Spring! (Theoretically…)

15 April 2023 – Ten raw Celsius degrees as I write this, but Vancouver, in a touching act of faith, is acting as if spring were more than a theoretical concept.

The art deco Marine Building, tallest in the British Empire when it opened in 1930…

primps & preens as it admires its reflection in the office tower opposite.

Science World, just off the end of False Creek…

has a pair of worker-ants crawling over its geodesic dome in a fit of spring cleaning.

The Medianeras (VMF 2019) Alley Man, just south of False Creek, takes advantage of his giant size & powerful fingers…

to calmly grab that glossy black car for himself.

A low-rise apartment building up in Fairview offers passers-by a moment’s relaxation in newly scrubbed & positioned chairs…

watched over from above by the resident Balcony Rainbow Spirit.

Farther down the block, a Mountain Fire Pieris flaunts its party trick…

the ability to turn baby red leaves to mature green leaves, right there before your wondering eyes.

And, not to be outdone, one of the street’s many cherry trees…

explodes its blossoms into the sky.


4 April 2023 – I’m cutting through Hinge Park — 2.3 acres of naturalized wetland just off South East False Creek, which was created from former industrial land (a City Works site) as part of urban redevelopment prior to the 2010 Winter Games.

As always, I detour to take in the playful tunnel bridge across a swampy creek, its sewer-pipe construction referencing either a submarine (we’re near water) or perhaps a steam engine (we’re also near former railway yards).

Whichever, who cares? It’s delightful, and the generous cut-outs in the pipe invite you to come on in, and look around.

So I do.

A little boy comes barrelling past, bouncing from side to side and calling encouragement to his sister somewhere behind me. “Like this!” he cries. “Jump like this!” He takes a last hop, and scampers up the stone steps beyond.

I step out of the way, and offer my own encouragement to the little girl. “Show him how it’s done!”

She grins, and flies into action.

Bounce left!

Bounce right!

Bounce up those steps!

I walk on home. It’s a complete vignette, just like that. Two children, whooping their way through a tunnel.

But it stirs memory, and I leaf my old year-books ’til I find the reference.

And there it is: 17 September 2013. A whole decade ago, and that other tunnel, that other child, still dance in memory.

Reaction? We see reaction.

We stand and watch a little boy bounce his way the entire length of the tunnel, shouting with delight as he goes, his footsteps and his voice echoing, his amused parents waiting patiently at the far end.

Yup. Choose your decade, it doesn’t change. Kids & tunnels & echoes & all that bouncing energy.

Saint Barbara & the Broadway Subway Project

2 April 2023 – Given that she lived (per legend) in Nicodemia in the 3rd century AD, Barbara has no geographic or technological connection with Vancouver’s Broadway Subway Project, now underway.

But she is here!

I only learn all this by following the Bouncing Ball of Curiosity from my physical navigation along the edge of current excavation on Broadway near Cambie, to internet searches once back home.

Some pedestrians are just stomping their way through the tunnelling disruptions to foot traffic, but many of us are downright fascinated. We stop, like this woman…

to peer through gaps in the protective mesh and gawk at the depth and scale of what’s going on below.

I wait my turn for that gap, and meanwhile eye the huge blue metal elbow looming overhead. (You get a glimpse of it, upper right in the photo above.) I lean back to try to trace its origin and end point. I can’t see all the way to where this metal tube begins, but I sure can see it’s ‘way up there.

I then get a good view of where it ends, and what it’s doing, thanks to this construction worker on break.

He generously waves me over, yielding his place at a much bigger gap in the mesh. He also explains what’s going on. Which is why I can now tell you, with considerable confidence, that the blue tube is pumping concrete…

via its needle tip, through the grid into the tunnel floor.

He goes back to work. I continue to gawk for a while, and finally navigate my way through the maze to an exit point, trying to obey all three signs as I go.

Later, I get to wondering about the depth of that tunnel. I visit the Broadway Subway Project home page, can’t find that particular stat anywhere — but then get sidetracked by a passing reference to the tradition of naming tunnel boring machines after women.

