Quebec, Vancouver

19 May 2019 – Not the city, not the province, but the street right here in Vancouver. Imbued, I am now convinced, with all the creativity and flair of its eastern namesakes.

There is Quebec Manor, for example, corner of Quebec and East 7th, which first strutted its splendid stuff in 1912, a 32-suite luxury apartment hotel, and is now a non-profit housing co-op.

Wonderful old details still abound …

I go woo-woo every time I pass.

So I should not be surprised, really not at all, to be just as amused and delighted, farther south on the street, ‘way up by East 20th.

I am walking back north toward home, pleased with the visit I’ve just had, pleased with the leafy residential street, everything just “lying down and behaving itself”  — a definition of good design that I’ve long cherished, courtesy of a Calgary photographer I knew decades ago.

And then I see this fence, rolling on down Quebec, defining the boundary of a home that fronts on the cross-street.

Talk about street art! This one has everything, all exuberant, and pretty well all repurposed and recycled and flung into a bright new life.

A big old circular installation, for example …

crammed with lovingly rescued bits of stuff.

And larger-than-life wooden figures … this one proclaiming, board by board: “What I am / after / above all/ is / expression.”

Beyond it, more and more.

A painted orange flower, nicely framed, flirting with all the real flowers outside the frame …

a whole line-up of bird house façades …

another circular installation …

just as crammed full of reimagined bits & pieces.

Who knew rusty can lids and old CDs could dance together so happily?

My own favourite, the painted crow. Who is contemplating either a rorschach inkblot test over there to the right .. or just an inkblot, skip the tortured analysis.

A butterfly …

and I turn for one last loving look northward.

But wait!! (As the infomercials love to say) There’s more!!

One block down, right at the alley corner, a canoe.

Rusty bedsprings behind, assorted garbage and recycling containers all around, and fresh new seedlings emerging in the canoe bed.

Québec, j t’aime!

 

 

Up the Mighty Fraser

16 April 2019 – Drop that paddle, shuck that life vest — I’m talking street, not river.

No, not the river that tumbles 1,375 km from B.C.’s Mount Robson Provincial Park, down & down to empty into the Pacific via the Strait of Georgia in Vancouver. Yes, the 13.6 km street that runs through Vancouver and neighbouring Burnaby.

Why Fraser Street? Because — like Sophia Street — it’s there, and I’ve never spent any time on it.

I join Fraser at the Kingsway, with a utility-box owl to cheer me on my way.

Right across the street, under that orange awning you can see behind the owl, the grocery store advertises some of its specials in a note taped to the window.

Not-quite-gentrified neighbourhoods, with their independent shops and quirky homes, have a particular kind of streetscape. They teem with juxtapositions.

Guns & gardens, for example …

Followed by a variety of calls to civic activism, one after another. On a post box …

on a utility pole …

and in a convenience store window.

There are homes as well as shops along Fraser, with peaceful gardens glimpsed over weathered fences.

And then — just after a big evangelical church, and just before a compact Hindu temple — I see a side street with a long string of Vancouver Specials. Bonus!

Another 7-8 blocks farther south, I decide to cut over westward toward & through Mountain View Cemetery, making the first of the turns that will eventually bring me back north & home.

And what greets me, on this residential cross-street? Two more Vancouver Specials, one each end of the block. Both comprehensively restored, each in a very different style. The first is cozy-charming, as comfy as a glass of warm milk at bedtime. The second …

is quiet, and austere.

I stand there shaking my head, delighted. Talk about vernacular architecture! Architecture-turned-folk-art!

This once-despised design — boxy, pragmatic, purely utilitarian, churned out in generic quantity — is now, I suspect, the play toy for a new generation of owners. Are you old enough to remember how hippies loved their VW vans, turned them into expressions of their own identity? Something like that seems to be going on with the VS.

Around a corner and another couple of blocks south, I’m about to dive through a hobbit-hole gap in the hedge surrounding Mountain View Cemetery … but I stop. I’m intrigued by the cheerful lady I see cutting strands from the ivy that cascades through the hedge.

“My mother’s name was Ivy,” she explains. “When she died at 95, I decided to include fresh ivy in every bouquet I make. The City told me I can take as much as I want, as long as it’s from the outside of the Cemetery hedge.”

I don’t expect anything inside the Cemetery to be as touching as what I have just experienced on the outside. But I am wrong.

What could be less alike than fresh ivy and a plastic Snoopy? Or a 95-year-old great-grandmother and a toddler? But they are entirely alike in the love of the families who remember them, and have found a visual icon for that love.

Outside the Cemetery again, I nod at the white trilliums in someone’s front garden — my Ontario moment! — and then make one last westward dog-leg toward Main Street.

And, of course, run into another Vancouver Special.

See what I mean about individual expression? People are not intimidated by the VS. They just grab that box, and run with it. Wherever their self-image wants them to go.

Onto Main Street. I am finally heading north.

