Lions? No. Sisters!

29 November 2018 – My original plan, some 20 minutes ago, was just to get all goofy wide-eyed about clouds on mountains. Two photos; hello/good-bye.

But then … I got drawn in.

Backstory is that I have just moved within the city and now have an even more stunning view north across downtown Vancouver to the magnificent Coast Range Mountains beyond — mountains that rise in southwestern Yukon and then trace their way south through the Alaska Panhandle and down the  B.C. coast right to the Fraser River.

The cloud formations here are a daily wonder, dancing with the mountains whatever the weather or time of day. They humble my camera; they humble my vocabulary.

A little earlier this afternoon, from my balcony …

Then I shifted my angle ever so slightly to the west, and captured those two iconic mountain peaks, the peaks that say: Vancouver.

Of course! The Lions!

If you know anything about Vancouver geography and skyline, you know that. As Wikipedia points out:

The Lions are a pair of pointed peaks (West Lion – 1,646 m (5,400 ft);[1] East Lion – 1,606 m (5,269 ft))[2] along the North Shore Mountains in Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They can be seen from much of the Greater Vancouver area, as far as Robert Burnaby Park in East Burnaby, south to parts of Surrey, and from the west on the Howe Sound Islands and the Sunshine Coast. Along with the Lions Gate Bridge named in their honour, these twin summits have become one of the most recognizable Vancouver landmarks. The city’s BC Lions CFL football team is also named in their honour. Lions Gate Entertainment which was founded in Vancouver in July, 1997 is also named for the peaks.

(An aside: Having just made my first-ever donation to the not-for-profit Wikimedia Foundation, I feel entitled to quote verbatim.)

But here’s the catch. “The Lions” is just our — the outsiders’ — name for these peaks. They are known to the indigenous peoples here, the Haida and the Squamish, as the “Twin Sisters.”

Wikipedia picks up the story:

The Indigenous Squamish people named these two prominent peaks “Ch’ich’iyúy Elxwíkn” (translates as ‘Twin Sisters’). These mountains remain sacred for their legal marker of a peace treaty, family lineage histories, and spiritual value. The two peaks were transformed by the Sky Brothers, or Transformers, after twin sisters that had married with Haida twins created the path for the war to end between the Squamish and Haida people. The families that made the Peace Treaty and married together still live in the Squamish and Haida Nations.

The peaks received their English name in the 1890s, Wikipedia goes on to explain, when Judge John Hamilton Gray proposed they be renamed something classier, something … heraldic. Result: lions couchant.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re right.

But the Twin Sisters legend reached our English ears anyway.

Canadian poet E. Pauline Johnson (1861-1913), of Mohawk and English descent, spent her last years in Vancouver and heard this legend, among others, from Chief Mathias Joe. She wrote it down as “The Two Sisters” and included it in her book, Legends of Vancouver, published in 1911 by McClelland and Stewart.

Please spend a moment with that cover art. It is the work of another Canadian icon, J.E.H. MacDonald, a founding member of the Group of Seven.

I am equally impressed by the images for the 2016 reissue of the legend.

This time it has been published as a children’s book by Strong Nations (“We bring indigenous books into your lives”), with drawings by B.C. artist Sandra Butt.

If you now want to hear this legend for yourself, here it is — of course — on You Tube.

I now see these peaks as the Two Sisters, and I honour them as a tribute to strong women, making peace.



Bears & Beaches, in North Vancouver

19 April, 2014 — I firmly believe that every place has its own beauty. If you sulk at the Prairies for not having mountain grandeur, for example, you’ll miss their own grandeur — that great rolling sweep to the horizon, under an infinite sky.

Even so, even so, there is something really special about the beauty of the B.C. coast.

I’m thinking about this as I set out for a Saturday morning two-phase walk in North Vancouver. Late afternoon I’ll be at the joyous family wedding that brought me west in the first place, but there’s time this morning for a quick loop on Mount Seymour, just behind Sally & Owen’s place, and a visit to the neighbouring community of Deep Cove.

First stop, the nearest street corner, for a sign that seems so out of place among these placid, homey bungalows.

