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.

Sites & Sights

19 May 2022 – Warmish again, air truly soft for the first time, and not raining. I walk a loop.

Over to South China Creek Park

where I see dandelion fluff, glowing in the sunshine,

a kiddies’ birthday party in the play area down below,

and, up here, some celebratory “candles” on a red horse chestnut tree.

Back along East Broadway

where a crochet heart offers a hug to this derelict site,

and the reassurance, “We care,”

while a bit farther west I meet a fox (or perhaps a dog),

a rabbit,

a whole clowder/cladder/cluster/pounce of cats (choose your favourite collective term; mine is “pounce”),

and a trio of rhodo blooms, with the one in the middle showing the other two how it’s done.

And finally north on Main Street.

Where I discover a Buddhist gone bad!

Or so it says.

Below/Above

2 May 2022 — Warm-ish & sunny-ish, and a lot of activity around, on and above False Creek.

Here below:

a trainee dragon boat, its crew stroking as best they can to the call …

a veteran gull, conserving energy between sudden dives for food …

and the cyclical gully between Hinge Park and Habitat Island, opening anew each low tide.

While above us all:

a float plane, dominating the clouds …

and an eagle, even higher, dominating the airplane.

Warmth Makes Happy

23 April 2022 — Not that much warmer, just an upward nudge from mid-single digits to low double, yet suddenly emotional muscles unclench along with the physical, and people are smiling at each other. Not to be outdone, happy sights are smiling up at us as well.

In the Camosun Bog, for example.

I enjoy all the usual delights. The boardwalk, embracing the rescued & stabilized remnant of ancient bog, made safe from the encircling forest …

the bog ground covers and undulating carpets of moss …

and the shallow lake at the heart of it all, home to the double headed serpent — sʔi:ɬqəy̓ — of Musqueam lore.

I don’t see the serpent here today, but I remember him as he was once presented to us in a Museum of Vancouver exhibition that can still be enjoyed online.

And then, just as I turn to leave, something so unusual I don’t at first believe it is there.

But my eye is snagged, and I stop, I turn, I look up through branches into the fork of a tree. Just here, here at the edge.

And I see it.

A thunderbird, perhaps? Somebody has carved this beautiful spirit, and brought him here, to guard his ancestral land.

Later, in Sahalli Park.

A small local park, with standard grass/benches/kiddy swings. Even so, magic in its own quiet way. Once we watched a coyote walk politely by, going peacefully about his own animal business, leaving startled but equally polite humans in his wake. And once, when I admired a passing woman’s armload of fresh-picked flowers, she promptly thrust them into my arms instead: “Take them! I’ve just been clearing them out of my plot!”

Her plot is one of many in the adjacent Sahalli Community Garden. Today, a languid Girl Gardener oversees spring clean-up …

and a fresh line-up of Rainbow Birdhouses is on offer for artistic (but very small) birds.

Across the street a retro Pink Caddy flaunts its fins (and fuzzy dice in the front window) …

and a bold new Magic Toadstool has jumped up in the “sit back – relax – unwind” nook next to the Community Garden.

I am tempted! But I am also hungry. So I head home instead.

“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.

Mood Swings

30 March 2022 – Not my mood, you understand.

No, wait, come to think of it, indeed my mood — but only in response to the mood of my walk. Which just keeps bouncing around.

From gritty-graphic …

to a juxtapositional joke …

from nature’s beauty, among the trees …

to a child’s eager spirit, upon the sidewalk.

And then, after adding some books to the East 10th community book exchange, I check the display on the adjacent tree, which always sets a seasonal theme, supplies art materials, and asks for comments.

The mood dictated by this current theme is helpfulness: suggest an activity or an attitude that will help you, your community, the world. Write your helpful idea on one of the hand outlines provided, and peg it up for all to see.

There are lots of suggestions. Some, like this one, point to an activity …

others recommend an attitude.

And yet another sets my own mandate for the walk back home.

I’d been striding along — Walking Warrior, that’s me! — now I slow right down. I turn my attention from my surroundings to my own physical self: my alignment, my pace, my footfall.

And … I … just … breathe.

Sticks & Stones & Bees & Crows — and a Unicorn, a Shady Cat & Destination Fish (& 24,000 Km)

26 March 2022 – And even more than all that. The fish is indeed my destination — the Go Fish! seafood shack just off Granville Island that (dammit) owes me a salmon burger — but, as always, once you choose a direction, all sorts of other discoveries pile on.

