Taking the 5th

15 November 2022 – Not “the 5th” as in a self-shielding legal manoeuvre in a US courtroom. Instead, “the 5th” as in bouncing down Vancouver’s West 5th Avenue, wide open to the cultural/commercial fizz erupting on all sides.

Fizz indeed. I’m in the Quebec-to-Alberta stretch running through Mount Pleasant, known (well, in real-estate circles) as “Vancouver’s most desirable mixed-used neighbourhood.”

I am all in favour of mixed-use, aka diversity; I grow either nervous or bored when faced with homogeneity. No fear of that around here! While this cityscape has lost any trace of the millennia-old indigenous use of the land, it bears remaining evidence of early working-class settlers, who used their muscle-power either in their own small enterprises or in service of the industrial needs of the CPR. You still see a few auto-body shops, for e.g., but by now the transition from strong arms to strong brains is well underway.

Emphasis on creative/digital brain power.. all wrapped up in green. Proclaiming eco-sensitivity along with floor space. (Cf. my recent Into The City post.)

This brand new “slats” building between Quebec & Ontario…

offers “a superior location” and boasts its high ratings for walking/transit/biking criteria.

→An aside to explain the cross streets: I’m in a stretch named for the provinces in Confederation at the time of naming. They are slightly out of geographical order and include a territory, but let’s not quibble.

At the intersection of 5th and Ontario, older & newer versions of creativity shimmer at each other from every corner.

North-east corner = PureBread café, one of a handful of Vancouver & Squamish outlets for an artisanal bakery based in Whistler; north-west corner = Catalyze Solutions, a real estate project planning firm; south-west corner = Martha Sturdy Studios. It is the home furnishings/decor outlet for this octogenarian artist/ceramist/jeweller/sculptor who is still active, and whose works have been featured everywhere from Italian Vogue to Architectural Digest.

The aesthetic rust sensibility of her studio…

ricochets midway down the next block, to nature’s own rust on this chain. It locks the courtyard gate beside the heritage brick home of Image Engine (“world-class visual effects for film”).

More nature near the corner of 5th & Manitoba, this time yellow flowers that survived the snow and are still perky as all-get-out.

They sit in front of another artisanal bakery, Terra Breads. Together, they play compare/contrast with high-tech parking and the shiny-new neon-green “2131” building kitty-corner.

Completed last year, says the online promo, it provides office and light industrial space for a number of tenants, including AbCellular Biologics.

All very fancy and brainy and new… but with older art styles as the streetscape context.

Right across the street, this 2019 Vancouver Mural Festival wall…

back on 5th and just west of Manitoba, some grotty-old, unapologetic-old, roof-top graffiti…

and a tad farther west again, two doorways plastered with stickers.

I am not a stickers fan. Don’t get it. Grumble, grumble. But I read these, and… oh all right… some are mildly bemusing. “Scrub out racism not stickers” says one; “dump your porn addicted boyfriend” urges another; and another proclaims “timbit taliban,” which I suspect would confuse the Taliban as much as Tim Hortons.

More mixed-use, as I make my way from Manitoba to Columbia: Maison d’Etre Design Build (surely the world’s best bilingual marketing pun, but I wish they’d kept the accents), and two beauty-devoted outlets, focused respectively on hair salon supplies, and high-end residential flooring.

Almost at Columbia, I’m stopped flat by the elegant, but enigmatic, signage on an otherwise entirely anonymous building:

It only makes sense much later, when some online scuffling around shows me this used to be a Canadian Tire customer pick-up centre.

5th & Columbia is like a case study in past-present-future.

The south-west corner lot is for sale, with this tidy but older home surely doomed. (Note the home immediately beyond — beautifully painted, its owners raking leaves and very much not for sale.)

Facing the for-sale, an already-sold: something new rising up from the ground on the north-west corner, bearing the name Renditions Developments and promising “a new chapter.”

Beyond that, continuing west on 5th, wonderful names for what I fondly hope are wonderfully creative little boutiques — Rad Power Bikes; Hot Sauce Digital Marketing; Adventure Technology; Black & White Zebra. (And somewhere in here, I forget exactly where, the offices for the newspaper Vancouver Is Awesome.)

Corner of 5th & Alberta, a very empty, very space-y, space, announcing “This must be the space.” Tenants yet to arrive.

