“To explore…”

1 December 2022 – “To explore,” says Stephanie Rosenbloom in her book Alone Time, “we need only put one foot in front of the other.” And the best part of that is… you and your feet, you can do whatever you want! You can stop your feet, reverse them, loop around, hesitate, scratch your head, get lost in thought. Your feet don’t care, and you don’t need to find a parking space.

All of which links with an observation in my very own About comments for this blog, and with my theme for this post.

In About, I explain that until August 2012 this blog concerned training for and completing an Arthritis Society charity trek in Iceland, and then, as of August 2012, I walk on. “With my feet, and in my mind as well.”

In two recent walks, I was struck by how my feet explored very limited physical spaces, while my mind spun through decades of time and a whole world of continents.

The Alley, Manitoba south of West 5th

I’m walking east in the alley, almost at Manitoba. My eye snags on this turquoise/yellow reflection, a bright flag in an otherwise entirely boring window in an equally boring building.

And here’s the source, the mural on the side wall of that building on the left. I like everything about it, from the mural itself to the hydro poles and their play of shadows, and the far view of one of my favourite VMF (Vancouver Mural Festival) murals right across the street.

Close-up to admire the new mural…

and then I peek around the corner, to discover it’s on our friend, the snazzy new 2131 Manitoba building (cf. Taking the 5th) with snazzy new tenants like AbCellular Biologics.

No attribution for their mural, which I find disappointing, but there is attribution for the 2019 VMF mural across the street.

It’s the work of Beijing-born, Vancouver-based artist William Liao. I think his website’s use of the phrase “fine arts” is entirely justified — both for what you can see online, and for this haunting face.

Tender, traditional, very fine-arts, yet entirely at home in its alley context.

I backtrack to the west side of Manitoba and south to the corner of West 6th, for one last look at the “2131” mural through the security fencing for yet another of the new builds transforming this neighbourhood.

This hole in the ground will become the new home of Ekistics, I learn.

And that, my friends, stays my feet and launches my mind.

Ekistics is a multi-disciplinary design and consulting studio, specializing in “sustainable planning, architecture, landscape architecture and land development” — and who can argue with that? I’m all in favour.

I just think this Vancouver firm, founded in 1992, might at least give a passing nod to the pioneering work of Greek architect and urban planner C.A. Doxiades, who first coined the word “ekistics” and laid out the elements of its science and study in an October 1970 article in Science magazine. Doxiades, who was active in the Greek underground during World War II and helped lead the country’s reconstruction post-war, went on to found a firm of engineers, architects and urban planners that in time had offices on five continents and projects in more than 40 countries.

I was interested in these things, in the 1970s, and followed his work for a while. This Vancouver team owes him some respect…

The Plaza, Cambie south of West Broadway

Another day, and different weather: a snow-heavy sky about to dump all over us.

I’m just south of the Skytrain station on Broadway, about to cut south-east toward home, and find my feet slowing down. Perhaps in sympathy with all these feet.

Walking Figures, they are called, the cast-iron last survivors of a group created in Poland by Magdalena Abakanowicz and erected here as part of one of our Vancouver Biennale exhibitions.

I circle them, look at the hollowed back views marching toward the transit station as cranky gulls wheel through the grubby sky.

And I walk my own feet the other way, up the “Welcome to City Hall” (top riser) steps just beyond.

Walk-walk, admiring as I always do the architecture of this building: a Depression-era project, opened in 1936, and visually somewhere in that transition from the vertical, highly ornamented lines of Art Deco to the simpler and more horizontal lines of Moderne. Admiring also, that in our recent civic election that saw a major shift of voter sympathies, all the defeated candidates conceded quickly and gracefully. (I am only appalled that I have to be grateful for behaviour I used to take for granted.)

My feet stop at this rock, one of the City’s millennium-project incised rocks still to be found in landmark locations. Annoyingly, I can’t decipher the name or later find it online, but as I stand there, feet stilled, the words set my mind walking.

My mind and my mental ear as well. Spread the image, try to catch more words, but here’s the gist of it. It’s all about everyday sounds we no longer hear, and they are picked out in the equivalent of bold face: clickety-clack (push lawnmower), cock-a-doodle-do (rooster), clip-clop (delivery wagon horses), ah-on-gah (early car horns), whack! (the smack of a wooden frame screen door). I particularly like that whack!, it shoots my mind back to Dorval Island and our cottage there of the 1940s & 50s. That is exactly the sound.

