… 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.

Into the Similkameen

27 September 2022 – Just back from travels and I travel again, but I can’t resist. Yet more splendid countryside, this time a long weekend with friends and what of course becomes a welcoming & expanding cluster of friends-of-friends.

We drive into the B.C. southern interior, past Hope and then turn onto Highway 3, the Crowsnest Highway, working our way into the Similkameen Valley.

Our interests keep us in the Princeton – Hedley – Keremeos area, pivoting around the Jura Family Ranch.

It’s a family ranch, producing grassfed beef and lamb, mostly for direct-delivery customers. I stand by, watching sheep streaming back toward the enclosures for their evening meal, with some cattle dotting the pastures just above, and feel catapulted into an Alberta Moment. (The terrain, the activity, the sky…)

Dogs help work the herd and they protect the herd. Coyotes are an on-going concern.

For millennia, this valley has been home to the Similamix and Smelqmix peoples; more recently to ranches and orchards; most recently to the logical offshoot of orchards, namely craft wineries and cideries.

And so we visit other spreads…

and descend on, first, Courcelettes Estate Winery (first vintage 2011) near Keremeos…

and then, second, Twisted Hills Craft Cidery (est. 2012) near Cawston. The tasting and sales room is geodesic-dome modern…

but the orchards are full of traditional apple varieties specifically meant for cider production.

I fall in love with the simplicity of the Wild Ferment offering — an apple variety dating back to the 1550s, wild fermented — and buy a bottle. (I shall finish this post, and pour myself a glass.)

One cannot live by premium beef, lamb, wine and cider alone; one also needs a face-full of chips etc. at a local diner. We visit the K Mountain Diner, in Keremeos…

where we place our order with a rainbow-bright young waitress and appreciate the posy of Community Garden flowers while we wait.

Eat enough chips, and you need some exercise, right?

We hit the KVR Trail. One astoundingly small portion of the Trail, mind you, since this repurposed Kettle Valley Railway trackbed runs more than 600 km between Hope and Midway. Not much grade to it, but serious length and challenging trestles & tunnels along the way.

Big views, more big-sky Alberta Moments for me, spiked path-side with tall spears of mullein…

and a very local, very site-specific view of a kettle pond (i.e. fed from underground, with no surface in- or outflow).

The pond attracts birds, and birders. We talk with a local enthusiast, hear about the Sandhill Crane that has, exceptionally, been spotted in the area.

Some slightly wobbly out-buildings near the road farther along, looking picturesque as all-get-out but needing serious attention if they are ever again to serve any purpose.

Then again, sometimes picturesque is enough.

This battered old cowboy boot has already served two purposes:

once on somebody’s foot, and later rescued from a thrift shop to serve as prop in an elaborate Hallowe’en scenario just last year.

(Yay! Post is complete. On to my glass of Wild Ferment.)

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.


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.

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.

Rock, Water, Ice, Sky, Fir Trees

15 September 2022 — The basics. Rock + water + ice + sky + fir trees. The elements of our journey from Banff to Jasper, and then from Jasper to Prince George.

Almost to Prince George. You’ll see.

Banff – Jasper

Lake Minnewanka, with all those elements in play, plus freedom to scuba dive.

Dams twice raised the level of this glacial lake, once in 1912 & again in 1941. This created additional hydro-power as desired, but in the process first submerged the indigenous community on the original shores and subsequently the first dam and bridge pilings as well. I can imagine the attraction of hovering over all this drowned history, but still find it somehow disrespectful.

Bow Lake next, again all those elements. (Minus scuba diving.)

And oh, that sky.

Again and again, fir trees against folds of rock, against the sky.

Also again and again, water falling across rock, through trees.


Joining many others, we ride specialized vehicles up onto Athabasca Glacier, on the Columbia Icefield. I was last here 39 years ago, when the glacier was larger and the human presence much smaller. Parks Canada suggests the ice is receding some 5 metres a year, while aggressive new management of the site now shuttles very large numbers of people up and down again in rapid succession. (Note I am not suggesting the latter causes the former; just saying that they co-exist and I don’t like either.)

This photo therefore, while un-retouched, is also misleading. Had I spun on my heel, I would have shown you the mob scene at my back.

