the alley myself, though it didn’t conjure up quite as macabre an image for me as it did for you. I appreciate any effort to make public space a more welcoming experience for the people who pass through it, and I don’t wish to settle for a choice between public art and affordable housing. We should have both.

      Reply

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  • WALKING… & SEEING

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