Errands bring me to Burrard & West 6th, close enough to False Creek to make Go Fish! my walk magnet for the day. But first I detour west, because here I am crossing the Arbutus Greenway, and why would I resist?

There’s a whole long tangled history about the Greenway, involving land from False Creek to the Fraser River, which the City bought from the CPR in 2016. Final green space development yet to be determined let alone implemented, community garden rights unclear — but meanwhile, let’s enjoy the approx. 9 km of asphalt pathway, the community gardens (including Cypress, where I join the Greenway), the benches, the sheer delight of this green ribbon running right through the city.

I pass Mason Bee hotels …

and City-provided “benchlets”…

and, along with hikers & joggers & walkers, scavenging crows. Of course.

I cross Cypress Street, with this hydro-pole reminder that some epidemics are to be encouraged, not fought.

Garden plots are still at the tidy-up stage, making even more apparent their underlying hardscape. Jean (doyenne of Jean’s Garden), like her allotment colleagues, favours lots of natural elements — sticks & stones, of varying sizes and shaped either for art or functionality. Here a small bowl containing pretty pebbles sits beside the sweep of a driftwood bench. I love benches in general; I love this bench in very particular.

Other side of the pathway, a garden with beehives. This doesn’t look like one of the community-based allotments, it may instead belong to a home just to the north — a reminder of how narrow the Greenway ribbon is, in this part of town.

And then there’s City Farmer.

This archway of repurposed metal implements leads into their quarter-acre site, where they demonstrate the mandate that has guided their work since 1978: to show people how to grow food in the city, compost waste & care for their home landscape.

The gate’s vines and flowers are still barely visible this early in the season, making it all the easier to spot the folk-art jokes in the metalwork.

Like this unicorn.

Enough detour, I decide: time to leave the Greenway, head north and zig-zag my way to Fisherman’s Wharf just west of Granville Island. It is home to the public fish market — and the Go Fish! metal shack.

I may already be thinking salmon burger but first, as I turn onto Maple Street, I discover a shady cat.

Talk about security: this home has it three-deep. A dog, a shady cat, and even — check that Orca Security signage in the lawn behind — a “killer whale.”

Please note those quote marks. Because when I search the phrase, I discover the Orca is something else entirely. Not even a whale, let alone a killer whale. It is instead a dolphin, and a whale killer. The descriptive phrase somehow got turned around over the centuries, and the Orca family should sue. (I bet lots of you already knew all that Orca lore, but I didn’t.)

Another block or so down Maple, and I meet a ghost barber. The saga of a ghost barber.

Or something like that. I have no idea. I shake my head and let my mind return to thoughts of salmon burgers.

Another 10 minutes or so, and here I am. About to join the line-up for Go Fish! — which today is open for business, unlike the day I brought a trusting friend here in an act of pilgrimage, our mouths already gently salivating.

Founded in 2004 by local chef Gord Martin, devoted to local & sustainably harvested seafood, all of it freshly prepared, Go Fish! is a Vancouver landmark with an international reputation. You are guaranteed really good food. After a really long wait.

So I have time, while in line, to empathize with the little boy killing time, peering over the wharf rail.

And I have time, while waiting for my order, to notice and wonder about the Spanish slogan on each staff T-shirt. (Later I discover that Martin was, maybe still is, exec chef & cofounder of a restaurant in Carmen del Playa, Mexico.)

Full of salmon (plus shrimp mayo & Japanese style pickled cucumber), I walk the perimeter of Granville Island — a kind of bonus loop, before continuing east along the Seawall toward home. The loop takes me past floating homes & busy ferries & busy shops & kiddies on swings & even the sight of two large seals repeatedly arching out of the water to grab scraps thrown their way by the fisherman gutting his catch overhead.

And then, just where Sutcliffe Park is about to lead me back over to the Seawall, I see a Trans Canada Trail pavilion on the point of land. I step within its embrace.

More than 24,000 km of trail, the signage tells me; “the world’s largest network of multi-use recreational trails,” the website later tells me. I think, with pleasure, of bits of Trail that I have walked here & there in the country. I can imagine sections of the Trail; I cannot imagine all 24,000 km.

The map does it for me:

So I look at that for a moment, and then turn east, to add a few more klicks to my very own, my cumulative, my life-long “Penny Trail.” Seriously??? I laugh at the sheer pretentiousness of the concept, but then decide to forgive myself. If birders can have their Life Lists, why can’t we walkers?