Back at the Discovery Centre I queue for coffee. It gives me time to contemplate this sign on the countertop — one I am to see it frequently, over the next few days. Very literally a sign of our times.

Let us agree that kindness is, or should be, as elemental as rock/water/ice/sky/fir trees.

Back to our own little van, on to Athabasca Falls.

Lots of rock. Lots of, specifically, Gog quartzite rock, the hardest rock in this region’s geology. It means that when the Athabasca Valley Glacier inched over this cliff during the last glaciation, the rock was not pulverized.


it broke off in great chunks.

I love this. I am mesmerized.

We then follow the Athabasca River, on to Jasper.

We may be stopping for the night, but the river has barely begun. It rises on the Icefield and then makes its way north for some 1,538 km. Over that long journey, its waters empty first into Lake Athabasca, then into Great Slave Lake in the NWT, on into the Mackenzie River and, finally, into the Arctic Ocean.

Jasper-Prince George

A civilized start, 9-ish in the morning, with female elk grazing at the highway sign…

and a smoke-hazed sun rising above the mountains. (No worse than haze. The town is safe.)

We take a cruise on Maligne Lake. Not a mob scene! A modest boat for our modest number — though there is nothing at all modest about the world that surrounds us.

We hear about the French missionary who didn’t believe the indigenous people’s warning that a water crossing in this system was treacherous. When, mid-crossing, the priest lost all his possessions and nearly his life, he proclaimed these waters to be truly evil, truly malignant.

The name stuck.

You may well have seen a variation of the next photo, which I take when we stop at a point that allows us to approach Spirit Island on-shore. (It is in fact a peninsula except for a few high-water weeks a year.) This site was a two-month Kodak publicity poster in Grand Central Station in 1960, an iPad promotion photo in 2014, and on and on around the world, now whirling on social media as well.

Here you are, my very own 2022 version.

I like Maligne Lake a lot but, predictably for me, given that I’m a fool for rock, I like Maligne Canyon even more.

Look at it!

We follow a short trail, just over 2 klicks. It is mostly downhill, but with plenty of pay-attention-to-your-feet moments along the way. When not watching our feet, we yet again look down into the canyon, and yet again engage with rock, water, fir trees and sky.

Back into British Columbia.

Somewhere near that provincial boundary, we have also crossed the Triple Continental Divide. From a point on the south slope of Snow Dome, part of the Columbia Icefield, waters flow west to the Pacific, east to the Atlantic and (witness the Athabasca River) north to the Arctic Ocean.

We are not at any of those end points.

We are next at the Parks Canada visitor centre on Mount Robson. As it turns out, this is the only time on our trip that we will see a moose — and here a whole succession of them hang on the wall facing the toilets.

“Are you as big as a moose?” asks the poster.

Turns out I am, in moose height, about 6 months old (153-168 cm).

Outdoors, I admire as much of the Mount Robson complex as clouds allow us to see — and discover that this shiny picnic grounds spiral is neither a sculpture not the side wall of a children’s slide.

It is a climbing wall, where people heading up the mountain can test their skills.

We are not heading up the mountain. We are driving to Prince George.

While still some 120 km east of Prince George, we stop to walk the boardwalk in British Columbia’s newest park, the Ancient Forest / Chun T’oh Whudujut Provincial Park. It protects a small portion of the world’s only inland temperate rainforest, signage tells us, and the boardwalk leads us past thousand-year-old western red cedars.

We have left the world of hard-edged beauty, and re-entered a world where rock is softened with the textures of moss and lichen.

Tonight, Prince George. Tomorrow, Prince Rupert and the Pacific Ocean.

Fire and Water

11 September 2022 – It started with fire, on Friday the 9th, and the threat of more to come.

I’m passing through Hope, BC, with 10 other people — nine fellow tour members and one Discover Canada van driver. It is more specifically a caffeine stop, since we left Canada Place in downtown Vancouver at 7 a.m. and have been driving east since then.

A wonderful trip, two days into it I know I chose well. We will spend 11 days looping north-east through Kelowna to Banff; farther north but now west to Jasper; even farther north and even more west through Prince George to Prince Rupert back on the coast; then south (thank you BC Ferries) down the Inside Passage to Vancouver Island; yet more south down the island; and finally one more ferry loop and short drive home to Vancouver.

