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…

xm

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.

Strathcona: Cats to Containers

23 May 2022 — A sunny holiday weekend & I’m in East Van’s somewhat raffish Strathcona neighbourhood, which began attracting settlers in the 1880s and is thus the oldest in the city. (Well, “old” in settler terms, but nothing special for the Coast Salish peoples, who have been here for millennia…)

But I am here today, and not arguing with anyone or even with history. There is peace & good humour all around, starting with the cats I happen to meet.

Lucy (as her name tag later explains) is bolt upright on her bench, roughly at the transition point between the historic Chinatown district and Strathcona to the east. As a friend later remarks, she looks for all the world as if she is waiting for someone to deliver her latte.

Next cat is indoors, neatly framed by that dramatic red duct tape, and almost invisible. Locate his white central pattern, and imagine the black that surrounds it.

Final cat is also the other side of a window, but oblivious to all. “For the cat,” says the pillow beside his bed, and his flanks, softly rising/falling/rising/falling as he sleeps, prove that as far as he is concerned, everything is for the cat.

Enough cats. Think gardens, nature, greenery & blossoms leaping up as spring finally takes hold.

There are planned gardens all around, this one literally rising to the demands of its topography (and reminding me of Upper Beach gardens among Toronto ravines). Bonus: the mid-century Vancouver Special architecture of the home up top.

Some yards are just as bright, just as exuberant — but untouched by human hand. Nature Gone Wild, is what we have here, in this totally untended forecourt, and isn’t it terrific?

Then there’s the whole art-in-Strathcona experience.

Some of it official, indoors, in galleries. Like the very engaging Gallery George, whose current show, Ebb and Flow, lures me inside. Nautical theme; diverse media to express it, including these duets of blown glass to driftwood.

No need to visit galleries, however appealing.

Just walk down a few streets. There is front-porch art (here, a woven hanging)…

side wall murals (I wait for that white spud.ca truck to pull away before I can get the shot)…

even rock art, this one in a parkette at Hawks & East Georgia.

I’ve seen a few other story stones, notably over by Vanier Park. It seems to have been a Millennium project, collecting local stories to incise into rocks to honour a specific street, memory, person, time. Here Dr. Anthony Yurkovich, who worked his way through medical school in local canneries but later became a major civic benefactor, describes his young life At Home on Keefer Street.

It begins: “At Christmas 1934 my father came home from the Tuberculosis Hospital knowing he was dying…”

I take that in, then walk north on Hawks and move from rock art to found-object art. Specifically, two ancient wash tubs back-to-back with plant life valiantly fending for itself in both, followed by (that rusty rectangle farther north) an equally ancient bath tub. Whose plant life is also a survival experiment.

Beyond the bathtub, at Hawks & Keefer, a fine if somewhat fading example of street-intersection art.

It leads us very nicely into examples of historic housing, because that red awning marks the Wilder Snail Neighbourhood Grocery & Coffee store, housed in a 1910 building. I go in, you knew I would, order my latte and then sit for all the world like that first cat we met — neatly arranged in my space, alert for the signal that my coffee is ready.

1910 fine, but here’s an older building, 1904 to be precise and built by a city policeman — but that’s not the most interesting thing about it. Nor is its period architecture, nor its authentic period colours.

The really interesting thing is the information on that plaque out front. From 1938 to 1952 this was the Hendrix House, owned by Zenora (Nora) and Ross Hendrix, former Dixieland vaudeville troupers, later pillars of the Vancouver Fountain Chapel — and grandparents to Jimi Hendrix. A ’60s guitar trailblazer whose importance I won’t even try to describe, while still a child Jimi often stayed with his Vancouver based family and attended school here for a while.

While alley-hopping my way to Campbell St. between East Hastings and East Pender, I not only meet the sleeping cat I showed you earlier, I notice this fresh lettering on the brick building opposite. Very fresh and bright, and in high contrast to the near-illegible signage below.

Only when I turn the corner onto Campbell, and study the mural map that runs between the alley and East Hastings, do I learn the mystery of St. Elmo.

Find the turquoise lozenge — You Are Here — and read all about the St. Elmo Hotel, right next to it. It was built in 1912 and home, like so many structures around here, to waves of immigrants seeking work and a new beginning. These days, if I’m reading my online search correctly, the St. Elmo Hotel has been trendified into the St. Elmo Rooms, and offers “microsuites” to the middle class — in-comers at quite a different level than their predecessors.

Soon I’m on East Hastings near Clark Drive, eyeing more proof of the new Strathcona: The Workspaces at Strathcona Village. (Soon as you see the word “Village” in a title, you know an old neighbourhood is seriously on the rise.)

