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.”

To Beat the Deadline

27 February 2022 – It turns out to be a false deadline — but who knew, at the time?

The morning weather mavens are all serious faces and urgent voices: Merely cloudy now, they tell us, but by 1 p.m., it’s atmospheric river time! Snow, rain, high winds, ugly-ugly — and set to last for 3-4 days.

Suitably motivated, I zip out the door. If I want to say hello to False Creek, right now is the time.

No lingering to admire Animalitoland’s winsome lady (VMF 2020) as I zigzag north-west.

On to the Creek! Where I find everybody full speed with their morning agendas.

Paddlers getting organized, down on their dock just east of Olympic Village Square …

jogger jogging over the inlet, far side of the Square …

ferry boat bustling eastward to the Village Dock …

and an improbable bird house out on Habitat Island, just off Hinge Park, glowing gold against the surrounding grey.

No real live bird would give that creation a moment’s thought, but it’s not there for the birds, is it? Some human being built and hung it there to amuse and charm the rest of us. And since it harms no-one, I am charmed.

As I am by my next discovery, looped into the chain link fence just west of Habitat Island.

“Draw someone you love,” says that glossy red sign — and look at the display.

Most of the drawings are of humans …

but not all.

On I go and on I go, and out there past Spyglass Place, closing in on Leg-in-Boot Square, I see another drawing of love. This one.

I know. It’s just another, yet another, yet another generic old boring old smiley face. Please.

Except… it’s wearing a mask. So this is a drawing of love in action: love for each other, for our community as a whole.

I’m still cheered by that thought as I turn back east — and further cheered by the fact that the dread 1 p.m. deadline draws close, but there is no sign yet of snow/rain/wind/general mayhem.

Anyway, what’s wrong with rain?

I will not argue with Thrive Art Studio and their alley wisdom (VMF 2018).

Alley Art 1-2-3

25 February 2022 – There’s art, and there’s art. And there’s art.

1 – Window art

Jennifer Chernecki

… with a baleful stare.

2 – Wall art

Makoto, VMF 2016

… with a pointed beak.

3 – Objet d’art

Time, just… time

… with accessories.

First, standing there, I saw the rust. Now I see the tire. The perfectly placed tire!

Sun + Double Digits

12 February 2022 – It hits 11C this sunny Saturday — double digits, and it’s only mid-February! I break out my summer Tilley (hat), leave my coat behind, and head for False Creek. I am giddy with the promise of spring.

I’m not the only one. “Giddy” pretty well defines the mood all around me for my entire walk.

There are preening Canada geese and munching human youth by this condo water feature just east of the Creek …

and humans of every age lolling, their bodies at ease with the temperature, as they watch balls carom off whirlygigs and springs go spronnnnggggg in this Rube Goldberg sculpture outside Science World. (I am particularly taken with the eclectic style of the little girl on the scooter: lavender princess-ballerina net skirt and a bumblebee helmet.)

The playground next to Science World, with its child-friendly crushed rubber surface, is alive with leaping, squealing youngsters.

An Aquabus sets out to zigzag its way, dock by dock, west to Granville Island …

and four guys keep four basketballs busy on the court under the north-side access ramps to the Cambie Bridge.

I walk on a bit farther, past the western end of Coopers Park where I again note how much “higher-rise” and marina-dense the north side of the Creek is, compared to the south …

then turn back east. Thanks to low tide, Jerry Pethick’s Time Top sculpture is fully visible.

Four shells and one gull: the humans paddle like crazy, but the gull is still in the lead.

Down in its final curve, where False Creek is revealed to be no creek after all, a little girl adds just one more stone to the top of the stack that she has been so carefully constructing — with daddy so patiently standing by as she tests her skills. In the distance, a more exuberant family tableau: everybody is throwing stones into the water, not balancing them.

Two riders are about to pass the electronic eye on the cycle path as it dips behind Science World. When I arrived earlier, a read-out told me that 2790 cyclists used the path yesterday (midnight to midnight), and the current count for today was 800 and change. Now, a few hours later, it has already topped 1700.

Assorted buskers vie for attention. My favourites are these ukulele players, who take turns playing and being part of the audience. A moment ago, the man (right) in the black vest and watch cap was strumming away; now he is tapping his foot and smiling encouragement.