Kitty-corner, a space already full of tenants: Beaumont Studios — outdoor courtyard; indoor venues available for events; and an artists’ collective of rental studios.

I cross over, walk along the mural, contemplate the humanoid at the end.

Pop-eyed in amazement, as seems fitting, and with hands raised either in horror at recent developments…

or to warm them at the flame of all this new creative energy.

Take your pick.

“Mini-Miracles”

17 October 2022 — These cranky days, even a mini-miracle is a major miracle and I’ll say thank you and hold it tight. Viewed that way, my walk centred around the St. George Community Library is to be celebrated.

My plan: drop off three books as donations to the “St. George Community Library” — in quotes, because if you now expect bricks & mortar, you are out of luck. As a 2012 Globe and Mail article explains, it’s a couple of planks street-side on East 10th near St. George, here in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, with a bit of tarp over top and the invitation to lend or borrow, give or receive.

I’ve received more than once, time to give.

En route, I angle through Dude Chilling Park, where I notice the leaves now flaring red…

and the tents down the pathway between the park and the adjacent school, proclaiming that the local farmers’ market is in session.

I visit the market, and find myself mesmerized by the pavement beneath my feet. It is brightly painted, a reminder that normally this cut-through serves schoolchildren. I stand there, giggling at some of the juxtapositions between permanent paint and temporary market signage.

There’s the hopscotch tucked behind today’s sorbet bars…

the chubby hand grabbing for those wonderfully multilingual eggs…

the blue-cap guy roaring approval for “absolutely NO pesticides” in the squash…

and all those teeth eager to sink into local frozen berries.

Mind you, some signage is temporary, and purpose-written for today’s visitors.

Off I go. I have books to donate.

On up to East 10th, left-turn east onto East 10th & on past St. George.. But before I get to the library shelving, I stop at the corner display. I think of it as the Gratitude Display, not that it has that official name, but there it always is, prompting us to be grateful for something seasonal and providing the materials needed to write up our response & peg it to the line.

With Thanksgiving just past and Hallowe’en almost here, the theme is obvious and the message silhouettes are pumpkin-shaped. The lines are bowed with suggestions; here is my favourite.

And so, enjoying the concept of mini-miracles, I walk on.

First to donate my books (a mini-miracle right there, that this two-plank “library” still thrives, at least a decade after its founding); then to visit the curious garden a few doors farther down the street.

Another noun deserving quote marks: this “garden” consists of a tub balanced on the nude legs/hips lower half of a mannequin, filled with assorted succulents and a collection of tiny naked plastic babies escaping from one container or another, the container varying with whatever whim currently strikes the gardener’s fancy.

I look to see what’s current.

Turquoise peasant clogs, is what. I think this is quite wonderful in a totally goofy “either you love it or you think it’s stupid” way. I also love the conker — the gleaming horse chestnut, still fresh and mahogany-bright, and so very seasonal.

I walk on, my mind now snagged on conkers and the game little boys played with them early in the last century (as recounted to me by my father). The game may be old memory, but the sound effects are right this minute: conkers are thudding down all around me from the trees towering over my head.

My mind moves on, from conkers back to that concept of mini-miracles. Thus encouraged to see them, I do see them, and I define them broadly.

For example, in the joke of these Monkey Puzzle branches tickling the armpits of a bungalow at East 10th & Prince Albert…

in the open embrace of this vintage home, all verandahs and balcony, at Prince Albert & East 19th…

and, right across the street, just past the volunteer-tended traffic circle garden (suffering the ban on watering), in the striking silhouette of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church.

As I stand farther up Prince Albert, admiring the side view of the cross on the building and the cupola on the garage…

I can hear a congregation singing a hymn. Not in St. Nicholas, where children are now playing outside the church, but through the open doors of the Chinese Tabernacle Baptist Church one street farther south.

Another mini-miracle I’m happy to add to my day: peaceful diversity is always good news.

So I am perfectly content as I carry on south for a while, then finally loop my way back west-ish and north-ish. A short pause in Robson Park, with more autumnal conkers literally at my feet…

and I walk on home.

ShadowLand

13 October 2022 – A land I walk, one half-hour this sunny afternoon, along the south-east end of False Creek.

There is ShadowGate, on my street-side right…

ShadowWall, across the water beyond Hinge Park…

ShadowChairs, clustered close to Olympic Village…

ShadowGrid, west of the chairs…

ShadowBridge, east of the chairs…

and finally…

well, of course…

ShadowMe.