An owl marked the start of this walk; a pair of ravens mark its final few klicks.

 

 

Three Signs

20 January 2019 – On Carrall Street, near West Hastings …

in the Woodward’s Atrium, heart of the redeveloped heritage site …

and on the washroom door in the Lost and Found Café, West Hastings near Abbott Street.

Yes.

 

A Secret Handshake on Pape (with cheese)

18 October 2018 – I’m walking north on Pape and stop at the corner of Wroxeter for a fond smile at The Schmooz, where I enjoyed many a fine coffee during my Toronto stay last winter.

Click!

(There’s only one of me. Something about that reflecting glass doubles me up.)

But that’s not the best. The best is the café’s sidewalk sign, both sides of it.

A “secret handshake!” I chortle.

And now we digress.

The term is the invention of Douglas Coupland, who first burned his way into the global mind by inventing another term back in 1991 and writing a novel about it: Generation X.

By 2014 he had long since added other media to his initial reputation as a novelist. That year, he had an exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery in his sort-of home town, called everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything. (Though not born in Vancouver nor always resident there, he is very much claimed by the city.)

One of its sections was The Secret Handshake.

Said the VAG:

Through a wide range of media Coupland has persistently investigated Canadian cultural identity, both benign and menacing.  Using imagery and objects latent with symbolic meaning for Canadians, he delineates what it means to be Canadian, offering a “secret handshake” not easily understood by others.

In April 2015, The Secret Handshake was one section of a Douglas Coupland exhibition in Toronto, and I blogged about it. With no pretence at originality, I called that post The Secret Handshake.

End of digression.

We’re back on Pape, with The Schmooz’ addition to the canon of secret handshakes.

North side of sign:

South side of sign:

If you’re not Canadian, but you get the references, then welcome! You are an honorary Canadian, and entitled to say “double-double” with the rest of us.

 

The Return of Rain City

21 September 2018 – Cartoon explanation of Vancouver seasons, overly simplified but broadly accurate: rain starts = fall; rain stops = spring.

We’ve hit fall. The day is cool-cloudy-heading-for-rain. I’m equipped for rain & heading for Granville Island, to join friends on a self-guiding Textile Walking Tour around Island shops, arranged in conjunction with the Textile Society of America Conference currently underway.

So Vancouverite am I becoming — rain is irrelevant — that I’m not even seeking the protection of a bus. I’m going to walk to the Island along the False Creek seawall, which means that, first, I walk north on Cambie and under the Cambie Bridge ramps down to Spyglass Dock. This takes me past the public chalk board (@chalktalkYVR) screwed into one of the bridge supports. Headings vary, from time to time; currently it is encouraging people to “DRAW your favourite memory.”

Lots of comments, and one drawing …

with an explanation near-by.

Almost at the water, I pause again: the weather tells me it’s fall, and so does this impromptu art installation by Mother Nature.

I like it. I think of the fall colour display I’ll see, or anyway hope to see, while in Toronto, and smile in happy anticipation.

And smile again as I turn west along the Seawall.

I’m not a big lover of Smiley-face, but I just have to love this one, painted on a Seawall rock. And I always love the sight of an Aquabus — my favourite of the two False Creek ferry services — so yes-okay, I am smiling.

Then I look at my watch, and up my pace. Time to hoof right along! I have friends to meet, fibre art to admire …

Which I do, and we do, and the rain comes down as promised and We Don’t Care Because We Are Vancouverites. We up our umbrellas and carry on. So there. (With time out for bowls of chowder in the Market …)

Most of the fibre art installations are in shop windows, viewed from the Island laneways, but some pull us inside.

Where, right at each doorway, sits another sign of fall.

Did I mention that it’s raining?

 

 

 

 

Meditation in a Bog

23 July 2018 – With thanks to Sally, who provided this photo, with this title, which shows Frances (R) and me disappearing around a bend in the boardwalk, among towering trees.

We are indeed in a bog. Burns Bog.

Located on the delta of the Fraser River, and originally some 10,000 hectares or so in size, it is now reduced to about 3,000-3,500 hectares but is still the largest raised peat bog on the west coast of the Americas. The Joho Maps website has a diagram that situates it nicely — and provides a lot of other information as well in its excellent guide to the Bog.

Though, inevitably, now much disturbed by mankind, Burns Bog  is a globally unique ecosystem, a major regulator of regional climate, a stopover for more than 400 species of migratory birds, and is still home to a wide variety of plants and wildlife.

And trains.

Freight trains run along one edge, which is also the side that, in the Delta Nature Reserve, affords the only public access. As we descend into the Bog proper, we hear and then see a train train start rumbling by.

It takes a while, freight trains being the length they are.

Clatter-clatter, rumble-rumble, thump-thump, squeak-squeak…

Then all those other sounds of train-in-progress give way to the squeal that signals either (A) a 4-year-old throwing a tantrum, or (B) a very long freight train grinding to a halt.

