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.

Eye of the Beholder

18 February 2023 – Three beholders, as we explore the SkyTrain construction site behind Emily Carr campus, and our eyes agree: this jumble is full of beauty.

Fine-textured bristles…

skeletal rust…

columnar rust…

lacework rust…

and even a whole line-up of high-contrast millimetres…

discarded, but still faithfully doing the job they were created to do, measuring the space where they lie.

Signs (& Times)

11 February 2023 – I don’t have signage even remotely in mind, as I head east on East 5th. I am preoccupied with the extraordinary length of this block — so many streets coming in from the south dead-end right here — and I wondering where & how I can carry on downhill to Great Northern Way, steeply below me to the north.

I am about to turn into a promising short-cut between two buildings in this co-op housing complex… and then see the sign telling me not to.

Look at it. Just a few words, and it manages to be both authoritative & persuasive, all at the same time. It orders me to STOP!!!, but then gives me a good reason to stop. So I do. I walk on to the foot of Fraser Ave…

where the STOP is even more imperious. One word, no justification. But that’s the job of traffic signs — instant one-glance information, for instant obedience. The contrast between these two signs starts me thinking about signage, and it becomes a theme for my walk.

I notice the other traffic iconography at this bend in the road, and then take the unmarked footpath down a shabby but sturdy zig-zag wooden staircase to Great Northern Way.

I’m into signs now! Terse text + iconography yet again, as befits the needs of a major transportation route. Traffic lights, ID for the cross street, “Parkway Bypass” notice with a bicycle logo…

and a directional red rubber glove. Oh, all right, it is not official signage. But I follow it anyway, since I do want to cross Great Northern Way. (Still so-named, because originally it was the route into town for the Great Northern Railway.)

I cross, turn westward, and laugh out loud at the traffic signage right there in front of me. Greenway? Not so green.

And then… and then my friends, some signage that is arguably not signage, since it is non-verbal. But just look at this grouping, right next to the shared bike/pedestrian pathway along this busy road.

Two chairs, and two crocheted hearts. Never mind car fumes, chainlink fence and piles of construction materials. This “sign” says Welcome! Sit a moment! Plus, I do notice an official sign: the logo of the fencing company with its URL, upside down and very small at the bottom of the fence. Then again, this sign doesn’t need to catch anybody’s attention, or persuade/order us to do anything. So, it is doing its own particular job in an appropriate way.

And now, a totally surplus-to-needs photo: a closer look at one of the hearts and how wonderfully it plays off the lines and colours of the fence and the stockpile beyond. (It’s a bonus. You’re welcome.)

More signs-for-purpose as I walk on west: the bicycle logo on this shared pathway, the stripes to indicate a crossing, and the lean, cool lettering on the Centre for Digital Media, as befits both the architecture of this building and its purpose.

I duck in behind the Centre, where construction is underway for the Millennium Line extension (one of our SkyTrain transit lines) that will somehow squeeze between railway tracks and all these buildings.

More signs! The usual terse traffic icons/texts up top; worker-oriented info in the middle; and words + image at the bottom, signage I see on public construction projects around town, designed to win the hearts & compliance of workers and passersby alike.

I walk the back wall of the Centre for Digital Media, and pass a set of classroom windows plastered with post-it notes — the results, one assumes, of some brain-storming exercise.

I realize my brain has auto-flopped the banner words at the top (did yours?) and instantly reads “Solution IDEAS”.

Out the other side, and I’m about to cross from the Centre onto the grounds of neighbouring (and partner) institution, Emily Carr University for Art + Design.

More diverse signage: up close, a sculpture whose body language makes words unnecessary (no, it is not raining); beyond, the yellow diamonds and red diamonds and directional arrows that tell us about bumpy roads, closed sidewalks and detours.

I cut through the Emily Carr campus. Ahead of me, hoarding around the SkyTrain station under construction, with images and words for this largely youthful and heavily design-conscious location: “z” not “s” for South Flatz, 24/7, and fat, bravura graphics.