It is still in my ear as my feet move on, just a little, carrying me across the winter-desolate plaza whose empty picnic tables bear witness to the weather. (Where are the mountains? They should be out there… All hidden.)

My busy feet scamper off the far side of the plaza and then stop me before this plaque, set my eyes reading and my mind again hard at work. This plaza bears a name. It’s a name for us all to honour.

I had never heard of Helena Gutteridge! Food for continued thought, as my feet pick up the pace, urge me back home in time to beat the snow.

Which, that evening…

comes thumping down.

Taking the 5th

15 November 2022 – Not “the 5th” as in a self-shielding legal manoeuvre in a US courtroom. Instead, “the 5th” as in bouncing down Vancouver’s West 5th Avenue, wide open to the cultural/commercial fizz erupting on all sides.

Fizz indeed. I’m in the Quebec-to-Alberta stretch running through Mount Pleasant, known (well, in real-estate circles) as “Vancouver’s most desirable mixed-used neighbourhood.”

I am all in favour of mixed-use, aka diversity; I grow either nervous or bored when faced with homogeneity. No fear of that around here! While this cityscape has lost any trace of the millennia-old indigenous use of the land, it bears remaining evidence of early working-class settlers, who used their muscle-power either in their own small enterprises or in service of the industrial needs of the CPR. You still see a few auto-body shops, for e.g., but by now the transition from strong arms to strong brains is well underway.

Emphasis on creative/digital brain power.. all wrapped up in green. Proclaiming eco-sensitivity along with floor space. (Cf. my recent Into The City post.)

This brand new “slats” building between Quebec & Ontario…

offers “a superior location” and boasts its high ratings for walking/transit/biking criteria.

→An aside to explain the cross streets: I’m in a stretch named for the provinces in Confederation at the time of naming. They are slightly out of geographical order and include a territory, but let’s not quibble.

At the intersection of 5th and Ontario, older & newer versions of creativity shimmer at each other from every corner.

North-east corner = PureBread café, one of a handful of Vancouver & Squamish outlets for an artisanal bakery based in Whistler; north-west corner = Catalyze Solutions, a real estate project planning firm; south-west corner = Martha Sturdy Studios. It is the home furnishings/decor outlet for this octogenarian artist/ceramist/jeweller/sculptor who is still active, and whose works have been featured everywhere from Italian Vogue to Architectural Digest.

The aesthetic rust sensibility of her studio…

ricochets midway down the next block, to nature’s own rust on this chain. It locks the courtyard gate beside the heritage brick home of Image Engine (“world-class visual effects for film”).

More nature near the corner of 5th & Manitoba, this time yellow flowers that survived the snow and are still perky as all-get-out.

They sit in front of another artisanal bakery, Terra Breads. Together, they play compare/contrast with high-tech parking and the shiny-new neon-green “2131” building kitty-corner.

Completed last year, says the online promo, it provides office and light industrial space for a number of tenants, including AbCellular Biologics.

All very fancy and brainy and new… but with older art styles as the streetscape context.

Right across the street, this 2019 Vancouver Mural Festival wall…

back on 5th and just west of Manitoba, some grotty-old, unapologetic-old, roof-top graffiti…

and a tad farther west again, two doorways plastered with stickers.

I am not a stickers fan. Don’t get it. Grumble, grumble. But I read these, and… oh all right… some are mildly bemusing. “Scrub out racism not stickers” says one; “dump your porn addicted boyfriend” urges another; and another proclaims “timbit taliban,” which I suspect would confuse the Taliban as much as Tim Hortons.

More mixed-use, as I make my way from Manitoba to Columbia: Maison d’Etre Design Build (surely the world’s best bilingual marketing pun, but I wish they’d kept the accents), and two beauty-devoted outlets, focused respectively on hair salon supplies, and high-end residential flooring.

Almost at Columbia, I’m stopped flat by the elegant, but enigmatic, signage on an otherwise entirely anonymous building:

It only makes sense much later, when some online scuffling around shows me this used to be a Canadian Tire customer pick-up centre.

5th & Columbia is like a case study in past-present-future.

The south-west corner lot is for sale, with this tidy but older home surely doomed. (Note the home immediately beyond — beautifully painted, its owners raking leaves and very much not for sale.)

Facing the for-sale, an already-sold: something new rising up from the ground on the north-west corner, bearing the name Renditions Developments and promising “a new chapter.”

Beyond that, continuing west on 5th, wonderful names for what I fondly hope are wonderfully creative little boutiques — Rad Power Bikes; Hot Sauce Digital Marketing; Adventure Technology; Black & White Zebra. (And somewhere in here, I forget exactly where, the offices for the newspaper Vancouver Is Awesome.)