I sound snarky, but I’m not. I like it. I like what it is: three towers of mixed residential/office/industrial/retail space, including social housing along with market-price condos. I love the jutting stacked-container look. It’s reminiscent of Moshe Safdie’s Habitat ’67 experiment, and nods very nicely to the ubiquitous containers of today, which bring everything from everywhere via ship and rail and are then endlessly repurposed.

I’m on the far side of the street, just where Hastings flies over some streets and parkland below. I look over the edge on my side, and there they are.

Containers!

I laugh. It all fits together.

Artspeak

8 May 2022 – “Artspeak” is the term that I (and some equally snippy friends) use to disparage gallery signage we consider unduly precious about the art they are describing.

This Japanese camellia blossom, recently dropped into this bronze hand, made me think about that term another way ’round.

Restore ‘speak’ to verb form, I say to myself: the power of art to communicate with the viewer.

More specifically, the power of some public art pieces to speak so powerfully to passers-by — everyday, you-and-me passers-by — that they become part of their community, adopted by that community, beloved.

My mind jumps a few kilometres east to my own neighbourhood park, officially Guelph Park, unofficially and pervasively Dude Chilling Park. Because of this bronze statue by Michael Dennis…

officially Reclining Figure, but unofficially The Dude who — just look at him — is chilling. We chill with him. We hang with him from our favourite park bench…

and we cuddle up to him with our picnic lunches.

The fact I enjoy seeing this kind of familiarity is… extraordinary. I respect art work! It is art, dammit, so admire with your eyes and keep your hands (and other bodily bits) safely out of range! And yet…

With the onset of the pandemic, The Dude became not only beloved, but comforting. The park was a safe place to visit, everybody carefully distanced, and, for the first time, I saw people sit on the plinth, creep into the Dude’s embrace. He is now regularly visited this way. He has never been vandalized.

Very similar story for another bronze sculpture, this one by Henry Moore: Large Two Forms, which for a very long time sat by the sidewalk at the north-east corner of the Art Gallery of Ontario, owner of the sculpture (and much more by Moore as well). Not fenced off, fully accessible, right there by a street car stop. Torontonians have a history of loving works by Henry Moore — this one more physically than the rest. Of course it featured in endless selfies! And of course people sat in its convenient curves, or boosted their children to slide through those curves, while waiting for a street car!

I took this photo in 2015, when the statue had already become seriously weathered — except for that bright patch in the middle, constantly burnished by hands and backsides.

More recently, the AGO has had the statue restored and moved into the equally refurbished (and public) Grange Park to the south of the art gallery. A recent AGO communiqué shows it sparkling bright — but, apparently, still accessible to loving hands.

Back to that camellia, dropped into a local bronze hand, right here at Main and East 24th.

The blossom caught my eye, as I walked past. How could it not?

A child offering a flower to a fire fighter… I read the plaque, later go online. This statue honours the BC Professional Fire Fighters Burn Fund, a charitable organization that does exactly what the name suggests — offers help to burn victims. My guess is that the flower is a very personal tribute, to one instance of that help and the difference it has made in someone’s life.

Statues and floral tributes. My mind jumps years and continents to land in Havana, Cuba, in 2009. I’m revisiting Habana Vieja to write a story for Outpost about the places that my habanero friends love best in their city. One example: the Plaza de San Francisco in general, and this bronze statue in particular.

This is sculptor José Villa’s representation of a much loved local street person, nicknamed El Caballero de París for his insistence (unlikely) that he came of aristocratic French origins. One friend remembered him, still a familiar figure in her childhood: “He was a love! He refused to go into an institution, so everybody fed him and looked after him.” She then sang for me a local ballad, composed in his honour, about the way he greeted his community: “… con una flor tan linda para tí / y un saludo para mí.”

The pretty flowers are now being offered to him, not by him, and on a regular basis. I just happen to pass by when the offering is an Ostrich Plume (aka Red Ginger, or Alpinia purpurata, and thank you to my generous Master Gardener friend, who identified it for me).

I remember lingering across the street, watching the community greet their Caballero. Again and again, passers-by of all ages slowed for a moment, trailed their fingers across his hand or stroked his beard.

Or even…

threw their toddler arms around his legs.

Art that speaks.

“All the Possibilities…”

17 April 2022 – Wisdom courtesy of Eeyore, who was always my favourite in the Hundred Acre Woods cast of characters (and as drawn by E.H. Shepard, thank you, none of that Disney nonsense). Not that Eeyore was even remotely in my mind, on either of the Friday-Saturday walks I’m about to show you.

But later, looking at photos with their various camera angles, two references came to mind. One was that corporate stand-by, the 360 Review: assess from every angle, not just a chosen few. The other reference, which amounts to pretty well the same thing, is the advice Eeyore gave a flustered Piglet and eaves-dropping Christopher Robin, back in 1928:

“Think of all the possibilities, Piglet, before you settle down to enjoy yourselves” (The House at Pooh Corner, chapter 6, by A.A. Milne).