All those mountains, all that coast, it promises to be spectacular. For me, it means some new territory and lots of revisits to much-loved territory from decades back.

For all of us, whatever our background and experience, it means the sombre reality of travelling toward areas affected by wildfire.

And so, post-lattes, we stand on the banks of the Fraser River, looking across to the plumes of smoke from the wildfire discovered at 3 a.m. that very morning.

We watch three helicopters shuttling back and forth between the river and the fire, dropping their water buckets into the Fraser and then emptying them on the blaze. We’re in Banff, two days later, before we learn how viciously the fire continues to spread.

Saturday morning has us climbing through the arid landscape east of Kelowna. Below us, Kalamalka Lake in the Coldstream Valley. I wow at the big vista, but my heart loves the snake fence even more. (Memories of small childhood, and rural Quebec fields.)

On up, on east, a moment at the cairn for the Last Spike in Craigellachie, BC — the literal final spike that on 7 November 1885 “welded East to West” by joining the two concurrently built sections of the cross-country Canadian Pacific Railway. The human cost, we now acknowledge, was horrific (labour safety was unknown, and the dynamite teams of Chinese labourers imported for the purpose suffered most of all) — yet it is equally true that the engineering feat, given the terrain and the technology of the day, was extraordinary. Both true. And both now finally acknowledged.

And up some more. Another brief stop in the Rogers Pass (elevation 1,330 m.), an avalanche-prone area that now uses avalanche guns to trigger dangerous loads rather than wait for a potentially deadly surprise. I circle the avalanche guns on display at the Parks Canada site …

but spend longer contemplating the office windows full of red “restricted activity” notices. All because of wildfires.

And higher still. We’re now following the Kicking Horse River and somewhere in here cross both the BC/Alberta border and the Continental Divide. We’re at some 1,600 m. elevation and the river through the van window has the exaggerated winding loops of rivers at height of land.

It’s late afternoon by the time we reach Lake Louise, but it is also a sunny, abnormally warm Saturday afternoon, — and good grief, we might as well be jostling through the Louvre, straining for a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. All those decades ago when I lived in Calgary and could bop up to Lake Louise on a whim, I tell myself, it was not this crowded. And then I slap down my Old Fart tendencies, my Good Old Days tendences, and…

fall under the lake’s spell one more time. Because it is stunning. “Rock flour” created by glaciers grinding against bedrock hangs suspended in the water, reflecting the light and creating the glowing blues and turquoise.

I’m glad I saw it again, even if it did involve dodging & weaving along the pathways. It conjures not just summer memories, but also memories of being part of the media horde invited up to celebrate the winter reopening of Chateau Lake Louise. I’ve skated there, I think fondly to myself, as I turn to leave.

And then somewhere new: Moraine Lake. How could I have lived in Calgary, and never visited it? Doesn’t matter, I am here now. It is higher than Lake Louise, smaller, and, for me, more captivating. Perhaps because I’ve never seen it before? And the crowds are so much thinner?

I stand at one end, looking past the moraine (rock rubble deposited by glaciers) that gives it its name, and the equally trademark log jams, to the lake itself. Oh, that glowing blue water!

I have to read the signs, to learn about that log jam. Simple, once you know: winter avalanches sweep trees down onto ice-covered lakes; spring melt causes the logs to drift to the stream outlet and jam into place.

I walk farther down the lake, as I had done at Lake Louise, again marvelling at the colours. Perhaps because we are closer to sunset, everything seems to glow more intensely. I am caught both by the mountain reflections into the water, and by that final horizontal slash of intense turquoise, ‘way down there at the far end.

Which comes back to mind — though not immediately — the next day.

That’s today, Sunday, here in Banff.

I go for a nostalgic early-ish morning stroll along Banff Ave., eyeing past a wooden mother/cub carving to Mount Rundle, anchoring the village as it always has.

There is haze. We are aware of the Jasper wildfires to the north-west. So much water in our travels, these last few days, but, always, out there in the larger context, fire.