It’s because of Saint Barbara, you see. Patron saint of miners, tunnellers and explosives workers, you see.

Well, I don’t see, so I have a whole new bouncing ball to follow.

According to Christian legend, Saint Barbara was a beautiful young woman (here as imagined in an oil painting by Wilhelm von Schadow, 1844)…

who converted to Christianity, much to the displeasure of her father. Legend has it she fled to the cliffs, to escape his fury, and the rocks opened to allow her entry (of relevance to miners).The escape was temporary. Her father subsequently had the non-Christian authorities condemn her to death, and he himself beheaded her. While travelling back home afterwards, he was struck by a thunderbolt that incinerated his body (of relevance to explosives workers).

Enough about her sainthood — which is now of a somewhat diminished nature, anyway. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, since “her biography is questionable and her legend probably spurious,” she was dropped from the General Roman Calendar in 1969.

Never mind. She remains dear to miners, tunnellers and explosives workers worldwide, with her December 4 feast day honoured by a long list of British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, American, Irish, Norwegian — oh, you get the idea — and many more military and other organizations worldwide. Visit the legend of Saint Barbara, on the website of the ISEE (International Society of Explosives Engineers), and see for yourself.

Meanwhile! Back here in 2023 Vancouver, on the Broadway Subway Project!

While the project website fails me for tunnel depth stats, it rewards me handsomely for my curiosity about the names of our own two TBMs (tunnel boring machines). Per tradition, named for outstanding women. In this case, for Elsie MacGill, born in Vancouver and educated at U of T, who was the world’s first female aeronautical engineer, and for Phyllis Munday, who was a pioneer for women in mountaineering.

I tell you, I am now invested in all this. I care about TBM Elsie & TBM Phyllis.

I therefore linger over, and now share with you, two TBM photos from the Broadway project online gallery of visuals. One shows work done last August to prepare a worksite for assembling TBM Phyllis…

and the other documents the triumphant moment this March when Phyllis arrived at the future Mount Pleasant Station, ready for her part in the 24/7 tunnelling schedule.

Then I notice the Ghella banner, proclaiming “5 generations of tunnelers.”

Oh good grief, a whole new Bouncing Ball of Curiosity to follow!

Black on Slack

24 March 2023 – The temperature is back in single digits, but never mind, it is almost spring.

I know this, as I approach Dude Chilling Park, because:

One, hardy crocuses are in full bloom…

Two, a hardy book-lover is sprawled on the grass with her must-read…

and, Three, the slackwire enthusiasts are back.

Once again, they’ve strung two lines here at the park’s north-west corner, and they are honing their skills.

The nearest bench is occupied by a couple of skate-boarders taking a break, so I lean against a tree. As always, I am dumbfounded by the coordination and focus this art requires.

Black Shirt is midway on one of the two lines, a little tentative in her moves.

She bails.

But moments later, on the companion line, her focus is absolute, and her moves are slow, controlled, and rock-steady.

End to end, Black Shirt executes a perfect walk.

I circle the park and, passing the adjacent tennis courts, notice that the Phantom Yarn Artist’s contributions to the fence are still intact.

Nearly intact.

This bit is the remnant of Dr. Bonnie Henry’s famous mantra from the early days of COVID: “Be kind, be calm, be safe.”

It’s the important bit, isn’t it? And always in season.

Eternity & 2018

21 March 2023 – Well, not exactly eternity. Still, when you’re standing on the Camosun Bog boardwalk, admiring a whole bouquet of moss presented on a tree stump…

your mind does expand beyond calendar dates.

The very next day, still motivated to walk by newly warm (& not-raining) weather, I’m prowling westward in my Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. My eye, unbeknownst to me at the time, is firmly snagged in 2018, because I fall captive to three wall murals in the area — all created during the 2018 Vancouver Mural Festival.