I love it, I’m glad I remembered it. Because … that’s what we’re all doing, isn’t it? There it is, in your posts and mine: we bounce around, full of curiosity, we notice all those 360-possibilities, and we enjoy ourselves.

On Friday, heading north-west down an alley, my enjoyment is distinctly vertical. I’m captivated yet again by a line of H-frame hydro poles.

I look up …

and up …

and finally away, as my eyes track those wires off into the sky.

Saturday has me walking north again, but this time veering east not west, down to Great Northern Way by the Emily Carr (University of Art + Design) campus.

Where I look down, not up.

Construction for the Broadway Subway is all around my neighbourhood. This mammoth hole in the ground, nicely framed for sidewalk-superintendent convenience, will eventually become the Great Northern-Emily Carr station on the new line.

From eyes down to eyes up, as I pass Emily Carr. Skateboarders are clacking away on an unseen obstacle course to my left, while Kandis Williams’ Triadic Ballet silently unfolds on the wall screen to the right of a building entrance.

Just east of the university, in front of the Digital Media Centre, I literally do a 360 review. First, I am in front of this striking red heart. Striking, but awkward in its placement.

Then I circle around, and read Ron Simmer’s explanation.

I think it’s wonderful, and I no longer care about the ungainly placement. It’s all part of the vulnerable charm of this survivor (and the dotty determination of the man who rescued it).

On east along Great Northern Way, and then eyes all over the place as I head north on Clark Drive.

Below to my left, protective arched screening over the Millennium Line tracks, beyond that railway tracks with all those colour-block shipping containers rolling past; straight ahead, only slightly upwards, the Expo Line as it crosses Clark; and ‘way beyond that, very up indeed, those Coast Range mountains.

Plus — back to right here in front of me — an old-fashioned street lamp. Charming, and still part of the mix.

Nothing charming about the next bridge I cross, which I meet after exploring northward-then-eastward and finally back south again on Commercial Drive. The best you can say for it is, it’s functional.

Until you read both plaques. (“Explore all the possibilities…” Thank you, Eeyore. Got it.)

Plaque on the left announces the civic factoids of this Commercial Drive Bridge. Plaque on the right is a whole other, human story.

One last spin-around when I’m back in my own neighbourhood, as I cut through Guelph (aka Dude Chilling) Park.

To the north, the cherry trees that line East 7th Avenue (Kanzan cultivar, the Blossom Map tells me) …

while to the east, there are members at work in the Brewery Creek Community Garden, children playing on the swings, and over toward the south, a group of seniors just hanging out.

Meanwhile, on his plinth by the southern park edge, the eponymous Dude is also hanging out. Just chilling, right along with the rest of us.

I look back over my shoulder, catch this fresh new baby Kanzan blossom emerging from a mossy old tree trunk …

and walk on home.

The Wisdom of the Raven

7 April 2022 — On the end wall of the Raven Song Community Health Centre, here in town:

I think, some years back, I included this wise observation in a post. But it bears repeating, does it not?

Not that the raven is known only for wisdom.

“Trickster” is the frequent label, so I looked around for some further information about the cultural importance of this physical creature. My happiest discovery was an article on the website of an organization called Raven Reads. The more I read, the more fascinated I was — with both the raven, and this organization.

First, the raven. Specifically, the raven in Haida culture, as reflected in a 2018 article they ran with comments by Eden Robinson about the latest book in his Trickster Trilogy, Trickster Drift.

Robinson points out that while Raven is central to how Haida see the world, he is not thought of as a god per se. “He symbolizes creation, knowledge, prestige as well as the complexity of nature and the subtlety of truth. He also symbolizes the unknown and is there to show that every person sees the world in a different way as another.”

From raven to Raven Reads: what is this organization? “Indigenous and women owned,” it says; founded by Metis (BC/Saskatchewan) entrepreneur Nicole McLaren, it is “the world’s first indigenous subscription box.”

Subscription box? That is what a small book club can become, if its founder is determined to raise awareness, spread knowledge and literature, and support other indigenous businesses (more than $300,000 so far). Subscribe to Raven Reads, and four times a year a literal, physical (and very beautiful) box will be delivered to your doorstep. It will contain a book by an indigenous author, a letter from the author or the box curator, and some giftware items from indigenous businesses & craftspeople. That’s the adult box; there are also children’s boxes, corporate subscriptions, and giftware separately available.

I like everything about this, both the business/advocacy model and the content, and having discovered the organization by accident I am quite delighted to tug your sleeve and make you aware of it as well.

One more image to close with, this one from some homeowner’s fence over on Quebec Street. I can’t guarantee he is a raven, he may be a crow …

or we can simply allow him to “symbolize the unknown.”

  • 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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