Indian Trail Cres & Indian Trail Rd

But then look around, recognize you are on the street immediately bordering a trail into Mount Seymour Provincial Park, which sweeps thick and deep on up the mountain behind you — and, yes, the sign makes perfect sense.

(I once emailed Sally a photo of a raccoon sleeping in my birdbath. She replied with a photo of a black bear pillaging their bird feeder.)

I step between two homes onto the trail, into the woods, and suburbia falls away.

near Mount Seymour Provincial Park

Sunlight angles through the trees, creates momentary drama, and moves on. It’s a whole son et lumière performance, I realize: the shifting light dances to a backbeat of thudding woodpeckers and scolding red squirrels.

You have to look down, as well as all around.

mushroom log, Mt Seymour

I step into the shadowed forest cover for  closer look. Daisies? No, says Man-with-Dog, who stops to see what has caught my attention. Not daisies: tiny white mushrooms. And so they are.

Fleecy moss trails from tree branches just ahead, shimmering in the sunlight.

on Mount Seymour

It’s only 8:30 or so in the morning, but by the time I reach Old Buck Trail Head, the parking lot is rapidly filling with eager hikers. I turn back, collect my own car, and head for Deep Cove.

It’s the easternmost community at the eastern edge of North Vancouver, bounded to the south by Burrard Inlet and to the east by Indian Arm, components of the complex waterways twisting in from the Pacific Ocean that make this coastline such a jigsaw puzzle… and so achingly beautiful.

I know I’ll eventually walk along Deep Cove itself — nature’s Deep Cove, that is, the town’s defining waterfront — but first I follow a tangle of residential side-streets out of sheer curiosity. I find myself at a wooden stairway down to Indian Arm, and drop into a mini-parkette, slivered between two rather grand  homes.

Dollar Rd Park, Deep Cove

Here’s what I mean by “grand”: this pier is not part of the park, it belongs to the adjacent private property. But a cat can look at a king, and I can look at a private pier. I can also rock-walk my way closer, and peer between its struts.

view southward in Indian Arm

And I can turn around, look northward down Indian Arm…

northward in Indian Arm, nr Deep Cove

… and, picking my way back to the wooden steps, I can admire shells and seaweed caught in nature’s own still life.

on Dollar Rd Park beach

The town’s main commercial street leads you to Deep Cove and to Deep Cove Park, tucked neatly all around the the cove’s crescent shoreline. The whole area is  alive with boats, kayaks, hikers, dog-walkers, giggling teens and peaceful onlookers, heavy-lidded in the morning warmth and sunlight.

Deep Cove

I’m by the water, hear some whooping, look around… and there they are. Not Maori, not a haka, but doing their white, middle-aged-lady best to stir our blood along with their own.

kayak ladies warm-ups, Deep Cove

Warm-ups before a kayaking expedition!

A trim, glossy-haired 20-Something is watching them too. She is transfixed, dog leash to her impatient pooch slack in her hand. We catch each other’s eye, she crinkles up her face at me in delight. We agree. We are sort of amused, but also really, really impressed.

Several kayak rental shops here, kayaks laid out in clusters along the shore.

waiting kayaks on Deep Cove shoreline

I buy a latte, return to the shoreline, see a lifeguard perch flaming red in the sunlight, want a photo. And that would have been fine: a strong, angular focal point for a shot of boats, drooping tree branches and glinting water.

All good. But… generic, yes?

Then it becomes specific, and delightful.

on Deep Cove Park beach


That’s what it needed! Some real-life, boyish delight, hurling itself at the challenge. I watch a moment as he wriggles successfully to the lower platform, squirms across it on his belly, twists to U-turn his way upward to the higher platform. By now his father is hovering, but not — and I admire this — interfering. He lets the kid test his skills, and have a triumph.

It’s time to go, I have things to do. One last look back at the cove.

Deep Cove, on a sunny April morning

Enchanting, but I leave, and I’m fine with that.

Because soon I’ll be at the wedding, where the sun shines and the bride glows and her dad almost loses it in his toast to his beloved daughter and we are all happy together. It’s why I’m here.


    "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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