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…

xm

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.

Five Blocks, 20 Minutes, One Morning

11 June 2022 – A subset of a longer walk home, and, as I wheel left onto West 11th Ave. from Yukon Street, I realize I’m on something close to auto-pilot. I have walked here before, and, even though I am in British Columbia, home of dramatic vistas, there is nothing even remotely dramatic about what’s on offer here.

It’s comfy/relaxed/family-residential all through this neighbourhood, nothing grander than that — though also affluent, one must add, because otherwise you don’t live in a detached home in this city. But it’s low-key, and it’s friendly, and I’m not here to pick a fight.

I decide to observe, really pay attention & observe, this specific five-block micro-culture, this specific June morning, as I spent 20 minutes or so walking east from Yukon to Main Street.

Distinctly amateur, but cheerful (& cheerfully punning) artwork pinned to a hydro pole…

yet another fairy garden at the base of a sidewalk tree…

eco-protest (speaking of “Fairy”) signage…

and beautifully maintained pre-1930s homes whose front porches and wide front steps welcome neighbourly interaction.

I think most of these homes are variations of Craftsman style (check your own impressions on the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s house styles webpage), though gingerbread-y flourishes on this house…

make me wonder if it’s earlier, perhaps Victorian. I don’t know, don’t hugely care; I just like the friendly mood, both hardscape & softscape, that dominates the street.

There are poppies & rustic swing gates…

rhodos & security plaques (friendly, yes; na├»ve, no)…

a canoe poised for adventure…

and a car-share vehicle and a rubber-tire swing, each poised for its own next adventure as well.

There are bike-only lanes on cross-streets, framed by more poppies and (again, I think) Cow Parsnip…

and, right at Main, giant asparagus.

This is one of my favourite murals. Because: (1) it is by Emily Gray, a local graphic artist who several years ago led a group of us on a terrific street-art tour; and (2) it offers an artist’s version of my “Cambie Loop” walk — west along the far side of False Creek from Science World (that white dome) to the Cambie Bridge, over the bridge, and back east along this near side.

Alas… While I encounter bikes, skate-boards and dragon boats a-plenty on this walk, I have yet to see any giant asparagus.

I live in hope.

Mood Swings

30 March 2022 – Not my mood, you understand.

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

From gritty-graphic …

to a juxtapositional joke …

from nature’s beauty, among the trees …

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

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

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

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

others recommend an attitude.

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

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

And … I … just … breathe.

Optimism

21 February 2022 – I look at this front yard ensemble, everything still so bedraggled …

and I think: Ohhhhh, it’s not spring yet.

But spring is coming — less than a month away. (Less by only 1 day, but I’ll take it.)

And signs of vernal optimism are everywhere.

New plantings are being dug into this sidewalk wheelbarrow on West 10th …

crocuses & snowdrops have jumped up among the ferns, just opposite …

and Whole Foods has refreshed the panels of its living wall just off Cambie Street.

Even this faery-tree tableau lives up to the optimism theme …

though I have to lean in close & read the fine print, to notice it.

Now, that is optimism.

Sun, Fog, Fog, Fog

25 January 2022 – Bouncing sunbeams Saturday morning, as we bounce off to Blackie Spit Park. It is at the tip of Crescent Beach, a sandspit that extends into Mud Bay, itself an extension of Boundary Bay in South Surrey.

Hardly a muddy bay today! Everything sparkles, from the water right before us to the snowy North Shore Mountains in the distance.

Sparkling water in the canal as well, with (I think) American Wigeon ducks paddling their way toward that red cabin beside the controls that regulate water levels.

That was Saturday.

Sunday morning, and, yes, the forecast was right. Dense fog hovers over the Lower Mainland and is expected to last for several days, with periods of “near zero” visibility.

Car headlights peer through the murk on Main Street; black crows, doing their westward morning commute, blend into the sky.

And one guy, presumably, says “Sod it!” and turns back east. Maybe home to his Burnaby roost, where he will tuck his head under his wing and sleep away the day?

I am made of sterner stuff. I’m off to Campbell Valley Regional Park in Langley — much larger than Saturday’s park, with 29 km of sprawling trails looped through the valley and around Little Campbell River.