Comforted, reassured, and vastly amused, I walk on.

Rain. Drops.

22 March 2022 – It is raining.

And raining, and raining.

But the rain drops pose so very prettily, for anyone who cares to look.

Trafalgar!

12 March 2022 – No, no, not Battle of — that event sits several centuries and various oceans distant from my Trafalgar. I’m on a street in the Kitsilano district of Vancouver, not floating around just off Cape Trafalgar, Spain. Mind you, there is water a kilometre or so to the north of us, and by carrying on down Trafalgar, we’ll hit it.

Which is the plan.

We already have a nautical reference point.

Not particularly well made, but so very cheerful. Intriguing, too. Why is this little boat perched on the roof of that front yard lean-to? Surely too high for any resident toddler to see… Ah well, it’s fun for passing adult pedestrians.

More gratuitous fun (always the best kind), another block or so to the north.

Why? But again, why ask? Just enjoy it.

Each little peak shelters its own ornament. In this case, a truck…

but others display everything from shells to toy animals to pretty pebbles to a plastic leprechaun, perhaps specially installed for St. Patrick’s Day.

Sedate good taste comes next: this fine balcony banner with its leaping salmon.

And right after that — side yard of the same Good Taste home, I think — comes another hit of nonsense.

Not that you’d be seriously tempted to ride it, but the draped fairy lights do emphasize that this bicycle is decorative, not functional.

Right at the next intersection, prayer flags and a plaque.

Well-worn flags — just imagine how many thousands of prayers they have fluttered into the breeze by now! And an equally weathered plaque, erected (it says here) in 2013 by “Friends of Siri” — their tribute to long-time resident Siri Kidder Halberg, who “loved to trade books.”

Thus, the little community book exchange these friends have created, right next to the bench.

This resonates for me, in many ways. First, I admire and support take-one/leave-one street libraries. Second, I am a huge fan of author Colin Cotterill‘s novels about the 1970s adventures of another Siri — Dr. Siri Paiboun, “the national and only coroner of the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos” — and indeed I am reading one of them right now (The Merry Misogynist). And, third, when I dive into this little library, I discover an unread novel (This Poison Will Remain) by another of my favourite authors, Fred Vargas. I snap it up.

A few more blocks and we’ve walked as far north as we can go, right into Point Grey Park. Trafalgar finally meets the water — in this case, English Bay.

‘Way out there, some freighters waiting their turn to carry on down Burrard Inlet and unload at the port (yay! supply chain at work!); in close, dozens of Barrow’s goldeneye ducks, obeying no schedule but their own.

Like the ducks, we’re on our own schedule. We turn east, curve with the land mass onto Kitsilano Beach, backed by Kits Park. My favourite swimmer is up there, flutter-kicking like mad.

I do mean up there:

Meet Wind Swimmer, and could she be better named? I see basic credits on the plaque — by sculptor Douglas R. Taylor, installed 1996 — but that’s not the half of it. Ohhh, the adventures she has known.

The prototype created in 1993 and installed in Stanley Park, but smashed by a log; the current version created in a collaboration between the sculptor, the Parks Board and donors (the Auerbachs) and installed on Kits Beach in 1996. Then came the wind storms of August 2015. The swimmer literally took a dive, and was again badly damaged and removed.

Three years go by… Repair work (largely by the Parks Board), and safety upgrades. In 2018, she is re-installed, finally back home and swimming again.

I like her even better, for knowing all this.

Both/And (Again)

8 March 2022 – I’m walking along West 8th, not a single philosophic thought in mind — in fact my mind pretty well free of any thought, truth be told, perfectly willing to let my feet have all the fun.

And then the street takes me in hand. “Pay attention!” it scolds. “The old both/and of life, right here in front of you, yet again.”

Both the loving beauty of this ornament, tied to a shrub next to the sidewalk …

and the weary decrepitude of the building behind it.

Both a tinder-dry Christmas tree still littering someone’s side yard …

and first daffodils, bursting through the soil right beside it.

And then, one more block down the street, a whole both/and tableau entwined on a single tree branch:

both winter’s lichen & moss, and spring’s urgent new buds.

(Plus, bonus, the constant pleasure of that colour-wrapped building behind, a veteran of the very first Vancouver Mural Festival, in 2016.)

  • 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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