First up, a building at Manitoba & West 7th, its art beaming at us from both street-facing walls, the work of Madrileno Rubén Sánchez. I’ve seen it before, I love it all over again, both the Manitoba wall as a whole…

and its details. Go ahead, spread the image, do your own prowl. Here’s one detail I particularly like: the woman paddling her canoe right down that sidewalk.

Same street corner, now facing westward along 7th, and there’s a choice of views.

You can enjoy it via a parked car window…

or take it in with your very own eyes.

Detail upon detail, including that wonderful yellow pipe in the foreground, with its question-mark of black & white smoke. And, higher up, farther along, a light bulb.

And a happy flower, rising straight from the sidewalk.

I notice that because here we are, almost spring. I begin looking for more mural sidewalk flowers. And I find them.

There’s the detail in Colorado-born artist Bunnie Reiss’ mural just around the corner on Columbia…

and the bright crocuses at gravel’s edge in the alley between 6th & 7th, on Ontario Street. (Thank you Atheana Picha, both indigenous Fijean and of the Kwantlen First Nation.)

But there’s nature down here as well — even here, soaring trees. Reminders of eternity.

On Alberta Street, I stop first to admire this quiet door, so perfectly in harmony with the sentinel trees either side…

and then I tip my head back, back & back, to let my eyes soar up into the trees.

Even in the heart of a city, you can escape the calendar.

The Fish & the Ferry: a False Creek Fable

14 March – It played out in a moment, early one afternoon.

The ferry approached from the left…

continued to the right…

and disappeared beyond the bridge.

The fish swam on.

Street + Art

12 March 2023 – Off-the-street official art triggered this walk. Thank you Canadian Art Junkie for steering me to the Oh Canada exhibit, currently on view at the quirky, stimulating Outsiders and Others Gallery on E. Hastings in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood. American artist Amy Rice armed herself with vintage envelopes, mailed either to or from Canada, and then added her own embellishments.

Like this.

Read it any way you like. I only later notice the 1937 stamp and franking, both to commemorate the coronation of George VI — initially I am simply charmed by what I interpret as a snow goose flapping his powerful way across a couple of NWT hamlet houses in the “matchbox” style of early, bare-bones settlement architecture.

Back out on the street, I head south on Heatley Ave., tempted by mild weather to walk and walk and explore and explore.

The streets themselves are art, the energy of all those juxtapositions, all those opinions & all that activity, all that colour & line.

Also sassy signs.

I peer through the closed doors of a brew-pub and laugh out loud at what could be the kick-ass theme for post-menopausal women everywhere:

Then, just by that same door, this tender street-RIP for someone lost, and much loved:

You see what I mean about juxtapositions.

An alley, and a whole battalion of H-frame hydro poles! They’re old, outmoded, and iconic. Heritage, even. The art touch here — not that I need one — is that orange construction tarp, thrown like a great trailing scarf about the throat.

One of my favourite house fronts, at Heatley & East Pender; I am delighted that it is still so fresh and bright.

And then, at Keefer, a sharp left turn, to take myself to Hawks St. one block over, and lunch at The Wilder Snail.

Here, a high-flying snail shell…

and there, in the art studio doorway opposite, a low-flying crow.

South on Hawks, tracing my way through Strathcona Linear Park, & a pause at another street-RIP tribute. As tender as the one I saw earlier, as full of love & loss.

A whole trio of discoveries, one block after another, as I alley-walk my way west between Union and Prior streets. First block, a sparkling panel of stained glass, set into an outbuilding…

next block, a giant stuffed dog, adorable, but abandoned…

and, third block, the nostalgia of laundry hung out to dry in the afternoon breeze. Nothing else smells the same as air-dried laundry, and nothing else smells as good.

A hit of honest alley rust, as I near Gore Street…

and a clutch of beautifully restored and cared-for vintage homes. I anthropomorphize the scene, imagine them huddling together as they nervously eye their neighbour to the right. Will it be restoration? Or demolition?

