Hallelujah!

14 August 2020 – We are at the foot of Burrard St., smack on Burrard Inlet, and headed for Hallelujah Point — not that we quite precisely know that.

As we look north across the water, with the “sails” of the Vancouver Convention Centre (East Building) soaring into the sky …

what we do know is that we plan to follow the seawall north-west along the water, around the great scoop of Coal Harbour into Stanley Park.

Like this. (Ignore the “you are here”: we aren’t, so you aren’t.) From that wine-red building lower right; past the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre; all along Devonian Harbour Park; around the curve into Stanley Park; then (as it turns out) eastward along that park lobe that looks like Vancouver’s answer to the Italian “boot” beloved of map-readers; and right out to the heel of the boot, Hallelujah Point.

Cormorants stare north-west across the Flight Centre toward Stanley Park, and so do we.

Float planes all lined up, today’s tidy remnant of Coal Harbour’s long industrial / maritime past.

Col. Moody discovered low-grade coal here in 1859, giving the area its name. The coal was never commercialized but the area was, especially after it became western terminus for the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) in 1884. Decades and decades of ship yards, seaplane ports, shipping piers and commercial activity followed, but then a series of fires in the 1950s destroyed the docks, ushering in a half-century of massive redevelopment (hotels, condos, parkland).

I’m not complaining. I love the parkland; I love the Sea Wall; and I respect how much signage, and how many installations, ensure that we connect with the history piled up behind us.

The Komagata Maru Memorial, for example.

On 23 May 1914 the Komagata Maru steamed into the harbour, bearing 375 Indians from India and other British colonies who claimed right of entry as citizens of the British Empire. Only a few were allowed ashore; the rest were refused entry under Canada’s assortment of regulations designed to prohibit Indian immigration. The stalemate lasted until 23 July, when a Canadian naval vessel escorted the steamship out of the harbour and sent it back to India, with the great bulk of its passengers still on board.

Attitudes have changed. The memorial was donated by the Khalsa Diwan Society (which in 1914 fed the people trapped aboard the ship), funded by a branch of the federal government, and supported by the Vancouver Parks Board. This incident, says the plaque, was

a catalyst for change to Canadian citizenship and immigration laws. This monument reflects Canada’s commitment to a nation where differences are respected and tradition honoured.

Here’s what I find so powerful about the memorial. Those walls are pierced with the names of the ship’s passengers. We are not just recognizing a seminal moment in history, we are recognizing — and thus honouring — the specific people caught up in it.

I think about the power of naming-the-name. The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington leaps to mind. So does Toronto’s memorial to the 329 victims — each one named — of Air India Flight 182, brought down by a terrorist explosion off the coast of Ireland in 1985. And Ireland Park, also in Toronto, honouring the starving immigrants trying to escape the Irish Famine of the 1840s — but only able to name a handful, though paying tribute to them all.

And always, as backdrop as we walk, rolling parkland, tranquil with shrubbery and benches.

But water’s edge is focus, and there is always more to look at.

Light Shed, for example, Liz Magore’s half-scale tribute to one of the freight sheds that used to line Coal Harbour …

and a ship’s bell, engraved not just with names of the industries that used to be active here, but names of the employees as well.

There are marinas full of boats, some of them owned by Americans who have no chance of visiting them this summer — and, amidst all that glossy wealth, a trio of sassy houseboats.

We’re around the curve now, in Stanley Park, heading east down the “boot.”

Maritime history is also maritime right-now. This stretch will take us past the Vancouver Rowing Club, still housed in its 1911 building; HMCS Discovery out on Deadman’s Island, which has recruited & trained thousands of Canadians since being commissioned as a naval reserve facility in 1941; and the venerable Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. (You’ve got “Royal” in your name? You are venerable.)

All that on the water side of things. On the Park side… lots and lots of trees. This one a soaring great cedar, but there are plenty of other varieties to keep it company.

“We’ll go as far as The Gun,” says my friend. “Okay,” I say, no image springing to mind but practically hearing the capital letters of respect in her voice.

The Gun is a Vancouver institution — a “naval type, 12-pound muzzle loader,” cast in 1816, brought from England to Vancouver in 1894 or thereabouts, and still busy today.

It is not just The Gun, it is the Nine O’Clock Gun. There is an astounding amount not known about its history, but this we know about it now: it deserves its name. Every night, at 9 p.m., it is fired.

And that is quite enough.

So… hallelujah!

We are at Hallelujah Point, and at the Nine O’Clock Gun. We turn smartly on our heels to head back to town.

One last moment with nature, with parkland still at our backs but the traffic of West Georgia St. very much in our faces.

Otters!

We swivel our heads with the inscription. It tells us that otters hold hands so they don’t drift away from each other.

Umm, well, I’m not really sure about that…

But I love the thought, and I carry it with me on my bus ride home.

 

 

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8 Comments

  1. Lovely virtual walk. Thanks for including the photo of the memorial. At the time, we had a long way to go as a nation. I’m glad we’re a work in progress.

    Reply
  2. The Komagata Maru monument is beautiful – reminiscent of some here in the states (as you said) with the names, and I like the corten steel (if that’s what it is – the stuff that rusts). Thanks for explaining; that was all news to me but not terribly surprising. Oh, I love Light Shed! What fun. The other day I saw a house being moved – it’s such a delight to have one’s assumptions scrambled by seeing a building on stilts, isn’t it? πŸ™‚ That cannon is fired every night? Whaaaat???

    Reply
    • the names remind us that all this ‘history’ is about individual, living, breathing (or no-longer-breathing) human beings; I don’t know if the Vietnam wall was the first e.g., but it certainly triggered many more of that type – so simple, so powerful, so respectful

      Reply
      • Yes! Respect is refreshing these days. There’s a beautiful 9/11 monument on Staten Island (NYC). Two walls arc out like soaring wings looking towards the spot where the World Trade Center stood. The walls feature carved profiles of the victims, names, occupations, birthdates, and even small cubbyholes in which people can leave flowers and pictures. It’s heartbreakingly moving to see.

      • I didn’t know about that one. “Heartbreakingly moving” is a graphic description, and high praise. I felt that way when for the first time I turned a corner down on the Toronto waterfront and found myself in Ireland Park, with its five statues of emaciated, ill survivors of the famine ships from Ireland (done by the same sculptor who did the seven in the companion park in Dublin, with two fewer to symbolize the terrible loss of life on the boats), and then the jagged walls and the indeed heartbreakingly few names carved into them, because so few names are known. Still some 40,000 people flooded into York (the city’s then-name), at a time when the city itself had only some 20,000 inhabitants, so imagine the impact…

      • And I can’t help mentioning another one since you brought up the Irish famine – in lower Manhattan there’s a little-known but beautiful “Irish Hunger Memorial” depicting an actual ruined stone home in County Mayo, complete with (my favorite part) a hill full of the kinds of plants you might find in a field. It was a place I could go for a taste of nature after work. It took my breath away the first time I saw it – but in a very different way from your experience in Toronto – it was so unexpected, and beautiful. The Toronto piece sounds very stark, in a good way, that carries the message. That piece of history seems unimaginable, but I suppose it’s not so different from places like Somalia today. I think we’ve talked about our mutual love of public art before. πŸ™‚
        Too bad they’re not letting us virus-ridden Americans in for at least another month, otherwise we might make plans for a masked, socially-distanced Vancouver art tour! πŸ˜‰

      • some day, my friend — but it might be in 2021,,,

      • Better late than never. πŸ™‚

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