Corner of 5th & Alberta, a very empty, very space-y, space, announcing “This must be the space.” Tenants yet to arrive.

Kitty-corner, a space already full of tenants: Beaumont Studios — outdoor courtyard; indoor venues available for events; and an artists’ collective of rental studios.

I cross over, walk along the mural, contemplate the humanoid at the end.

Pop-eyed in amazement, as seems fitting, and with hands raised either in horror at recent developments…

or to warm them at the flame of all this new creative energy.

Take your pick.

“Mini-Miracles”

17 October 2022 — These cranky days, even a mini-miracle is a major miracle and I’ll say thank you and hold it tight. Viewed that way, my walk centred around the St. George Community Library is to be celebrated.

My plan: drop off three books as donations to the “St. George Community Library” — in quotes, because if you now expect bricks & mortar, you are out of luck. As a 2012 Globe and Mail article explains, it’s a couple of planks street-side on East 10th near St. George, here in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, with a bit of tarp over top and the invitation to lend or borrow, give or receive.

I’ve received more than once, time to give.

En route, I angle through Dude Chilling Park, where I notice the leaves now flaring red…

and the tents down the pathway between the park and the adjacent school, proclaiming that the local farmers’ market is in session.

I visit the market, and find myself mesmerized by the pavement beneath my feet. It is brightly painted, a reminder that normally this cut-through serves schoolchildren. I stand there, giggling at some of the juxtapositions between permanent paint and temporary market signage.

There’s the hopscotch tucked behind today’s sorbet bars…

the chubby hand grabbing for those wonderfully multilingual eggs…

the blue-cap guy roaring approval for “absolutely NO pesticides” in the squash…

and all those teeth eager to sink into local frozen berries.

Mind you, some signage is temporary, and purpose-written for today’s visitors.

Off I go. I have books to donate.

On up to East 10th, left-turn east onto East 10th & on past St. George.. But before I get to the library shelving, I stop at the corner display. I think of it as the Gratitude Display, not that it has that official name, but there it always is, prompting us to be grateful for something seasonal and providing the materials needed to write up our response & peg it to the line.

With Thanksgiving just past and Hallowe’en almost here, the theme is obvious and the message silhouettes are pumpkin-shaped. The lines are bowed with suggestions; here is my favourite.

And so, enjoying the concept of mini-miracles, I walk on.

First to donate my books (a mini-miracle right there, that this two-plank “library” still thrives, at least a decade after its founding); then to visit the curious garden a few doors farther down the street.

Another noun deserving quote marks: this “garden” consists of a tub balanced on the nude legs/hips lower half of a mannequin, filled with assorted succulents and a collection of tiny naked plastic babies escaping from one container or another, the container varying with whatever whim currently strikes the gardener’s fancy.

I look to see what’s current.

Turquoise peasant clogs, is what. I think this is quite wonderful in a totally goofy “either you love it or you think it’s stupid” way. I also love the conker — the gleaming horse chestnut, still fresh and mahogany-bright, and so very seasonal.

I walk on, my mind now snagged on conkers and the game little boys played with them early in the last century (as recounted to me by my father). The game may be old memory, but the sound effects are right this minute: conkers are thudding down all around me from the trees towering over my head.

My mind moves on, from conkers back to that concept of mini-miracles. Thus encouraged to see them, I do see them, and I define them broadly.

For example, in the joke of these Monkey Puzzle branches tickling the armpits of a bungalow at East 10th & Prince Albert…

in the open embrace of this vintage home, all verandahs and balcony, at Prince Albert & East 19th…

and, right across the street, just past the volunteer-tended traffic circle garden (suffering the ban on watering), in the striking silhouette of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church.

As I stand farther up Prince Albert, admiring the side view of the cross on the building and the cupola on the garage…

I can hear a congregation singing a hymn. Not in St. Nicholas, where children are now playing outside the church, but through the open doors of the Chinese Tabernacle Baptist Church one street farther south.

Another mini-miracle I’m happy to add to my day: peaceful diversity is always good news.

So I am perfectly content as I carry on south for a while, then finally loop my way back west-ish and north-ish. A short pause in Robson Park, with more autumnal conkers literally at my feet…

and I walk on home.

… And Into the City

30 September 2022 – All those mountains/lakes/canyons/trails/fields/elk/sheep/cows.

And now, some pavement.