Closer, a wonderful contrast in transportation offerings. On the hoardings, “new train of thought” and the transit icon heralding the coming SkyTrain line. Right here in front of me, bike parking.

I walk along the hoardings back out by the expressway, where signage is more geared to the general public. The same desire to appeal, to engage, and to be informative, but for a different audience. It’s a conscious effort, and I like it. We’re not being ignored, we are being treated like reasonable and curious human beings, who have a right to know what’s happening and will enjoy learning more about it.

And so, a map…

and a series of graphics about machinery on-site, such as the TBM…

and a follow-up panel that provides more info.

Even private-sector projects now tell us more about what they are doing. (Required by law, I do assume, not from the sheer goodness of their hearts. But welcome, however motivated.) It’s information relevant to us: when they’re allowed to work, what noise bylaws they must obey, how to reach an emergency contact.

And then, well you have to expect it, don’t you? And then, unofficial adjustments to the official template. Somebody scratched out the “ty” in Safety up there in the title, and I don’t think it was “bad Wolf.” I think his style is to add black paint, not remove black letters.

Red detour signs all over the place…

and, walking south again on residential Scotia St, another red sign. It is equally clear and instructional, but gentled by the green vine climbing the right-hand side. As befits the Gardeners of the Galaxy, who run this coFood community garden at East 4th.

One last sign, on the Native Education College property immediately south of the community garden.

Somehow, it rounds out my walk. Like the NWHC sign on East 5th that started this whole sign-mania of mine, it is both instructional and persuasive.


5 February 2023 – Messy out there, because we are between seasons, even more messy because drizzly, but also mild and therefore easy to enjoy.

Everywhere, the messiness of not being firmly either one season or another.

Old leaves not yet gone…

and new spring blossoms not yet open.

Surprises, too.

I’m walking east on E 10th Ave, and as I cross St. George I look for the sidewalk community library — the take-something / leave-something wooden structure that was a fixture here long before I arrived in the neighbourhood. Well, it’s gone.

I am unsettled by this, feel my universe slightly creaking on its axis, and I am therefore relieved to see that the bizarre streetside attraction a few doors farther east is still in place. I’ve shown it to you before: a metal tub balanced on mannequin hips + legs, with assorted real plants and plastic ornaments — always including a clutch of tiny plastic naked babies, doing their best to escape from turquoise plastic clogs.

Though the babies are always there, the presentation varies slightly over time. Today there is a large, glossy horse chestnut balanced carefully atop the mass of babies.

I’m laughing so hard a young couple stop to see what’s going on. “Clever babies!” cries the woman, getting into the spirit of the thing. “They know they’ll need food for their travels.” We beam at each other; her boyfriend stares patiently into space.

A nearby gate bears this balloon, with its optimistic and timely message…

which you can only read if you stand on your head.

Then there’s the messiness of the construction site over at Fraser, as this vintage home is coaxed back to life…

and, in contrast, across the street the tidy presentation of a vintage home already restored. (Is it just me, or does that gate quite wonderfully resemble an apron? Wearing that would cheer me no end, preparing dinner…)

Messiness, no two ways about it, exuberant messiness is the calling card of any skateboard park — here the twin bowls in South China Creek Park near Clark…

watched over by a metal crow perched on a neighbouring balcony.

Mr. Crow is the start of a run of animal life.

There are salmon (plus frog plus ladybug) in the sidewalk mosaic at Commercial Drive…

and a dinosaur at Victoria & E 8th.

Of course there is.

Clever dinosaur, even more clever than those chestnut-toting plastic babies. And if you’ve never visited the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, Alberta, home to this enlightened creature, then at least visit it right here, online.

This dinosaur, the other side of the tree informs me, has local friends.

Yet more information over on “The Drive” (aka Commercial) at E 4th.

Fascinated as I am, I am not in the market for a fade. I’d happily be in the market for a latte, but unfortunately every café I pass is full up, so I head home.