A morning tour: quick stop at the turreted and surreal splendour of the Banff Springs Hotel, a CPR hotel built in the 1880s in deliberate imitation of royal castles, in order to lure monied aristocratic visitors and start recouping some of the costs of railway construction. (“If we can’t export the scenery,” snapped Van Horne, entrepreneur behind the railway, “we will import the visitors.”)

And on to Bow Falls, tumbling water into Bow River that will make its way through Calgary and beyond. I climb to the lookout, listen to the glorious white noise of the rushing water and suddenly snap back from that near-meditative state to instead focus on the hard dynamics of rock and water. Great long spines of rock, vertebra upon vertebra, all laced together with water.

Another view of the Bow River a little later, looking down into the valley and picking out the Hoo Doos — the grey needles of harder rock exposed when the softer sedimentary layer is worn away.

There are the Hoo Doos, just mid-right in the photo, and, beyond that, the whole great sweep as the river courses on down through the valley.

I visit it yet again, this time on the section of the Bow Trail that follows its course within Banff itself.

I take this photo for all those iconic symbols smack on top of each other: turquoise water and trail bikes and canoes and, visible through the leaves, a Canadian flag. I don’t yet know that the canoes in this image — like my shot of Moraine Lake with its hard slash of turquoise — will soon take on extra meaning.

Very soon.

I follow a short-cut from the Trail to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, and tumble in the door, eager for whatever they choose to show me. I loved this museum when I lived in Calgary, I loved it during a visit in my Toronto years, and I love the fact I am right now about to visit it again.

Along with the permanent exhibits, there is a special exhibit simply titled Canoe. It presents paintings and 3D objects that trace the history of the canoe over 200 years, right from an 1820 watercolour to a 2018 acrylic. (Visit it yourself, for 3 minutes, with a CBC reporter.)

I love lots of what I see in this show, including Inuit carvings and folk art and a superb small study by Alex Colville and works by a range of other significant artists. However, it is a 1923 oil (Against the Current, Thomas Wilberforce Mitchell) of two men poling a canoe through some rapids that suddenly makes this show not just canoe history, not just Canadian history, but my own history as well.

My father spent two university summers in the late 1920s on a small survey team that paddled the rivers of northern Saskatchewan for four months straight each year, their days in canoes and their nights in tents. My dad was proud of his ability to run rapids in a canoe, but (he wrote in his diary) he was awe-struck at the poling technique used by their Chippewa support team. They taught him, he practised, and he was as proud of that new skill as he was of his ability to handle the cumbersome survey equipment of the day.

That oil is my nostalgia moment; this acrylic is my right-now moment.

Summer Drift, 2018, by David Thauberger, has me jabbing my finger mid-air, the way we do when something really stops us in our tracks. Look! I breathe to myself. I see not just a canoe, an object of pure and perfect design… but, look, there are the horizontal slashes of turquoise water, bands of them in the distance, that I had seen at Moraine Lake.

So I come away from the show full of joy.

And I am subsequently sobered. A text from our tour guide advises us that yes, we will proceed to Jasper on Monday, despite continuing wildfires in the area. The town itself is safe, it largely once again has power, and the hotel wants us to come. But… they only have cold water. Be advised.

Nobody whines. Lack of hot water is nothing, compared to the devastation caused for others (human and wildlife). Had we been asked to stay away, we would have done so. Since we have been asked to honour the reservation, we will. It is their decision that our (and others’) arrival will help them recover, and that makes it the right thing to do.

Tomorrow, Jasper.

… And the Edge of the Tracks

26 July 2022 – It couldn’t look more different, but this is the continuation of the walk that took us along the edge of Coal Harbour. I left you with those not-polite Canadians (feathered variety) at the Convention Centre — but I kept on walking.

On east into Gastown, following an alley squeezed between Water St. and the train tracks.

No more sparkling water, foliage, gamboling doggies, and cafés to tempt their owners and the rest of us.

Instead, the grit of an alley. Showing not its Water St. Gastown-tourist face, but its back-door strictly functional face. And displaying, in the process, powerful graphics. Once again, geometry at work. I’m captivated by the lines and curves, but I don’t romanticize them.

