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.

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.

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.

Cherry Blossoms & Goose Bumps

11 April 2022 – Vancouver is in the grips of its annual three-week Cherry Blossom Festival. It is all the more magical because, after several years on hold, we are again able to hold public events to mark the phenomenon.

It’s a phenomenon worth marking. The whole city is fluffy with blossoms, and no wonder: 54 different cultivars, and more than 43,000 trees in total. I can spout these factoids because of the Festival website, with its historical backstory (first festival, 2006) and its list of events (from the kick-off Big Picnic, to the international Haiku Invitational contest, the Tree Talks and Walks, and the Sakura Days weekend at the VanDusen Botanical Garden). Plus its mammoth DIY resource, Discover Blossoms. Here you can learn a very great deal about cherry trees and the significance of cherry blossom festivals, pinpoint what is blooming where, right here, right now, and download your very own Cherry Compass app.

Unfortunately, the city is not only in the grips of cherry blossoms, it is also in the grips of a prolonged cold snap. We therefore head for the VanDusen on Sunday bundled up in more layers of clothing that we think ought to be necessary, this time of year.

Mother Nature, of course, doesn’t care. The blossoms dance merrily in the breeze …

though some of the Haiku contest entries, like this one, allude to the tricks that weather can play.

We will head downhill a bit later on for one of the outdoor cultural performances — but first, we really, really want to warm up.

So we cruise the line of food trucks, each with its own offering of Japanese street food. How about Teriyaki Boys (their trucks a fixture in Squamish, Whistler and Metro Vancouver)?

Perhaps… But first we’ll explore a little more, on down the line.

Aha! Perfect comfort food for a bone-biting day: okonomiyaki, or cabbage pancake. We join the line-up and gossip with the people just ahead of us, who widen their eyes as they describe the length of the Japadog line-up a little earlier in the day. I am nostalgic: back in 2018, new to Vancouver, I was introduced to the iconic Japadog menu at this very event. Today, though, temperatures are low and wind is high and we want to wrap ourselves around those pancakes.

So we do.

Fortified, we head down to the open-air stage, in time for the performers we want to see, the Southern Wave Okinawan Music and Dance Society. There are a few rows of chairs, and we manage to snaffle two seats. We watch as the musicians and this stately dancer (captured by my friend’s quick eye and superior camera) celebrate the arrival of spring.

We celebrate right along with them. For a while.

Then we leave, drive back north, and celebrate Flat Whites and delicate Financier almond cakes in the warmth of my favourite neighbourhood café.

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.”

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.

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.

  • 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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