There is no 4-year-old in sight.

The freight train stops. Blocking our cross-over access to the Bog and its trails.

Mature, philosophic adults that we are, we stand about in some handy shade and admire the boxcar artwork.

And then, squeal-rumble-rumble, the train shakes itself into action again and rolls on its way.

We take the now-available access path, and hop over the tracks.

I promise you, Sally (L) and Frances are athletic and nimble of foot. I consider them my personal trainers (along with much else), and I am grateful for the on-going stimulation and physical challenge.

My camera just happened to catch them … ummm … like this. Sort of a Lindy Hop, as performed by the Marx Brothers?

Over the tracks, and now across a stream. “It’s called the River of Dreams,” says Frances, who is a veteran of many Bog walks over the years and effectively our tour guide today. The water is so astoundingly clear that, in a photo, it is transparent to the camera. All you can see is the thin line of reflected sunlight …

but water does fill the riverbed, bank to bank.

Moments later, I think we are stretching our greedy fingers toward wild raspberries, but Sally knows better. “Thimbleberries,” she says, and she’s right. (Rubus parviflorus, if you want to get all official about it.)

Soon after, Labrador Tea blossoms (Ledum groenlandicum — curiously attributed to Greenland in the Latin). So delicate, and so sturdy! So tall, also — the shrubs tower over our heads.

At one point there is a choice of loops. We opt for the one promising us a sunken tractor and Skunk Cabbage Meadow. I think of my dear Ontario-based friend DJ, who has a thing for skunk cabbages, and can’t wait to see a whole meadow of them, alive-alive-o.

Can’t miss ’em, once you’re among ’em.

Wowzers.

I send DJ this photo and, thanks to her reply, I now know one more difference between The East and The West.

Aha!  This, my dear Penny, is indeed skunk cabbage, but the western one (Lysichiton americanus) with a big yellow flower, followed by HUGE leaves, as your photos show!  The eastern one is Symplocarpus foetidus — a smaller, shyer version with purplish flowers and smaller leaves.  They’re both in the arum family and both smell skunky in bloom to attract flies and beetle pollinators, hence sharing the common name.  Thank you!!

On past the half-buried tractor, left over from days when peat was being harvested and equipment often met with misadventure.

Bog beside our feet, towering trees overhead.

And, always, boardwalk beneath our feet. Kilometres of it — installed, watched over, patched and replaced as needed by volunteers with the Burns Bog Conservation Society.

Sometimes the Boardwalk Gremlins wisely leave a gap. No need to argue with tree roots.

We head back out …

climbing past homes on the bogside slope and somebody’s welter of birdhouses as we go.

Into the Market

18 April 2016 – On Sunday I had a terrific time being guided through a walk, instead of inventing one of my own. (Small tip of the hat here to Jackie, of Tour Guys.)

The day is gloriously warm & sunny, everyone in the group is silly with pleasure as we cluster at our meeting spot, Henry Moore’s Two Forms outside the AGO. But this is just the meeting spot, soon we’re in neighbouring Chinatown, and ultimately spend most of our time in …

at Augusta & College

Now you get the “Market” reference.

Factoid about these Ken Market elevated signs: each features two of only three symbols — a globe, a chair, a cat. I’ve often enjoyed the signs, never before noticed the pattern. See? Tours can be wonderful.

Now a quick back-up into a Chinatown alley. Jackie wants everyone in the group to see & appreciate graffiti, tags, throw-ups, street art & the rest of the terminology — and the corresponding realities, right here on walls & doors.

ANSER eyes on a Chinatown alley wall

ANSER eyes for sure, but not that mouth!

We spend a lot of time in … if not always exactly alleys, certainly very-very-very narrow-&-hidden little streets. Where sheer streetscape can itself be a form of street art.

With prayer flags, for example …

inside Kensington Market

or an ode to means of transportation.

in a Kin Market back street

Oh, go ahead, start counting. One canoe, with wheels; several bicycles; one wagon; one bright red come-along. And I may have missed something. (Surely not all needed to transport Chinese herbs from hither to yon?)

Then again, sometimes the alley/street is not about streetscape at all. It’s total street art, in every direction.

Like this.

in a Kin Market back alley

Multiple works of art, and multiple mail boxes too!

Around another corner, and the unmistakable work of one of the city’s most unmistakable artists: Birdo.

wall mural by Birdo, In Ken Market

This one looks curiously like a muzzled dog.

The next Birdo creation, around a few more corners, gets me thinking instead about lobsters & parrots. Then I shake my head & just let it be whatever it wants to be.

by Birdo, in an alley N/W of Queen & Bathurst

By now our tour is finished, I’m just N/W of Queen & Bathurst, and I nip through an alley onto Bathurst itself.

Where I see an old fave.

on Bathurst, just n. of Queen West

I hope you get a kick out of it …

 

  • 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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