It’s a study in up-close clarity, and misty fog beyond.

The moss pops colour — was ever green so green? — but all is steely-grey just beyond those trees.

Like Blackie Spit (which is on the Pacific Flyway), this Campbell Valley park is a haven for birdlife. I know about Wood Ducks …

but I am introduced to west-coast varieties of species I only know in their eastern versions. The Chestnut-Backed Chickadee, for example, and the Spotted Towhee. Perhaps the Fox Sparrow as well, but my companion is as scrupulous as he is knowledgeable, and cautions he is not quite sure about that one.

Don’t care. Don’t need to know all the names. It’s all splendid, just as it is.

Ultimately we’re on the Shaggy Mane Trail, shared by humans and horses. Neither of us knows anything about horses, but they are well-behaved and their riders courteous, and we are perfectly happy to step aside and admire them as they clip-clop past.

Monday: foggy.

Late Tuesday morning: still foggy.

Even deep downtown.

Alchemy

25 October 2021 – Alchemy.

Alchemy, overhead.

Gold by day…

and…

silver by night.

Along the Spine

11 September 2021 – “Yes,” we decide, studying the print-out of a Mural Festival neighbourhood map, “Strathcona’s a good choice. Nice cluster of murals along that Cordova/East Hastings spine between Heatley and Campbell.”

We each have some familiarity with this east-of-East-Van neighbourhood, my friend much more than I, but it’s the first time we’ve come here focused on murals. Not that we care that much — it’s good walking territory, no matter what.

But, oh yes, there are murals!

We stand on Campbell, laughing with delight as we stare westward down the alley between East Hastings and Cordova.

Flowers to the left of us …

dancing aerosole cans to the right …[

after that a three-storey building painted top to bottom, side to side …

and just a little farther along, this bold triptych, its cheerful style in stark contrast to the fencing and razor wire that protect it.

Strathcona is a decidedly mixed neighbourhood, with problems as well as gaiety. All the more reason to admire and salute everything they do so well, while dealing with their other realities.

Same alley block, yet more charm. This time an ocean-to-mountains-to-ocean mural, starting at this end with a leaping whale and (off the lower-right corner of the window, by the downpipes) a yellow pop-up seal …

and ending, on the far side of the mountain range, with the world’s most adorable little otter, waving his paw.

We’re out of the alley now, on Cordoba itself & heading for Heatley, thinking everything else will surely be an anti-climax.

Wrong!

That VW bug need offer no apologies. Even if the pigeon is unimpressed. (He’s there. You’ll find him.)

Barely onto a city street proper and we’re off it again, pulled into yet another alley to investigate flashes of colour obscured by the street-front buildings.

This is what we wanted to see close up, my friend telling me the history of this old family company while I go goofy-happy about the colours, the typography, the peeling paint, the paint-brush image on that open door.

Another voice, unexpected and unexpectedly close, urges me to take a picture of that as well.

I look up. The workman, carefully balancing his take-out coffee in one hand, points across the alley with his chin. “That,” he repeats. “Look!”

Yes, wow, look.

I ask if he’s a fan of street art. He waves aside the abstraction, sticks to the reality of this alley. “I work here,” he says. “Watched them paint that. I like it.”

I catch up with my friend, who is talking with some Harm Reduction workers down at the Hawks end of the block. I contemplate this … what? tea ceremony? … mural.

We emerge onto Hawks, look back down the alley, bright murals of assorted eras to both sides and there, on the left, the alley end of the East Van Community Centre garden that stretches up to and along East Hastings.

As we skirt the garden, we exchange nods with a middle-aged man at one of the picnic tables by the sidewalk, and then fall into conversation with him. He looks like he has known a tough life, but there is peace and dignity in his posture and he describes current produce in relaxed, clear, well-chosen language. He knows a lot about gardening, we later agree.

“Go look at the pumpkins,” he urges us, and crinkles his eyes in farewell as we nod agreement and head off down Hastings, to look for the pumpkins.

A while later we’re at Campbell and East Hastings, waiting for the light to change so we can claim the car and go have lunch at Finch’s up on East Georgia.