I head north-west in my own Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, a community just off-centre from downtown. It’s an early community (as settler history here in Vancouver goes), more worker than boss in its demographics, with an industrial phase built around servicing the railway, subsequent decline, subsequent admixture of artists (of all types) & small-scale entrepreneurs (ditto), and now — though interrupted by COVID — a push to make this the heart of the city’s high-tech, sustainable, innovative future.

I don’t have all this consciously in mind as I set out. I just set out. And I immediately begin to see past & future piling up all over each other. Literally on top of each other, here on the N/W corner of East 7th & Main.

Fact is, I’m not terribly drawn to these murals, but I am fascinated by what they represent.

Each fabric panel, tacked to existing backboards, is a work created in the Murals Without Walls workshops run by Kickstart Disability Arts & Culture as part of the Low Barrier Arts Program of the 2022 Vancouver Mural Festival. These new panels sit atop now-fading 2017 murals, painted onto parking spaces in what was then a municipal parking lot, as part of that year’s Mural Festival. (Oddly, not shown in the VMF photo gallery, but still alive in my personal photos.)

So I do have past/present in mind as my feet decide to turn right onto Quebec Street and lead me down-down-down, north-north-north, toward False Creek.

You want future? I’ll give you future — 2025, to be precise. Right at the next corner.

I read the signage and decide to include the whole thing in this post. While the language is PR-bravura, it is instructive to notice what companies want to boast about, these days. Starting on the left…

and sweeping to the right.

T3, I later discover online, stands for Timber/Transit/Tech. This will be Western Canada’s largest, tallest mass-timber office building: “transit-connected, tech & amenity-rich”; “one of the most environmentally-friendly, sustainable and wellness-focused developments in Vancouver”; “in one of Vancouver’s most dynamic and creative technology hubs.” The project will include the renovation of the now-delapidated building whose peaked roof juts above the signage, and its use as an arts centre, run by the City.

No, I have not turned into a company shill. But yes, I’m glad that these are now project ideals, however imperfectly they may be carried out. (And indeed, however imperfect time may show them to be, even as ideals.)

Pre-COVID, another complex had already led the way. Here at Quebec & East 4th: “Canada’s first completely net-zero work environment.”

It is one structure in the 5-building, 4-city-block Main Alley Campus that consists of three new buildings, one addition to an existing building and one renovation. I don’t know, nobody yet knows, where high-tech workers will end up working, this side of the COVID watershed. From home? Back in an office? Hybrid?

Main Alley perforce gambles that they will return to the office — those structures have already been built. It’s interesting to see that T3 is going ahead, an expensive vote of confidence that the future will be significantly physical, as well as virtual.

I confess that I like the broad-strokes vision, the idea that some environmentally & culturally responsible complexes will nurture a sustainable, inclusive and creative tech economy here in Mount Pleasant.

Even so, I don’t want new complexes, however admirable, to steamroller everything else out of existence. I want continued space, a continued welcome, for the little guys of every type and gender.

Just walking on down Quebec, I see examples of what I mean.

There’s the multi-generation John & Murray Motors Ltd., near East 3rd…

there’s the relatively new Fife Bakery, just around the corner on East 3rd…

which leads me a few more steps, to the mural wall right next door for JFS The Kitchen.

Later I discover this is the hub for the Jewish Food Bank, a partnership of JFS with the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver. (Not all is shiny-beautiful, either in Mount Pleasant or in the City as a whole.)

Another automotive shop, complete with this stunning old Chevy, as I angle through the alley between 3rd and 2nd…

and then the 1912 brick majesty of the Quigley Building at 2nd, which houses Earnest (“seriously good”) Ice Cream.

I want all of it. The big new, the small new, the old.

New builds on Main, fine — but I want still to peek through the courtyard to the alley, for a glimpse of Carson Ting’s contribution to the 2017 Vancouver Mural Festival.

[

We need it all. If nature has shown us anything, over all these millennia, it is that diversity is the robust option, not mono-culture.

Blanket to Binoculars

20 September 2022 – Remember Port Hardy? A 16-hour ferry ride to get there from Prince Rupert; a midnight-plus arrival; and a no-foolin’ early departure that very morning.

Why? you may ask.

To catch another ferry.

Port Hardy – Campbell River

We do not complain.

We are aboard the K’ulut’a, making the 40-minute hop from Port McNeil to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. Our destination is the U’mista Cultural Centre, whose mission is to strengthen the culture of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. It houses — among other resources — an important collection of repatriated potlach and other ceremonial objects.

By chance, I receive an introduction to the culture of the potlach during our ferry ride.