… And Into the City

30 September 2022 – All those mountains/lakes/canyons/trails/fields/elk/sheep/cows.

And now, some pavement.

I head north-west in my own Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, a community just off-centre from downtown. It’s an early community (as settler history here in Vancouver goes), more worker than boss in its demographics, with an industrial phase built around servicing the railway, subsequent decline, subsequent admixture of artists (of all types) & small-scale entrepreneurs (ditto), and now — though interrupted by COVID — a push to make this the heart of the city’s high-tech, sustainable, innovative future.

I don’t have all this consciously in mind as I set out. I just set out. And I immediately begin to see past & future piling up all over each other. Literally on top of each other, here on the N/W corner of East 7th & Main.

Fact is, I’m not terribly drawn to these murals, but I am fascinated by what they represent.

Each fabric panel, tacked to existing backboards, is a work created in the Murals Without Walls workshops run by Kickstart Disability Arts & Culture as part of the Low Barrier Arts Program of the 2022 Vancouver Mural Festival. These new panels sit atop now-fading 2017 murals, painted onto parking spaces in what was then a municipal parking lot, as part of that year’s Mural Festival. (Oddly, not shown in the VMF photo gallery, but still alive in my personal photos.)

So I do have past/present in mind as my feet decide to turn right onto Quebec Street and lead me down-down-down, north-north-north, toward False Creek.

You want future? I’ll give you future — 2025, to be precise. Right at the next corner.

I read the signage and decide to include the whole thing in this post. While the language is PR-bravura, it is instructive to notice what companies want to boast about, these days. Starting on the left…

and sweeping to the right.

T3, I later discover online, stands for Timber/Transit/Tech. This will be Western Canada’s largest, tallest mass-timber office building: “transit-connected, tech & amenity-rich”; “one of the most environmentally-friendly, sustainable and wellness-focused developments in Vancouver”; “in one of Vancouver’s most dynamic and creative technology hubs.” The project will include the renovation of the now-delapidated building whose peaked roof juts above the signage, and its use as an arts centre, run by the City.

No, I have not turned into a company shill. But yes, I’m glad that these are now project ideals, however imperfectly they may be carried out. (And indeed, however imperfect time may show them to be, even as ideals.)

Pre-COVID, another complex had already led the way. Here at Quebec & East 4th: “Canada’s first completely net-zero work environment.”

It is one structure in the 5-building, 4-city-block Main Alley Campus that consists of three new buildings, one addition to an existing building and one renovation. I don’t know, nobody yet knows, where high-tech workers will end up working, this side of the COVID watershed. From home? Back in an office? Hybrid?

Main Alley perforce gambles that they will return to the office — those structures have already been built. It’s interesting to see that T3 is going ahead, an expensive vote of confidence that the future will be significantly physical, as well as virtual.

I confess that I like the broad-strokes vision, the idea that some environmentally & culturally responsible complexes will nurture a sustainable, inclusive and creative tech economy here in Mount Pleasant.

Even so, I don’t want new complexes, however admirable, to steamroller everything else out of existence. I want continued space, a continued welcome, for the little guys of every type and gender.

Just walking on down Quebec, I see examples of what I mean.

There’s the multi-generation John & Murray Motors Ltd., near East 3rd…

there’s the relatively new Fife Bakery, just around the corner on East 3rd…

which leads me a few more steps, to the mural wall right next door for JFS The Kitchen.

Later I discover this is the hub for the Jewish Food Bank, a partnership of JFS with the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver. (Not all is shiny-beautiful, either in Mount Pleasant or in the City as a whole.)

Another automotive shop, complete with this stunning old Chevy, as I angle through the alley between 3rd and 2nd…

and then the 1912 brick majesty of the Quigley Building at 2nd, which houses Earnest (“seriously good”) Ice Cream.

I want all of it. The big new, the small new, the old.

New builds on Main, fine — but I want still to peek through the courtyard to the alley, for a glimpse of Carson Ting’s contribution to the 2017 Vancouver Mural Festival.

[

We need it all. If nature has shown us anything, over all these millennia, it is that diversity is the robust option, not mono-culture.