Where I remember that I picked up a horse chestnut for myself, right next to those enterprising tiny babies. I pull it out of my pocket, and tuck it in with some ferns on my balcony.

Twenty years from now there will be a towering great horse chestnut tree on this balcony, and only you, in the whole wide world, will know how it got there.

Bricks & Mortar

1 February 2023 – And a bit of lumber…

They’ve finally cleared the fire rubble. And now the site, a gaping hole in the Main Street line-up, just…. sits.

The “W” (& Other Stories)

25 January 2023 – The W Story starts a few days ago, when my friend kicks her toe toward this battered old grate…

and cries happily, “Oh! The W! It’s still there!”

My reply is: “???”

She explains: this storefront, now the unisex 8th & Main retail shop at the S/W corner of (yes) 8th & Main…

used to be a Woolworth’s. Her father worked there; she had summer jobs there. Her voice trails off for a bit, rich with memory. As we move on again, she adds, “And now the old store safe is in Purebread, down on East 5th.”

And so, out for a walk today, I follow the “W” story to its other artefact, the safe in its new home. Once functional in a five-&-dime, it is now purely decorative in an artisan bakery, and looking very charming it is, too.

The young couple at the next table raise bright, curious eyes at me. I say this safe used to be in Woolworth’s, over on Main. They look blank. Not a brand they know. I say, “Now it’s 8th & Main.” They beam. That brand they know!

That’s the end of my W Story, and everything that follows, it turns out, is an O Story.

O-for-Ontario Street. Not that I plan it that way. Purebread is at the corner of Ontario, so I spend time on Ontario, and — as I discover — the street has a lot to say.

There’s the O’Neil House

built in 1908 as part of early settler history here on the edges of False Creek, later witness to neighbourhood decline and — cf. its restoration in 2013 — subsequent rehabilitation.

Right next door, the rehab & reinvention continues, as another heritage house is brought back to life.

And on their own gatepost, a story of good citizenship. Somebody has dropped a key…

and here it is, neatly and prominently displayed, in the hopes its owner might find it again.

Next, there’s the Ghost Ivy.

Oh, the ghost ivy! I am surprised, and ridiculously pleased. The gate at East 6th is open, and I get to see full length what I could only peer at, back in July.

My Ghost. Busted!! post of 12 July was the triumphant follow — the end of the story — for an earlier post showing the delicate tracery left after the brutal removal of wall-smothering vines. An erudite botanist friend then studied the evidence, and identified the ghost: English Ivy.

I am happy to see this splendid imprint full-length, especially as I suspect it will be scrubbed away next summer.

Finally and wonderfully, an epic Ontario dialogue of stories, a call-and-response of stories across the street, stretching north from 7th Avenue. All epitomized by The Gaze.

One looks out from the west side of the street…

and the other, from the east.

Two gigantic wall murals, each covering some 3,000 square feet, each painted during a Vancouver Mural Festival, and each brimming with further stories.

On the east, the 2018 creation of Michael Abraham and fellow members of the Phantoms of the Front Yard collective.

Though Abraham doesn’t say so on his own website, I was told during a VMF art walk that the characters shown on that busy wall reflect local characters and are a tribute to those characters and all the other neighbourhood legends.

You can stand endlessly in front of the wall, and endlessly imagine what’s going on, right there before your eyes.

Just as rich a set of stories over on the west side, though the mural is visually much quieter.

Animalitoland (aka Brazil-born Graziela Gonçalvez Da Silva) created Presence for VMF 2020 — early in our pandemic confusion and isolation. Through direct conversation and via social media, the artist asked people which words best identified how it all made them feel. Then, from A to Z, she wrote those words around her radiantly calming central figure.

From “Abundance”, ‘way up there…

to “Zeitgeist,” right down here.

I love all this…

but I have to tell you, I am somehow relieved to pat a small dog on the way home and say “Snappy collar!” to his owner.

Y’know? Get myself back to one single story, in the right-here-and-now.


    "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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