This is a DTES (Downtown East Side) alley, and it is not romantic. While I tilt my head in appreciation of a spiral staircase (below), three bicycle paramedics roll by on one of their regular overdose patrols.

Both/and, eh? The reality of those paramedics, but also the reality of these bold lines that make me tug my camera out of my back pocket once again.

The spiral, the verticals, the punch of yellow, the graffiti…

the stark “H” of this (I think) loading dock & the inadvertent colour-blocking all around…

the angles of the window security bars…

some zig-zag…

and gleaming loops of razor wire…

that ground a perfectly framed vertical to the sky.

And then I put my camera away. I really, truly do.

The Edge of Coal Harbour

19 July 2022 – The “edge,” both in geography and in time. In geography, because I walk the northern boundary of this neighbourhood, eastward along the Burrard Inlet sea wall from Stanley Park to Canada Place. In time, because here I am for just a few hours, one afternoon in 2022, on territory that has been inhabited for millennia.

Not that I have such lofty thoughts in mind as I jump off the #19 bus at West Georgia Street and cut down through Devonian Harbour Park to the water. I’m just out for a walk. This mini-park, smack at the eastern limit of Stanley Park, seems the perfect starting point for an agreeable afternoon in the semi-sunshine.

Pleasure + frustration as I go. I can find no ID for this dramatic sculpture…

neither in the park nor later online. Grrr.

Vancouver, like everywhere else, is opening up again. Cruise ships are back, and so are movie crews. A seaplane drops noisily over a marina as it streaks toward the Harbour Flight Centre beyond…

while we obedient pedestrians below halt in our tracks, obeying the director’s call to “Stand still please, for just one more take.”

I’m enjoying sights & sounds as I go — the activities & lingo of dogs/gulls/ravens/seaplanes/people. I’m not snagged by the historic depth of the area until I stop to read some of the inscriptions on & beside the Coal Harbour Fellowship Bell. It honours, say the plaques, the people & companies who made the industrial marine history of this area, 1890-1979.

Then & later, I learn a little more. First inhabitants, the Squamish First Nation, millennia ago; first settlers (i.e. non-indigenous) in the early 1860s, drawn by the discovery of low-grade coal. The coal never led to anything much, but the 1884 decision by the CPR to make this the railway’s western terminus launched a near-century of industrial activity: sawmills, warehouses, shipping piers, and — as that engraved bell reminds us — a long history of shipyards, engine & propeller shops and all the other trades & services that built & repaired Vancouver’s fishing & tugboat fleets.

‘Round about here, I start playing peek-a-boo with a big cluster of red container cranes some three kilometres or so farther east — just past Canada Place, marking both the planned end of my walk and one of the terminals within the Port of Vancouver.

Ignore the bench-sitter, the jogger with wonky left knee, the dogs, the kids. Follow Purple Hoodie Lady’s right arm. She is, inadvertently but accurately, pointing to the “giraffes” (a friend once called them that; I still do), the cranes whose long necks stretch high above the busy dance of ships & containers below.

I now find myself looking for them at each turn in my walk.

Sometimes prominent across open water, in spikey contrast to the bulk of the cruise ship…

and sometimes hard to distinguish — the merest scribble of one more silhouette above the rows of boats & houseboats in Coal Harbour Marina, who in turn are dwarfed by city towers beyond.

I look landward as well. This construction site sinks my heart as I imagine some monstrous tower, right at water’s edge…

and then I read the signage.

Coal Harbour Phase 2, it tells me, will provide an elementary school, daycare centre and 60 affordable [sic] family-sized rental units, in a complex designed to quality for LEED and Passive House certification.

Art work, here in Harbour Green Park, that I can identify. (Thank you, signage.)

Light Shed, by Liz Magor, is a half-scale replica of the freight shed that was located on the Vancouver City Wharf here in Coal Harbour, about a century ago.

(See the giraffes? We’re getting closer…)

Water fountains add sparkle to a café beyond…

and water provides liquid tarmac for the seaplanes that come & go from the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre.

(Another hit of that cruise ship beyond. And the giraffes.)

I’m almost at my end point, almost at Canada Place, walking my way around the West Convention Centre building toward Bon Voyage Plaza.