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.

… And the Edge of the Tracks

26 July 2022 – It couldn’t look more different, but this is the continuation of the walk that took us along the edge of Coal Harbour. I left you with those not-polite Canadians (feathered variety) at the Convention Centre — but I kept on walking.

On east into Gastown, following an alley squeezed between Water St. and the train tracks.

No more sparkling water, foliage, gamboling doggies, and cafés to tempt their owners and the rest of us.

Instead, the grit of an alley. Showing not its Water St. Gastown-tourist face, but its back-door strictly functional face. And displaying, in the process, powerful graphics. Once again, geometry at work. I’m captivated by the lines and curves, but I don’t romanticize them.

This is a DTES (Downtown East Side) alley, and it is not romantic. While I tilt my head in appreciation of a spiral staircase (below), three bicycle paramedics roll by on one of their regular overdose patrols.

Both/and, eh? The reality of those paramedics, but also the reality of these bold lines that make me tug my camera out of my back pocket once again.

The spiral, the verticals, the punch of yellow, the graffiti…

the stark “H” of this (I think) loading dock & the inadvertent colour-blocking all around…

the angles of the window security bars…

some zig-zag…

and gleaming loops of razor wire…

that ground a perfectly framed vertical to the sky.

And then I put my camera away. I really, truly do.

The Edge of Coal Harbour

19 July 2022 – The “edge,” both in geography and in time. In geography, because I walk the northern boundary of this neighbourhood, eastward along the Burrard Inlet sea wall from Stanley Park to Canada Place. In time, because here I am for just a few hours, one afternoon in 2022, on territory that has been inhabited for millennia.

Not that I have such lofty thoughts in mind as I jump off the #19 bus at West Georgia Street and cut down through Devonian Harbour Park to the water. I’m just out for a walk. This mini-park, smack at the eastern limit of Stanley Park, seems the perfect starting point for an agreeable afternoon in the semi-sunshine.

Pleasure + frustration as I go. I can find no ID for this dramatic sculpture…

neither in the park nor later online. Grrr.

Vancouver, like everywhere else, is opening up again. Cruise ships are back, and so are movie crews. A seaplane drops noisily over a marina as it streaks toward the Harbour Flight Centre beyond…

while we obedient pedestrians below halt in our tracks, obeying the director’s call to “Stand still please, for just one more take.”

I’m enjoying sights & sounds as I go — the activities & lingo of dogs/gulls/ravens/seaplanes/people. I’m not snagged by the historic depth of the area until I stop to read some of the inscriptions on & beside the Coal Harbour Fellowship Bell. It honours, say the plaques, the people & companies who made the industrial marine history of this area, 1890-1979.

Then & later, I learn a little more. First inhabitants, the Squamish First Nation, millennia ago; first settlers (i.e. non-indigenous) in the early 1860s, drawn by the discovery of low-grade coal. The coal never led to anything much, but the 1884 decision by the CPR to make this the railway’s western terminus launched a near-century of industrial activity: sawmills, warehouses, shipping piers, and — as that engraved bell reminds us — a long history of shipyards, engine & propeller shops and all the other trades & services that built & repaired Vancouver’s fishing & tugboat fleets.

‘Round about here, I start playing peek-a-boo with a big cluster of red container cranes some three kilometres or so farther east — just past Canada Place, marking both the planned end of my walk and one of the terminals within the Port of Vancouver.

Ignore the bench-sitter, the jogger with wonky left knee, the dogs, the kids. Follow Purple Hoodie Lady’s right arm. She is, inadvertently but accurately, pointing to the “giraffes” (a friend once called them that; I still do), the cranes whose long necks stretch high above the busy dance of ships & containers below.

I now find myself looking for them at each turn in my walk.

Sometimes prominent across open water, in spikey contrast to the bulk of the cruise ship…

and sometimes hard to distinguish — the merest scribble of one more silhouette above the rows of boats & houseboats in Coal Harbour Marina, who in turn are dwarfed by city towers beyond.

I look landward as well. This construction site sinks my heart as I imagine some monstrous tower, right at water’s edge…

and then I read the signage.

Coal Harbour Phase 2, it tells me, will provide an elementary school, daycare centre and 60 affordable [sic] family-sized rental units, in a complex designed to quality for LEED and Passive House certification.