It is with their permission that I fall into conversation with these two young women, learn something of the work they are doing, and take these photos (which I also send to them). They are finishing a blanket that will be draped around a two-year-old’s shoulders as part of ceremonies to be held this evening in the Big House. “Just during the ceremony,” they explain; “then it will be put away.” They work as they talk. “This is my great-grandmother’s design — wolf, because that is our clan,” says one.

They attach the last buttons as we begin to pull into Alert Bay. “Thank you!” I say. “Enjoy your visit to U’mista!” they say.

We are a few minutes early for our appointment to visit the Cultural Centre, which is being opened today only for our small group. While waiting, we walk about the adjacent park and play area, where inviting swing ropes hang from trees and the waterfront glimmers through the lingering mist.

Later, as we watch a documentary about the power and significance of the potlach ceremony (“We dance to celebrate life, to be grateful for what we have, to show our history”) and then walk quietly past the Potlach Collection (items laboriously repatriated from the private and institutional hands that had seized them), I think how the ceremony has endured despite everything — how I saw it alive and potent, literally taking new shape and presence in the hands of those two young women.

The mist lifts, the harbour and its boats sparkle in the sunshine…

I peek under the wharf, I am rewarded with fading but still strong murals…

and then we ride the ferry back to our waiting van.

Walk-about time and lunch in Telegraph Cove (fresh halibut), and on to Campbell River and a quiet lodge looking across a channel to Quadra Island.

Campbell River – Victoria

A civilized (as opposed to Silly O’Clock) start, with time to stand on a wharf for a bit and think about nothing at all.

Away from the beach, into the forest: we visit nearby Elk Falls Provincial Park and wind along the trail, through the trees, down and down.

With more down to come, right over there

Completed in 2015, this suspension bridge is 60 metres long and hangs a good 60 metres above the canyon bed.

Which helps explain the scale of the protective mesh.

I think of trying to yoick my camera above the wall, but change my mind. An eager boating friend recently watched her camera slip from her fingers and spiral out of sight, lost to the ocean floor. I don’t wish to follow her example, here in a canyon. So… I settle for mesh-wrapped falls.

We drive on down-island, increasingly rejoining the busy urban world as we draw closer to Victoria. Then it is abruptly peaceful once again — our hotel is tucked in quiet surroundings on the West Victoria side of the Inner Harbour.

I meet a city-based friend for walkies & dinner. We prowl the Old Town, reading 19th-c. dates on heritage buildings, discovering street art in alleys, finally doubling back along Wharf St. as dusk begins to deepen.

He sets me a challenge. “Art hidden in plain sight,” he says, and then — vastly amused — plays the old “Cooler, warmer, frigid, hot” game with me until I finally see what I am supposed to see.

I yelp with delight. The Hands of Time: Holding Binoculars, by Crystal Przybille. What could be more perfect? Just one of 12 bronze sculptures of life-sized hands dotted about the city, each set of hands doing something appropriate to the location. As we scoot off to Virtuous Pie for pizza, I make a private vow to return tomorrow, and see the sculpture — and its harbour view — by daylight.

Post-pizza, it’s back to West Victoria for the night via the Johnson St. Bridge. This bridge is technologically impressive — at 46 metres, it is one of the longest single-leaf bascule (rising/falling by counterweights) rolling bridges in the world — and sculpturally beautiful. Technically single-leaf, and visually as well.

We admire its night-time drama…

and then make use of its functionality, to walk our way back to West Vic.

Victoria-Vancouver

Eleven days, 3000-plus kilometres, and whoosh, today is the last day.

Tour-by-van in the morning, including the breezy southern tip of the entire island, in Clover Point Park.

Later, I pass on the Butchart Garden option, consider a revisit to the charming in-city Abkhazi Garden… and settle instead for my first-ever visit to the Royal British Columbia Museum (where I am captivated by the Natural History section), followed by more lazy exploration along the Inner Harbour.

And by a wild-salmon taco lunch from the Red Fish Blue Fish kiosk, where I sit on a bench and watch water taxis come and go. (All very reminiscent of Go Fish! just west of Granville Island in Vancouver.)

One last thing to do, before rejoining the van for one last ferry ride.

See those binoculars by day!

So I do, and I give them a little pat.

Onto the van, down to Swartz Bay, onto the ferry, back into the van, trundle-trundle-trundle back into Vancouver…

And I am home.

Rain (and More Water)

18 September 2022 – Before we arrive in Prince Rupert someone asks, “What’s the weather like?” The answer is: “Well, it rains. And then sometimes it’s … ‘Oh! It’s not raining!'” We fall around laughing.