Across the train tracks, and south yet again on Station St., with the imposing façade of Pacific Central Station to my left and a mix of shabby backyards, empty lots and some handsome new housing to my right.

Through a chainlink fence, a graffito I interpret as the loving depiction of two pregnant women…

an interpretation perhaps born of the poster on the balcony next door.

I nip into Pac Central (opened 1919 as the Canadian Northern Railway Station) for a quick eyeful of the restored grandeur of its Neoclassical Revival Style design. The clock surely cannot be of the era, but I think it works well with the calm angularities of that ceiling.

And then I walk the final few blocks uphill to home.

Cold Remedy

7 March 2023 – “Not COVID,” announces that welcome single bar on the test strip. My snuffles & sore throat are just plain old snuffles & sore throat. But however ordinary they may be, I am probably infectious (as well as unaesthetic), so I cancel my lunch date. Which leaves me with a mild and not-raining day to fill in, responsibly all by myself.

Uncrowded ferry ride and open-air walk along the Burrard Inlet Seawall, I decide. If not exactly a cold remedy, at least a cold distraction, and posing no significant risk to others.

Perfect size of Aquabus pulls up at The Village dock, here in False Creek’s east end: large and empty, with fresh air blowing through.

I’ll be transferring to another ferry at Granville Island, but there’s a whole art tour en route, courtesy of current and legacy Vancouver Biennale installations. Here’s Proud Youth (Chen Wenling, China), just off the foot of Drake Street…

and here, as we approach the Granville Island dock, the six working silos of Ocean Concrete that together comprise Giants (OSGEMEOS, the composite name of Brazilian twin brothers).

We pick up one other couple along the way — visitors delighted to learn they can effectively tour False Creek just by buying round-trip tickets. They’re settling back, all bright-eyed for the next leg of their tour, when I switch to a much smaller ferry and make the hop across the water to the Hornby St. dock, just east of the Burrard Bridge.

I salute the bridge as I disembark. It’s semi-demi Art Deco, opened in 1932, with the bravura flair of entirely ornamental galleries that contain nothing but hide horizontal supports with style.

A brief detour up to Beach Avenue gives me a whole new angle on the Vancouver Aquatic Centre — quite Great Pyramid, don’t you think?

Barge on the Beach” is gone, finally broken up and hauled away, but there’s still plenty all along the Seawall to captivate the eye. Another Vancouver Biennale installation here at Sunset Beach, for e.g., one of my favourites. The name, 217.5 Arc X 13, tells you the story: Bernar Vernet (France) offers us 13 arcs, each curved to 217.5 degrees.

Not into rusty metal? How about spring daffs?

I pass repeated outbursts along the slopes, with red cones by this one to warn east-bound walkers of the construction ahead, upgrading a pumping station.

And then I veer away from the Seawall path to explore this grove of Wishing Trees. Make a wish, says the placard, physically or online, and donors will contribute a further $10 to the 25 X 25 project. It’s an initiative of the BC Parks Federation, with ‘big, hairy, audacious goals” for creating/protecting 25% of BC’s environment in parkland by 2025.

Did you notice that long, sinuous horizontal wall, there in the background behind the left-hand Wishing Tree? It’s the Vancouver AIDS Memorial, created in 2004 by Bruce Wilson, with some 20 panels of more than 800 incised names. “With you a part of me hath passed away…” runs the George Santayana quote across the top, and current tributes dot the panels.

Yet in the midst of death, we are also in life, and when I rejoin the Seawall I stand captivated — as do others — to watch a very hippie-style wedding take place, right down there by the lapping waves.

A moment later the groom swings his bride in a joyous 360-twirl, and we all break into applause.

Just a little hug of a cove, after that, with all those freighters in the “parking lot,” awaiting their turn to continue up-Inlet into Port of Vancouver…

a storm-thrown stump, so sharply striated it deserves art installation status of its own…

and then a sentinel crow atop a pole in English Bay Beach, just opposite Alexandra Park. Those poles are either volleyball supports or boat hooks — whichever, they await the new season.