Art work, here in Harbour Green Park, that I can identify. (Thank you, signage.)

Light Shed, by Liz Magor, is a half-scale replica of the freight shed that was located on the Vancouver City Wharf here in Coal Harbour, about a century ago.

(See the giraffes? We’re getting closer…)

Water fountains add sparkle to a café beyond…

and water provides liquid tarmac for the seaplanes that come & go from the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre.

(Another hit of that cruise ship beyond. And the giraffes.)

I’m almost at my end point, almost at Canada Place, walking my way around the West Convention Centre building toward Bon Voyage Plaza.

All along the railings, signage to teach us a little more about the natural and human histories of the area. Some I pass by; a few I scan for key phrases; and one stops me flat. Because… look at the power of that gaze.

Meet Lucille Johnstone, whom I had never heard of, but who for good reason is saluted here as Queen of the River. A high school grad, she began as receptionist for a little company called River Towing, and soon was its one-woman office staff. I could go on about what happened next, but instead I’ll let you read it directly, the same way I did.

I think this is terrific, I think she is terrific, and I love the further detail that explains the funny little tugboat next to her photo. When the Vancouver Airport authorities wanted to name something in her honour, as a tribute to her service as a member of the board, she requested it be something fun for children. Which is why that tugboat was built, and installed on the Departure Level.

More art just off the corner of Bon Voyage Plaza, and a whole different mood and style than the tugboat.

Twenty metres of bright blue raindrop, named (of course) The Drop, created by a Berlin collective known as Inges Idee. I’ve always loved it — simple, graphic, perfect scale for its location, perfect image for its physical environment.

And now, finally, here I am.

I have walked around the edge of the Convention Centre, then around the high edge of Canada Place, and I am about to drop down the staircase on the eastern side to ground level. I am as close to the giraffes as I’m going to get. There they are — just beyond that SeaBus shuttle route between Waterfront Station this side of Burrard Inlet and Lonsdale Quay over in North Van.

I put away my camera. All done. Then I take it out again, because I have to show you this.

World, you have been warned.

City Centre: The Triad of Transformation

24 June 2022 (et salut, la Fête St-Jean-Baptiste) – You don’t look at it and say, “Aha, a triad of connected interests, a strategic partnership, just look how that business plan is rolling out.”

You say, “Wow! Look at all that paint!”

Indeed. Paint has taken a 1950s motor hotel, which finally closed its weary doors in 2021…

and turned it into this.

May I introduce you to the City Centre Motor Hotel? A Mount Pleasant (Vancouver) landmark, iconic as all-get-out, pure mid-century North American vernacular architecture — and an anachronism. A magnet for urban historians, but not for travellers.

No surprise it was sold. No surprise it was bought by a real-estate group “for redevelopment potential.”

And that’s where the surprises began — the phone calls & sparky minds that brought together The Narrow Group (an East-Van group dedicated to providing art/music/dance/food/drink in historic spaces), Nicola Wealth Real Estate (dedicated to “creating cash flow and wealth through real estate”) and the Vancouver Mural Festival (dedicated to “providing large-scale murals, street art and experiences”).

They found a community of interests. Nicola Wealth knew it would take years to sort out redevelopment best options and permits, and was receptive when Narrow Group’s David Duprey called up suggesting a temporary lease. Deal! VMF was happy to jump into the mix — a new hub for its work as well.

Result: some 70+ ratty old motel units have been transformed into low-rent artist work spaces, and the Mural Festival has just pulled off its biggest mural yet, with more than 30,000 sq ft of building/parking lot coverage. The city has its newest temporary (2 1/2 years or so) community space for art and social connection.

I suddenly pay attention because all that paint is being flung around quite literally under my eye (when my eye happens to be on my balcony or up in our roof-top garden). Also because this very weekend will be a launch party for the repurposed building, and a tease for the Aug 4-14 festival, promising 30+ new murals in 8 neighbourhoods and 11 straight days of paint, talks, tours, events and street parties.

Here’s your preview: last-minute prep for this weekend’s party…

but so much already in place, whether your eye tracks vertical…

or horizontal.

For all the happy colours and popping design, the artists and everyone else close to this world know there is a dark side with dark stories, lives no longer being lived but honoured “in memory.”