I stare kitty-corner across the intersection at the housing development on the other side. It’s Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 reborn right here in Strathcona, we agree — but a lot more colourful. (And more affordable.)

We fall into city-as-art-installation mode. Look: the colours of the building reflect the colours of the banner and the traffic signals.

Enough art appreciation. We’re off to Finch’s.

Hoboken & Right Here

18 August 2021 – Well, there’s a stretch. I’ve never visited Hoboken or even had cause to think about it, not until bluebrightly and I entered into some chatter about one of the images in my Murals & Time Travel post.

It showed vine and ripening berries rampaging all over a chainlink fence, and I had soared off into some fantasy about city-as-art-installation. Bluebrightly commented that, instead, she thought of it as an example of nature taking over.

She added, “I always loved stubborn manifestations like that. In the industrial city of Hoboken, New Jersey, across the river from NYC, there was an Ailanthus tree growing out of the old train station roof. And Tansies along the railroad tracks. Probably all gone now, since Hoboken became popular.”

I replied that it made me think of a particular take-over moment in an alley right here, back in June 2020.

This moment:

So here’s to stubborn, insistent nature, in Hoboken, Vancouver & everywhere else.

Other Realities

16 March 2021 – Ohhh, growl. I’ve dutifully listened to the Morning Misery (aka morning news) and I am out the door. I need a dose of other realities.

Happy, fun, friendly, plain-old-neighbourly realities.

And I want them right now. Stomp stomp.

Is one block sufficiently “right now”? Because look, up on that balcony, a little “boy” climbing his ladder to admire the “moon.”

And, immediately next door, on a boring old wire-mesh fence, a mural of moon/clouds/skyline.

Around a couple of corners, on up south (how can south also be up? it just is), past the corner garden tended by Sherry. I’ve never met Sherry, but almost every time I linger to admire her work, someone local tells me her name. They want me to know who is offering so much pleasure, and I’m happy to hear it, every time.

This time, I notice a wonky set of shelves, decorated with strawberry ornaments, offering a child’s book below (Five Little Gefiltes), and up here on the top shelf — also for the having — small plastic figurines. “One per child,” asks Sherry. I love that one is a hockey player. Canadian, eh?

Still climbing my way south, nod at the cowboy just off the corner of Robson Park …

and check out the books in the neatly painted, sturdy Little Free Library kiosk near Prince Edward Street & East 19th. And — one final detail in this whole generous offering — isn’t that a lovely knob on the kiosk door?

A few more blocks, and Prince Edward Street borders Prince Edward Park. I sit on a bench for a moment, watch a passle of pre-teens kicking a ball around & shrieking with joy. I decide not to worry about COVID; I will instead assume they are bubbled class-mates.

When I leave, I read the plaque on my bench.

It makes sense of the companion bench, with a female first name, same surname, and a later death date. That plaque reads: “Together again.”

And yes, East 21st, the park’s northern border, is a “perfect walking street.” Not just big, happy park to the south, but, look: trees with great big burls! And a whole block of painted pavement!

Plus, tucked into this particularly twisty-twirly burl, a whole fairy kingdom of mushrooms and doorway. (Fact is, I am not a fan of twee little fairy kingdoms decorating trees. Other fact is, I love that people are being happy, and sharing what they hope will make the rest of us happy as well.)

My next other fact is, pretty well any street can be a “perfect walking street” if you just damn-well decide to view it that way…

Here on Sophia, for example, as I turn back north.

Tiny new astilbe shoots, just beginning to unfurl inside that thicket of old stalks from last year.

And dog-paw solar lights in the next garden down.

One more park-bench moment, in the wonderfully named Tea Swamp Park at Sophia & East 16th. (The name, explains the Vancouver Park Board, is a reminder of the Labrador tea plants that once flourished in the area.) And then, just off the park, the Tea Swamp Community Garden.

With its turquoise & sunshine yellow garden shed, and its tidy plots, just about to rev up for the new season.

Now. Right Now

11 March 2021 – At the intersection of Main & East Broadway — and of past, present & future.

The past is rubble.

The future is undisclosed.

The present is a gift.

  • 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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