All along the railings, signage to teach us a little more about the natural and human histories of the area. Some I pass by; a few I scan for key phrases; and one stops me flat. Because… look at the power of that gaze.

Meet Lucille Johnstone, whom I had never heard of, but who for good reason is saluted here as Queen of the River. A high school grad, she began as receptionist for a little company called River Towing, and soon was its one-woman office staff. I could go on about what happened next, but instead I’ll let you read it directly, the same way I did.

I think this is terrific, I think she is terrific, and I love the further detail that explains the funny little tugboat next to her photo. When the Vancouver Airport authorities wanted to name something in her honour, as a tribute to her service as a member of the board, she requested it be something fun for children. Which is why that tugboat was built, and installed on the Departure Level.

More art just off the corner of Bon Voyage Plaza, and a whole different mood and style than the tugboat.

Twenty metres of bright blue raindrop, named (of course) The Drop, created by a Berlin collective known as Inges Idee. I’ve always loved it — simple, graphic, perfect scale for its location, perfect image for its physical environment.

And now, finally, here I am.

I have walked around the edge of the Convention Centre, then around the high edge of Canada Place, and I am about to drop down the staircase on the eastern side to ground level. I am as close to the giraffes as I’m going to get. There they are — just beyond that SeaBus shuttle route between Waterfront Station this side of Burrard Inlet and Lonsdale Quay over in North Van.

I put away my camera. All done. Then I take it out again, because I have to show you this.

World, you have been warned.

Wall Art

8 July 2022 – Nature’s art, thrown against downtown walls.

Alley walls, to be precise, with exuberant clusters of wildflowers sprawling against the fences & concrete barriers that divide them from Polite Society — but also showcase them so beautifully.

Like this…

and this…

and this…

and this.

Then I’m out of the alley, looping back east along West 6th — and, suddenly, the wall itself is the art.

And surely the work of some human hand? A wall-to-wall, ground-to-roof triumph of delicate pointillist tracery — perhaps a precursor of our Mural Festival yet to come?

But no.

The art is on the wall, but it is nature’s art after all.

The Ghost of Ivy Past.

Yaletown: art & history & life & even buttercups

18 June 2022 – Well, that title is a big promise but the City’s Yaletown Art Walking Tour delivers as promised, yes it does. So lace up your imaginary boots, and away we go.

The loop is just 3 km long, from green-go to red-stop, but it circles us around downtown streets and the north shore of False Creek, with reminders all along the way of the past that informs our present.

This area has been home to indigenous peoples for millennia, and to settlers since the late-ish 19th century. It gained this name after the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) finally crossed the entire country, and then relocated its construction equipment & repair shops from the community of Yale in the Fraser Canyon to the railway’s new western terminus in Vancouver.

This area, therefore, now gentrifying at a bright glossy pace, is built on a history of long maritime use and more recent, but intense, industrial use. Public art references all that history, and picks up on modern concerns.

I walk the loop, but not quite exactly as shown. Since I arrive by Skytrain (“M” on the map), I’m already launched on the tour and skip the Roundhouse Community Centre starting point. That makes me also skip the tour’s first example of public art, but I substitute my own: the Blossom Umbrellas once again blooming in Bill Curtis Plaza next to Skytrain.

After that I do what the tour tells me to do. I make discoveries in the process, since I’ve never before walked this bit of territory just east of the station. First stop, Leaf Pond (aka Big Leaf), at the N/E intersection of Cambie & Pacific Blvd. I think this is the work of Barbara Steinman, but couldn’t quite pin it down.

I move in close. Indeed a leaf, indeed a pond — and I wish I still had the nimble legs to dance me down the leaf’s central vein.

But I don’t! So I prudently admire it from the sidewalk, and walk on.

The next work of art is anonymous — and that’s sort of the point. It is an 8-metre high gear salvaged from the swing span of an earlier Cambie Bridge (1911-1984), mounted here as Ring Geer, in tribute to all the workers and all the bridges that have served this part of town.

A bit farther east, and it’s time to turn south through Coopers Mews, leading me to False Creek. Coopers and the barrels they created were important to the area’s industrial strength, and an installation by the same name, Coopers Mews (by Alan Storey), honours that history.