So it is not through ignorance, but with a kind of clear-eyed courage & optimism that these artists & urban adventurers throw all their creativity & shrewd instincts into exploring what else they can do, what else is possible, how to dance the best damn dance to the beat of the day, this very day.

And in the process, they offer the rest of us a whale of a time.

Yaletown: art & history & life & even buttercups

18 June 2022 – Well, that title is a big promise but the City’s Yaletown Art Walking Tour delivers as promised, yes it does. So lace up your imaginary boots, and away we go.

The loop is just 3 km long, from green-go to red-stop, but it circles us around downtown streets and the north shore of False Creek, with reminders all along the way of the past that informs our present.

This area has been home to indigenous peoples for millennia, and to settlers since the late-ish 19th century. It gained this name after the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) finally crossed the entire country, and then relocated its construction equipment & repair shops from the community of Yale in the Fraser Canyon to the railway’s new western terminus in Vancouver.

This area, therefore, now gentrifying at a bright glossy pace, is built on a history of long maritime use and more recent, but intense, industrial use. Public art references all that history, and picks up on modern concerns.

I walk the loop, but not quite exactly as shown. Since I arrive by Skytrain (“M” on the map), I’m already launched on the tour and skip the Roundhouse Community Centre starting point. That makes me also skip the tour’s first example of public art, but I substitute my own: the Blossom Umbrellas once again blooming in Bill Curtis Plaza next to Skytrain.

After that I do what the tour tells me to do. I make discoveries in the process, since I’ve never before walked this bit of territory just east of the station. First stop, Leaf Pond (aka Big Leaf), at the N/E intersection of Cambie & Pacific Blvd. I think this is the work of Barbara Steinman, but couldn’t quite pin it down.

I move in close. Indeed a leaf, indeed a pond — and I wish I still had the nimble legs to dance me down the leaf’s central vein.

But I don’t! So I prudently admire it from the sidewalk, and walk on.

The next work of art is anonymous — and that’s sort of the point. It is an 8-metre high gear salvaged from the swing span of an earlier Cambie Bridge (1911-1984), mounted here as Ring Geer, in tribute to all the workers and all the bridges that have served this part of town.

A bit farther east, and it’s time to turn south through Coopers Mews, leading me to False Creek. Coopers and the barrels they created were important to the area’s industrial strength, and an installation by the same name, Coopers Mews (by Alan Storey), honours that history.

The punctuation mark for the whole installation — of course — is five wooden barrels.

This brings us to the Seawall along the northern shore of False Creek, just west of the current Cambie Bridge. Surprisingly this art tour does not point out a significant work of art, on the very pillars of the bridge itself.

See? Those blue stripes, titled A False Creek (by Rhonda Weppler & Trevor Mahovsky), mark the 4-6 metre rise in water level now anticipated because of climate change. Even though not part of this walking tour, this installation is featured in another online brochure of public art in the area. It’s worth the click.

Westward ho, everybody, on along the pedestrian path that borders False Creek. For a while, the railing that separates us from the street above is itself a work of art: Lookout (by Christos Dikeakos & Notel Best). Words & phrases remind us of the layers of natural and industrial history that underlie what we enjoy today.

“Million and millions of herring” … “Acres of ducks” … “fish stories” …

Down at the foot of Davie Street, the soaring I-beam towers of Street Light (by Alan Tregebov & Bernie Miller)…

with texts incised into each limestone base that evoke another vignette, another moment, for our imaginations to relive.

Soon after, one of my favourite Seawall signs. Not part of the official tour, of course not, but it’s part of my tour. Pedestrian and cyclist paths run side-by-side, and this sign urges us all to pay attention.

Duly attentive, we walk on. This next installation, running from Davie Street on west to the foot of Drake, is a good example of “I don’t much like it but I’m glad it’s there.” Welcome to the Land of Light (by Henry Tsang) consists of words/phrases in both English and Chinook (a trading jargon of the day), all along the shoreline railing.

No, I don’t much like it as art, but yes I’m glad it’s there — both because public art should have a broader range than my own personal taste, and also because I suspect it’s the kind of work that seeps into your consciousness over time, and enriches you in the process.

Next up, something I do like very much, though I can’t say I understand it. (As if that mattered…) The Proud Youth (by Chen Wenling) came to us courtesy of the Vancouver Biennale. I remember heading for it, that first time, expecting to giggle. Instead, I admired it. Still do.