Prince Rupert

So we are not surprised, the following morning, to awaken to rain.

But we don’t care, because (a) we can dress for it, and (b) some of us are starting the day dry & comfy in the Museum of Northern BC. It is a magnificent introduction to this part of the world, and I recommend it to everyone who visits the city.

Late in the visit we pass through a gallery with an exhibition of recent works by local artist Suzoh Hickey. It includes a painting I want to show you (which I therefore downloaded from her own website), because it shows another face of Highway 16. Yes, it is the Highway of Tears, but it is also more than that — and that, too, is the way of the world. Both/and.

From the Museum, I look out over Prince Rupert Harbour…

and decide that’s where I’ll start a local walk. So I do.

It takes me past commercial docks toward old cannery buildings, now repurposed, down in Cow Bay…

where I hang over a wharf edge to eye a cluster of buildings. I am particularly struck by that patch of vivid blue.

Later I walk around the corner, and discover it is called Smiles Seafood Café, and dates from at least 1968 since that is the year of an old menu on display in one of the windows. I go in. I want a salmon burger.

I don’t get it, since they don’t offer it, but I’m happy to try my first halibut burger instead. And — while also busy with well-vinegared crispy chips — I shamelessly eavesdrop on local conversation. There’s the son working up in Alaska… the mother-in-law who just sold her home in Vancouver… the couple just back from a camping experiment with the kids. (“They loved it! Happy kids? Happy parents.”)

And back out into the rain, where I admire the whale-tail mural on the side wall of Johnny’s Machine Shop…

and the whale-tail bench almost next door.

I think it a one-off, but it’s not. It is the style of local benches, and once I understand that, I’m able to identify this handsome silhouette on the far side of a rain-deserted children’s playground.

We all put our heads down early this night, because we must be out of the hotel by 5:40 a.m. the next morning. Really. (“Silly O’Clock,” as English relatives of mine describe that kind of hour.) That day will be our day to travel the Inside Passage with BC Ferries.

Inside Passage

The rain is pelting down when I first get up (at Very Silly O’Clock), but merely drizzling by 8 a.m., when we get underway.

Good-bye Prince Rupert.

The trip will be 16 hours, Prince Rupert to Port Hardy at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, on a modern, spacious, safe & comfortable vessel provided with a number of distractions to while away all those hours. But, oh, it is still a great many hours!

Sunny/cloudy around 11 a.m., as we pass through the Grenville Channel…

and quite sunny indeed at 5 p.m., with ripples spiralling out to trace our course past the Dryad Point Lighthouse at the northern entrance to Lama Passage. Built in 1899, it still earns its keep: that light is visible for 29 kilometres.

Just take my word for the fact that we dock in Port Hardy about midnight.

It is very dark and we are stunned-stupid with travel. We are also busy being resolutely stoic at the news we’ll be making an early departure from Port Hardy! All in the name of further adventures.

The adventures justify the early start.

And that comes next…

Games, Tears and Heart

17 September 2022 – A long drive day, we’ve been warned: some 725 km from Prince George to Prince Rupert, smack on the Pacific Ocean. We arrived late in Prince George, we leave early, and I have only time to walk a few blocks before we take off.

The distinctive smell of a pulp-&-paper town fills the air as I admire the mural. Fresh air in the skier’s lungs, if not mine…

In 2015 Prince George hosted the Canada Games, and this building, now the downtown post office, was Canada Games House.

We roll through such different countryside from the previous few days, it takes conscious adjustment. Horse paddocks, logging trucks and great stacks of lumber…

and field after field of neatly rolled hay, drying the requisite period of time before being sealed into durable bundles.

Sidewalk-patio lunch in Smithers, our backs warmed by the sun and our bellies by perogi. (The immigrant mix in town guarantees a range of restaurants and excellent food. Four of us choose Ukrainian.) There is time for a brief bit of exploration, and I take advantage.

I am of course drawn to this powerful mural, wrapping two sides of the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre.

I have to read the signage, to make the necessary connections.

I know we are on Highway 16, a section of the Yellowhead Highway, but I do not equate it with a term that I have heard, but not situated: the Highway of Tears. In driving between Prince George and Prince Rupert, we are travelling the length of the Highway of Tears.

Here is one section of what I read on the long, street-side wall.

One can quibble about the exact range of years and the exact number of women and girls, but the acronym MMIWG tells you the large truth: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Lack of money, private vehicles or public transport all make it tempting to hitchhike. According to Carrier Sekani Family Services, between 1989 and 2006 on this stretch of highway, nine young women were found murdered or went missing, all but one of them indigenous.