The punctuation mark for the whole installation — of course — is five wooden barrels.

This brings us to the Seawall along the northern shore of False Creek, just west of the current Cambie Bridge. Surprisingly this art tour does not point out a significant work of art, on the very pillars of the bridge itself.

See? Those blue stripes, titled A False Creek (by Rhonda Weppler & Trevor Mahovsky), mark the 4-6 metre rise in water level now anticipated because of climate change. Even though not part of this walking tour, this installation is featured in another online brochure of public art in the area. It’s worth the click.

Westward ho, everybody, on along the pedestrian path that borders False Creek. For a while, the railing that separates us from the street above is itself a work of art: Lookout (by Christos Dikeakos & Notel Best). Words & phrases remind us of the layers of natural and industrial history that underlie what we enjoy today.

“Million and millions of herring” … “Acres of ducks” … “fish stories” …

Down at the foot of Davie Street, the soaring I-beam towers of Street Light (by Alan Tregebov & Bernie Miller)…

with texts incised into each limestone base that evoke another vignette, another moment, for our imaginations to relive.

Soon after, one of my favourite Seawall signs. Not part of the official tour, of course not, but it’s part of my tour. Pedestrian and cyclist paths run side-by-side, and this sign urges us all to pay attention.

Duly attentive, we walk on. This next installation, running from Davie Street on west to the foot of Drake, is a good example of “I don’t much like it but I’m glad it’s there.” Welcome to the Land of Light (by Henry Tsang) consists of words/phrases in both English and Chinook (a trading jargon of the day), all along the shoreline railing.

No, I don’t much like it as art, but yes I’m glad it’s there — both because public art should have a broader range than my own personal taste, and also because I suspect it’s the kind of work that seeps into your consciousness over time, and enriches you in the process.

Next up, something I do like very much, though I can’t say I understand it. (As if that mattered…) The Proud Youth (by Chen Wenling) came to us courtesy of the Vancouver Biennale. I remember heading for it, that first time, expecting to giggle. Instead, I admired it. Still do.

On again, more installations I love to revisit. We’re taking the long approach, lots of time to anticipate what we’ll see as we follow the curve of David Lam Park.

Track that line of stones to the point where the shoreline veers sharply left. See the circle of rocks? Good. Now track left, past that B&W pedestrian couple, to the circle of pillars topped by a ring . Good.

Those are a pair of sister installations, by Vancouverite Don Vaughan, landscape architect and artist. The first, Waiting for Low Tide

is complemented by the second, Marking High Tide. Vaughan also wrote the short poem incised into that upper ring: “The moon circles the earth and the ocean responds with the rhythm of the tides.”

The rhythm at the moment is such that there is no water to be seen — but yes, the tide washes in and out, and the dance continues.

I promised you buttercups! They’re all over the place at the moment, all that bright cheerful energy smacking your eye at every turn. We’re now climbing the steps up out of David Lam Park back to Pacific Blvd, and buttercups fill the slopes.

I like the sight of that guy over there — back to a tree, at peace in the sunshine with his iPad. Just one more of all the people enjoying this place, in all their different ways.

City pavement now, north side of Pacific Blvd between Homer & Drake. The pavement design is pleasing in and of itself…


but there’s more to it than contrasting colours & herringbone pattern. This stretch, running along an ancient shoreline & punningly titled Footnotes (by Gwen Boyle), features 57 inset granite markers. Most are just a word or two — “Salmon Weir,” “Mussels,” “Beached,” “Hello,” “Shore Line” — but a few say more.

My favourite: this 1967 poem by poet & novelist (& GG Award-winner) Earle Birney, about a walk he took at the mouth of False Creek.

End of the walk, the loop now looped, we drop into the south plaza of Roundhouse Community Centre. The tour instructs us to notice the installation Terra Nova (by Richard Prince) on both the ground and the wall behind.

There it is. But what I like even more is the life all around it.

Here in the foreground, that man belting along on his tricycle (with walking poles stowed behind), and there in the background, close to the wall, a bride and her attendants, posing for post-wedding photographs.

Art, history, life and buttercups.


    "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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