On again, more installations I love to revisit. We’re taking the long approach, lots of time to anticipate what we’ll see as we follow the curve of David Lam Park.

Track that line of stones to the point where the shoreline veers sharply left. See the circle of rocks? Good. Now track left, past that B&W pedestrian couple, to the circle of pillars topped by a ring . Good.

Those are a pair of sister installations, by Vancouverite Don Vaughan, landscape architect and artist. The first, Waiting for Low Tide

is complemented by the second, Marking High Tide. Vaughan also wrote the short poem incised into that upper ring: “The moon circles the earth and the ocean responds with the rhythm of the tides.”

The rhythm at the moment is such that there is no water to be seen — but yes, the tide washes in and out, and the dance continues.

I promised you buttercups! They’re all over the place at the moment, all that bright cheerful energy smacking your eye at every turn. We’re now climbing the steps up out of David Lam Park back to Pacific Blvd, and buttercups fill the slopes.

I like the sight of that guy over there — back to a tree, at peace in the sunshine with his iPad. Just one more of all the people enjoying this place, in all their different ways.

City pavement now, north side of Pacific Blvd between Homer & Drake. The pavement design is pleasing in and of itself…

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but there’s more to it than contrasting colours & herringbone pattern. This stretch, running along an ancient shoreline & punningly titled Footnotes (by Gwen Boyle), features 57 inset granite markers. Most are just a word or two — “Salmon Weir,” “Mussels,” “Beached,” “Hello,” “Shore Line” — but a few say more.

My favourite: this 1967 poem by poet & novelist (& GG Award-winner) Earle Birney, about a walk he took at the mouth of False Creek.

End of the walk, the loop now looped, we drop into the south plaza of Roundhouse Community Centre. The tour instructs us to notice the installation Terra Nova (by Richard Prince) on both the ground and the wall behind.

There it is. But what I like even more is the life all around it.

Here in the foreground, that man belting along on his tricycle (with walking poles stowed behind), and there in the background, close to the wall, a bride and her attendants, posing for post-wedding photographs.

Art, history, life and buttercups.

Five Blocks, 20 Minutes, One Morning

11 June 2022 – A subset of a longer walk home, and, as I wheel left onto West 11th Ave. from Yukon Street, I realize I’m on something close to auto-pilot. I have walked here before, and, even though I am in British Columbia, home of dramatic vistas, there is nothing even remotely dramatic about what’s on offer here.

It’s comfy/relaxed/family-residential all through this neighbourhood, nothing grander than that — though also affluent, one must add, because otherwise you don’t live in a detached home in this city. But it’s low-key, and it’s friendly, and I’m not here to pick a fight.

I decide to observe, really pay attention & observe, this specific five-block micro-culture, this specific June morning, as I spent 20 minutes or so walking east from Yukon to Main Street.

Distinctly amateur, but cheerful (& cheerfully punning) artwork pinned to a hydro pole…

yet another fairy garden at the base of a sidewalk tree…

eco-protest (speaking of “Fairy”) signage…

and beautifully maintained pre-1930s homes whose front porches and wide front steps welcome neighbourly interaction.

I think most of these homes are variations of Craftsman style (check your own impressions on the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s house styles webpage), though gingerbread-y flourishes on this house…

make me wonder if it’s earlier, perhaps Victorian. I don’t know, don’t hugely care; I just like the friendly mood, both hardscape & softscape, that dominates the street.

There are poppies & rustic swing gates…

rhodos & security plaques (friendly, yes; naïve, no)…

a canoe poised for adventure…

and a car-share vehicle and a rubber-tire swing, each poised for its own next adventure as well.

There are bike-only lanes on cross-streets, framed by more poppies and (again, I think) Cow Parsnip…

and, right at Main, giant asparagus.

This is one of my favourite murals. Because: (1) it is by Emily Gray, a local graphic artist who several years ago led a group of us on a terrific street-art tour; and (2) it offers an artist’s version of my “Cambie Loop” walk — west along the far side of False Creek from Science World (that white dome) to the Cambie Bridge, over the bridge, and back east along this near side.

Alas… While I encounter bikes, skate-boards and dragon boats a-plenty on this walk, I have yet to see any giant asparagus.

I live in hope.

  • 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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