I read more about this mural, part of the larger At The Heart project, funded 2020-2021 by the Federal Dept. of Women and Gender Equality. That long wall is the Resilience Wall, with its image of the healing power of the sun, the animals from each of the clans affected, and stylized butterflies, dragonflies, feathers and indigenous healing plants.

The wall facing the alley is the Lost Ones Wall.

The rings radiating around the female moon symbolize the continuing impact of the trauma for these families and communities; the red dress is dancing regalia, to honour the lives and memories of the women lost; rain drops are tears, with falling rain a reminder that tears also have the power to help heal. The grizzly family honours the clan on whose land this building stands.

We drive on.

In the final stretch, close now to Prince Rupert, we make a brief stop in a roadside park that allows glimpses of the Skeena River. Like us on its way to the Pacific Ocean, this river is home to salmon (Sockeye, Pink, Chinook, Coho and Chum), trout (Rainbow and Cutthroat), Dolly Varden char, and sculpin and stickleback and more.

It is, says the signage, the River of Mists.

My heart is still with the Highway of Tears.

Downtown

15 August 2022 — We’re downtown, giving ourselves an architecture tour-by-ricochet — i.e., loosely inspired by one of the City’s self-guiding tour maps, but then wildly divergent, following our own curiosity as we go.

It’s almost a reintroduction to downtown as well, because neither of us has been down here much since COVID hit town. We see a lot that’s either new, or had slipped from memory. And on top of all that, we’re of a mind to gawk, and to appreciate.

Look! TELUS Garden! Completed in 2016 (Gregory Henriquez, design architect), and belonging (I say this approvingly) to what I think of as the school of Twisted Cereal Box.

Basically rectilinear, like any well-behaved cereal box — but then twisted here, thrust there, and finished with a swoop. Which then offers us all this lovely energy & play, still with simple lines.

(Need I add I know nothing about architecture? Pure personal opinion.)

We continue along West Georgia, and stop flat to stare at what now greets us at Homer Street. Definitely new, not forgotten. Once again rectilinear, once again with a twist. But very different from TELUS Garden.

Meet the Deloitte Summit office tower, open early this year, with Merrick Architecture as Executive Architect. My mind jumps back more than half a century to early Moshe Safdie, and the stacked-box design of his Habitat ’67.

It’s only later I appreciate my Safdie moment. At the time, all I see, as I draw closer, is a dramatic juxtaposition of forms — jutting cubes on the right, smack up against Library Square and the rounded, Roman Coliseum curves of the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch.

Later, I do my homework. I learn that the 1995 Library Square complex (VPL + Federal Office tower on the left + public plaza) was the work of… Moshe Safdie & Associates. I hope you’re as amused by this as I am.

Another juxtaposition, this time from West Pender as I eye this pair of buildings the other side of Victory Square. One is heritage; the other new-ish and an effort to combine redevelopment with both private gain and public good.

On the left, the Dominion Building: 13-storeys, steel-framed (a wonder in its day) and, when it opened in 1910, the tallest building in the British Empire. On the right, Woodward’s 43 (aka W-43): sympathetic lines & tones, considerably taller (43 storeys) and completed in 2009. The former, considered by some to be haunted (well, so they say); the latter, considered by some an example of how hard it is to do good and do well at the same time. (A Westbank Project with Henriquez Partners, it is a mixed-use tower, with both market and non-market residential units, and part of the larger redevelopment and repurposing of the old Woodward’s footprint.)

We continue north to West Hastings, to 601 West Hastings to be precise, where we run our eyes up this newly-completed 25-storey office tower and then slide ourselves in under its welcoming street-level canopy.

No tower name that I can find, apart from the street address, but online recognition that it is the work of B+H Architects, and that it offers commercial mixed-use facilities while retaining (says the B+H website) “a useable community plaza.”

I wouldn’t quite call this a community plaza…

but it is at least open to the street, and very peaceful once you tuck yourself inside. A wall of light & colour; a watercourse the length of that wall; and, in lieu of benches, a number of bum-friendly sitting stones.

We’re back on the street and walking away when I snag on one final, truly wonderful, touch.

This, the lettering solemnly announces, is the doorway to the 60l Grind.

“Grind”? It is a reference every Vancouverite (or visiting hiker) will immediately catch. The Grouse Grind is a 2.9 km trail straight up (very up) the face of Grouse Mountain; the 601 Grind is 549 steps straight up this building.