I’m about to leave the Seawall for Morton Park and all the activity of Davie Street.

My mouth is set for a salmon burger, surely that will be on offer in one of the spiffy local restos? But I am distracted — I “squirrel” (to use Susan’s wonderful word for the moment when your intended thought/action is highjacked by something else — I am distracted by a food cart advertising 100% pure Alberta beef hot dogs.

My Calgary Girl self rises up, and I’m on for a hot dog.

It is wonderful.

Happy tummy and I then cross the street into Morton Park, to rollick along with the 14 bronze figures that comprise A-maze-ing Laughter (Yue Minjun, China).

My cold has not exactly been remedied, but I have amused myself while also managing to keep my germs to myself. And — back to Susan’s wonderful word (you’ll find it in her comment on my previous post) — I have very successfully squirrelled my cold.

Still on the subject of words…

Another friend, one who was part of that splendid day in White Rock, has explained to me that Wetsuit Guy was kite-surfing, not wind-surfing. Still a maniac, but armed with a kite. I am pleased to learn this, even more pleased by what lies behind her comments and Susan’s as well: the great, rich depth and camaraderie of friendship. Lucky me.

The Device Of

28 February 2023 – I walk past the James Black Gallery on East 6th, and peer in and around the shrubbery, front and side.

In the process, I meet…

a pink elephant…

a blue hippo (perhaps blue because of that cracked ear)…

a sporty canine…

and even, on a gate post…

a new word.

Which perhaps explains why in the post title I

Storm Watch

22 February 2023 – Well, not really.

“Storm Watch” is the winter draw for Tofino and other points along the west coast of Vancouver Island, not for mainland White Rock — a small community tucked into Semiahmoo Bay, just 5 minutes from the Canada/US border.

But if the weather doesn’t quite qualify as a storm, it sure is blustery. We have piled on the layers, pulled up our hoods, zipped every zipper, found our mitts and generally shown due respect for the elements, this holiday-Monday Family Day.

Which makes that black crescent in the lowering sky (mid-photo) all the more amazing.

Dog in surf, fine. Bundled-up patient dog owner on beach, fine. But what maniac would want to be out there wind-surfing? We spy his sail, trace the line to his wetsuit-clad body, and shake our heads in amazement.

On along the beachside path, heading for the pier you can just barely make out ‘way down there on the horizon.

We are going to walk, not just a pier, but the pier, the capital-P Pier: the White Rock Pier. “The longest pier in Canada.” That pier.

We plod on, breathless and laughing, past this imposing tree stump, looking at / listening to rolling waves as we go.

And then we’re there! On the Pier!

Everybody else as windblown as we are, bracing against the blasts, and sharing “what-a-day” grins with passing strangers.

How long is “longest,”you may want to know. I did, & later I look it up: 470 metres (1,542 ft) is the answer. OK-fine, but the merest nuthin’ compared to the world’s longest, which is in Progreso, Mexico and juts 6.5 km out to sea. It was built to accommodate cruise ships, wouldn’t you know; ours merely has to accommodate feet.

Also accommodate storms, as it happens. Built in 1914 for steamships, it had to be extensively rebuilt after a huge storm in 2018 and has been smacked around by further storms since then. We walk right to the end, and pause for the landward view before heading back to town.

The view includes the eponymous white rock — the 486-ton chunk of granite so liberally coated in seagull guano in the 19th century that (they tell us) it served as a beacon for sailors. It is now repeatedly coated in Park Dept. whitewash — not to make up for an absence of guano, but to cover up the presence of graffiti.

Return trip along those 470 metres, wind at our backs this time. We are almost literally sailing along…

Up the steps to the main drag, and a look back across the bay. The flag is snapping in the wind…

and the gulls are hunkered down against the wind.

We power on down the street.

We’re headed for fish & chips at Moby Dick (“famous since 1975”)…

and we take in a lesson in maritime etiquette along the way.


    "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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