And I head home, also smiling and feeling encouraged. Time to pull out more spring clothing! (Oh, all right, still too soon. But wow, it’s coming.)

Rules of Behaviour

8 February 2022 – In this time of shameful tumult, it strikes me that the rules we teach a tantrum-throwing toddler are also pretty well the basic rules of democracy.

Vancouver City Hall
  1. Use your words.
  2. Use your indoor voice.
  3. Listen as well as speak.
  4. Respect others.
  5. Accept that you don’t always get what you want.

Geometry

1 February 2022 – I said this about the Burrard Bridge some years back and it’s still true: I stare at a bridge and I think, this is geometry made visible.

I’m on the north side of False Creek, under access ramps for the Cambie Street bridge. I look up and there it is, right before my eyes, visible and tangible. Geometry.

If that seems more than a tad artsy-precious, I can point to sober old Encyclopedia Britannica for validation. Geometry, it tells us, is “the branch of mathematics concerned with the shape of individual objects, spatial relationships among various objects, and the properties of the surrounding space.”

Shapes and relationships!

Here, for example…

and here (with some bike geometry thrown in to keep the bridge company)…

and also here, marching south to cross False Creek.

I turn back north, then angle my footsteps to go spiral my way up the pedestrian/cyclist access ramp on this eastern side of the bridge.

Oh.

Right! Time to find the pedestrian access for the other, west side of the bridge — which I haven’t used in a couple of years, but know is sprawled at some distance from this side.

Fortunately, I am capable of following arrows, when sufficiently large and vivid.

Even when they require me to turn left and then turn left again.

And here I finally am, heading south mid-bridge, with all these parallel lines yearning to converge at infinity, should we grant them sufficient time and space.

But we don’t.

I am soon dog-legging my way back down to ground just as a runner starts his upward climb.

Street-side, signage tells me what the closures are all about. Text explains the need for structural repairs and seismic upgrades …

while bold red lines trace the ramps, the bridge, and their fit with each other and with the cityscape either side of False Creek.

“Spatial relationship among various objects, and the properties of surrounding space.” Thank you, Britannica.

Sun, Fog, Fog, Fog

25 January 2022 – Bouncing sunbeams Saturday morning, as we bounce off to Blackie Spit Park. It is at the tip of Crescent Beach, a sandspit that extends into Mud Bay, itself an extension of Boundary Bay in South Surrey.

Hardly a muddy bay today! Everything sparkles, from the water right before us to the snowy North Shore Mountains in the distance.

Sparkling water in the canal as well, with (I think) American Wigeon ducks paddling their way toward that red cabin beside the controls that regulate water levels.

That was Saturday.

Sunday morning, and, yes, the forecast was right. Dense fog hovers over the Lower Mainland and is expected to last for several days, with periods of “near zero” visibility.

Car headlights peer through the murk on Main Street; black crows, doing their westward morning commute, blend into the sky.

And one guy, presumably, says “Sod it!” and turns back east. Maybe home to his Burnaby roost, where he will tuck his head under his wing and sleep away the day?

I am made of sterner stuff. I’m off to Campbell Valley Regional Park in Langley — much larger than Saturday’s park, with 29 km of sprawling trails looped through the valley and around Little Campbell River.

It’s a study in up-close clarity, and misty fog beyond.

The moss pops colour — was ever green so green? — but all is steely-grey just beyond those trees.

Like Blackie Spit (which is on the Pacific Flyway), this Campbell Valley park is a haven for birdlife. I know about Wood Ducks …

but I am introduced to west-coast varieties of species I only know in their eastern versions. The Chestnut-Backed Chickadee, for example, and the Spotted Towhee. Perhaps the Fox Sparrow as well, but my companion is as scrupulous as he is knowledgeable, and cautions he is not quite sure about that one.

Don’t care. Don’t need to know all the names. It’s all splendid, just as it is.

Ultimately we’re on the Shaggy Mane Trail, shared by humans and horses. Neither of us knows anything about horses, but they are well-behaved and their riders courteous, and we are perfectly happy to step aside and admire them as they clip-clop past.

Monday: foggy.

Late Tuesday morning: still foggy.

Even deep downtown.

  • 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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