More West Hastings, now between Hornby and Howe streets. And more juxtapositions. On the right, the quietly ornamented but still quietly rectilinear lines of heritage architecture. On the left…

the 2011 Jameson House, where bubbles come out to dance with the world of rectilinear. In the process they stack 26 storeys of apartments over 8 storeys of office over shops. Everybody seems to be enjoying the dance.

(There is even more juxtaposition than my eye takes in at the time. The Jameson House project includes restoring the 1921 Ceperley Rounsfell Building and retaining the façade of the 1929 Royal Financial Building as well.)

We walk on west, then pause to admire a long view of one of the city’s most iconic heritage buildings.

Down there at West Hastings & Burrard , glowing in the afternoon light, still dominant though long since out-towered by many other buildings — it’s the 21-storey Marine Building, which opened in 1930 and is considered the city’s best surviving example of Art Deco style.

Leaning in from the far right, the Edwardian-era Vancouver Club, which opened in 1914. Behind it, a more recent building whose tones (like W-43) are sympathetic to its heritage neighbour.

On the left behind the Marine Building, a 35-storey twist of soaring glass, the MNP Tower, which opened in 2014.

We walk on, and eventually crane our necks upward, following the soar. (Credit here to my friend, whose camera caught it better than my own.)

Then, necks and all, it’s back to ground level — and, look at that, at West Hastings near Thurlow, it’s also back to this year’s Vancouver Mural Festival.

We climb up the steps and we climb back down the steps; we thank the VMF in general and Laura Jane Klassen (Studio LKJ) in particular for this latest addition to city art and cheer; and then…

we head home.

Behind the Paint

11 August 2022 – There are the murals, and then there are the stories that take you behind the paint on the murals. I’m reminded of this when I join the Mount Pleasant-area mural tours offered this week by Vancouver DeTours, the VMF guided-tour partner.

I already knew the murals; I didn’t know the stories.

For example: big, bold Courage, in an alley I often pass angling down Kingsway near East 11th. I even know, because I can read signage, that it was created in 2021 by Ariel Buxton.

What I don’t know is that she created it in collaboration with Rabble Rousers, a group of young adult mental health advocates, and that it faces a youth mental health facility housed in the building opposite. The powerful one-word main theme is supported by smaller images, each important to the young people involved. A yellow rose, a cactus, a shamrock and, here on the mural’s east edge, an acorn topped by a butterfly.

As we’re being given this background, I notice a tour member waving vigorously. Big smile on his face. I turn. Arms attached to a whole window-full of faces in the building opposite are waving at us. We wave. They wave. Everybody waves some more.

And then we walk on.

On down that same alley, closer now to Watson Street, a 2018 mural by Pakistan-born Sara Khan. It is called Recycled, for reasons that escape me, and flows strong colours and dream-like images across the wall.

We learn that when the sketch went to the City for final approval (many partners, many steps), the reclining male figure was anatomically correct. When he came back, he was a Ken-doll.

Okey-doke. (Many partners, many steps, and the art of the compromise.)

But ever since, again and again, anonymous citizens have crept forth, paint brush in hand…

to restore his manhood.

One of the tours takes us past the 2022 Melanie Jewell mural I showed you in my murals teaser post, From Bach to Bears. Remember?

Now I learn that the bears, while deliberately painted in folk-art style, are much more than (as I called them) “adorable.” Each one represents a member of this Northern Dené artist’s family; together, they resonate with deeper meaning.

This cuddling pair, for example, represent her grandmother and mother.

They loved each other. They were both, one generation apart, survivors of the residential school system. And when Jewell’s grandmother unexpectedly fell ill and was dying, her mother — at the time a small child away at school — could not come home for one last visit.

There are more stories, other places. Happier ones, for example the time requesting shop-owner permission to paint on her back alley wall ultimately led to the City installing lighting in that alley as well. Upshot: the woman finally felt safe going out to her car in that alley late at night — and even had something beautiful to look at.

So by the time I’m trucking back down Kingsway, I have a head full of stories to go with my eyes full of murals.

And then — right there on the sidewalk in front of Budgie’s Burritos — I see one more.

Well, if they say so!

From Bach to Bears

8 August 2022 – Oh my dears, the Bach Festival…

is so last week!

Now we have adorable, and very freshly painted, bears…

to show us that the Vancouver Mural Festival is underway.

Melanie Jewell’s tribute to the peoples, creatures and swirling Northern Lights of the NWT is my first sighting of work in progress…

but I plan to see lots more this week.

  • 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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